Prepositions and Miracles

Prepositions and Miracles

Pentecost 122

As you know I love feedback from you guys, my readers and followers.  It is, after all the purpose of this blog – to engage in conversation as we engage in our living.  I do not identify the responder unless they request it due to privacy concerns and respect but I do value each of you deeply.  Over the weekend I was asked a really interesting question:  Aren’t these myths out of date?

I mentioned several days ago that a family member had been in an automobile accident and was in a coma.  She remains in a coma and while some progress has been seen, the outlook is still up in the air.  In other words, we are hoping and praying for a miracle.  Tomorrow her youngest will celebrate her second birthday so while it has become the new “normal” to visit her in the hospital, this celebration of life is also reminding us of the fragility of life.

The mythologies of mankind also served to remind us about the fragility of life.  While they seldom called the endings of their tales of colorful characters, fantastic exploits, and incredible out-of-this-world powers “miracles”, that is how other writings would classify them.  More importantly, they were guidelines for living and, since we are all still living, then I don’t believe them to be out of date.

Depending on the culture, the purpose of the myths varied while many of the characters and deeds were strikingly similar.  While there seems to have been a “parallel development” as Carl Jung phrased it in the development of similar stories, some simply choose to believe that these commonalities are the result of travel.  They believe that, like the trade winds that carried the trading vessels to all parts of the world, exploration and travel carried the stories that were then altered to fit the culture.  I choose to believe there is a much simpler answer: We are all human.

In the throes of tragedy or great confusion, we need to make order out of the chaos.  It is how our brains function and the mind works.  Our eyes see everything as it is but how our brain interprets those visions is not always accurate.  Place a large rectangle in a room identified to us as a bedroom and the rectangle is first thought to be a bed because it makes sense.  That is why fifty eye witnesses can all be telling what they perceive to be the truth and yet none of them tell the same story.

Mythology is the collection of man’s attempt to make order from the chaos that life sometimes throws our way.  The stories may seem unbelievable to those of us living in the twenty-first century but that is just because we have become egotistical.  We think, with all our technology, that we know all the answers.  We don’t even know all the questions so how can we possible know all the answers?

One of my favorite parts of speech is the lowly preposition.  Like the myths of old and even those newer ones, prepositions give us direction.  Place the candle…where?  On the table.  Run…where?  Up the hill.  Where is she hiding?  Around the corner.    Often overlooked, the importance of the preposition is found in its definition:  “a word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause”; “a relationship between other words in a sentence”.

Mythologies, those weird stories about even weirder deities that can’t have possibly defied the laws of gravity to accomplish what they allegedly achieved, are all about our relationships – to nature, to each other, to ourselves, and to the universe.  A simple word such as “in” or “after” or “on” may seem insignificant or meaningless but really, without them we would be lost.  We would be left with only “here” or “there”.  We would have no relationship with our living.

I cannot prove that miracle have ever occurred but to an ancient Greek or aborigine, I think the lifting of a space ship that then circles the planet while men and women live within it might just qualify.  What we consider science today was once an imaginary story, the dream of someone many considered crazy.  The miraculous cures that saved many from plagues and viral epidemics are science but they are also answered prayers.

In December we will discuss prayers for all cultures have some sort of them, regardless of what they are called.  Today, though, think about the prepositions in your speech and your actions.  I picked the cup of tea up off the table.  I pushed the vacuum across the floor.  I placed my hand on the puppy’s head.  I also petted the cat but anyone who is owned by a cat knows the cat places their head under your hand!  I raise my spirits and prayers to the supreme being of my beliefs.  It may be neither here nor there but the fact is we are here and, for my at least, mythologies still hold meaning.  And I will continue to have hope that my family member will experience the miracle of science and faith in her recovery.

Duality of Life

Duality of Things

Pentecost 110

As I write this, I am a little bit tired and a little bit expectant (of weather, not a child).  I am tired due to a lack of sleep.  I have learned how to put my mind at rest to slip into the existence we call sleep rather easily, very easily in fact.  However, my very large puppy decided someone needed to be on guard during the night and that someone was me.  Nothing would satisfy him so he could go to sleep unless I got up, sat up in my usual comfortable chair and took over the duties of night watchman.  When a giant-sized god decided on something, it is very hard to say no so I have been up rather a longer period of time than usual and I am tired.

At the same time I am expectant.  Our weather is calling for rain and there is a manhunt going on within a five mile radius of my home.  Because our temperatures have been high, summer hanging on as long as it can in my neighborhood, we will most likely have thunderstorms.  I would not say that I am afraid of storms but I am very respectful of them.  I have had lightning strike my car and blow out part of the engine.  I have walked through a category five hurricane to seek safer abode, and I have shoveled sixty-plus inches of snow.  I completely and totally respect that which we affectionately call Mother Nature.

A recent commenter asked me to share what I had learned recently from writing all these posts.  One of the things I have discovered is that I now consider storms to be somewhat delightful.  Learning all the different mythologies regarding the elements of a thunderstorm make them almost seem like family.  You might consider that a bit whimsical and yet, nature and mankind are family.  I always considered that we shared this universe, beings and nature, but doing this series has given me a new perspective on storms.

The manhunt going on is due to an act of violence.  A shooter is being sought and someone else was injured.  Much is made about gun control in the USA and there is a duality about that, just as there is with storms.  Thunderstorms bring much needed rain and have even been considered to be nature’s way of maintaining balance.  At the same time, they can be destructive.  Lightning strikes can create wildfires; winds can topple trees which then can lead to more destruction, and tornadoes can form rearranging the entire landscape of an area.  Even my being tired is a duality of feelings because while yes, I am tired and sleepy, I am also blessed to be able to have a dog and be loved by him – all one hundred-plus pounds of him.

When we discuss gun control in the USA and with similar conversations in other countries, what we are really discussing is not just gun ownership but controlling the violence that often accompanies the weapon, the gun.  A gun placed on a table will not, unless moved by vibrations or direct intent, cause harm.  That same gun when seen by someone emotionally unable to think clearly and control their actions will most assuredly result in injury.  The gun is both harmless and harmful.

I am not overly concerned about the ongoing manhunt but rather expectant because I have faith in our law enforcement community.  At the same time, I am listening to a news report in which a chief in that community conducted himself in such a way so as to possibly just have derailed a federal court case.  This is yet another example of the duality of both good intentions and improper or negative results.

We have many instance of duality in the mythologies of the world and I have learned just how similar many of them in spite of originating in cultures that were very different.  Perhaps one of the greatest dualities is the Babylonian mythology of creation, a product of the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia.  Known as “Enuma Elish”, this story was retold orally each spring vernal equinox, considered to be their New Year holiday and festivities.  The story is about the dual nature of water, that life-giving source which covers most of the planet.  According to the myth, creation came from two seas, the sweet water, called Apsu a masculine entity, and the salt water, Triamat, a feminine entity.  The story tells of Mummu the mist god, Anu, the god of heavens, and Ea, the god of earth and water.  Someone kills another and in the death comes new life and the beginning of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

The most interesting thing I have learned about doing this series on mythology is also a duality of sorts.  In acquainting myself with the various spiritualities discussed, I listened to an Akashic Circle Blessing from 2014.  This is a celebration of sorts conducted near the fall vernal equinox.  In less than two weeks another one, one of many, will be held in Houston, TX.  (For more information, please go to www.nancykern.com)  In listening to this circle blessing, the opportunity which was a blessing in and of itself, someone mentioned something in passing that resonated with me.

Tai Chi is an ancient art form, among other things, which we will discuss later this month.  The name translates as “supreme iron fist” which is fitting since originally, Tai Chi was an ancient martial arts.  It also has a duality, the teaching of movement but also of breathing.  Today it is often practiced as a means of connecting with one’s body and inner self and is highly recommended as a way of managing the stress of everyday life.

The duality of which I speak regards a movement – actually two movements.  One involves balance on one leg.  The value to improving one’s core strength is fantastic as I can personally attest.  Many people often mistake Tai Chi for a form of yoga because of the health benefits.  There is another movement, however, which requires one to firmly plant both feet on the ground.  During the Akashic Circle Blessing I heard, the leader, Nancy Kern, referenced these two movements and compared them to someone unable to move forward in their living.

I was struck in doing this research and listening to how often we come to a conclusion and firmly plant both feet on the ground.  There is value in that; after all, we need to be confident in our conclusions.  However, the danger comes when we fail to allow ourselves the ability to grow.  In planting our feet on the ground we have to make sure that they are rooted and not buried for dead.  A tree has strong roots but those roots give it the ability to grow, to receive nourishment.  We think of a tree’s roots as giving it structure but it also gives it the ability to evolve and grow.

So, what I have learned during this series is that I need to come to conclusions but let those conclusions continue to develop.  A conversation in which two people never listen to the other is not a conversation but simply two monologues occurring at the same time.  To have a dialogue, an exchange of ideas, a real conversation, both parties must listen and then respond after having thoughtfully considered the other person’s exchange.  The stories told, those stories we now call mythologies, were not just a series of thoughts but a series of events woven into a tapestry of living, breathing events of living.  Their duality of being both ancient and still current reflects the duality of life, the choices of good over evil with which we are all confronted every day.

Life is not a one-dimensional picture.  Life is a living, breathing exercise, much like the yoga and Tai Chi many are doing right now.  We need those roots but we need room to grow, adapt, evolve.  Tomorrow we will discuss a symbolic part of Hindu mythology, symbolism with deep roots that blossom a through the mud – yet another duality.

On a Friday Evening …

On a Friday Evening

Pentecost 106

Friday evening is often that time in which many people begin their weekend, a time of relaxation.  It is a time in which we celebrate the seven-day week, especially the weekend part of it.  For many the weekend will begin with a visit to a pub, tavern, bar, or nightclub.  Beer will be ordered and new friends made with the inevitable opening line “What’s your [zodiac] sign?”

As you might have guessed, I am reading comments and while that might not sound like as much fun as going out, it does please me.  I find it interesting that the two most repeated comments tie into our next topic of conversation.  “Why Mesopotamia?  How could anything from such an ancient place relate to me?”

We tend to call the area known as the Middle East in its own land mass.  In reality, it is on the Asian continent since Turkey marks the divide between Europe and Asia.  I promised in September we would discuss the mythologies of Asia, the Far East and the Near East but to do so, we must first get there and that involves Mesopotamia.  AS mentioned before, the hundreds of creation myths told cannot belie the archaeological proof of mankind’s origins in the regions surrounding Mesopotamia.  Perhaps that is why the history of this area goes back so far into antiquity.

Those living in Mesopotamia in 9000 BCE domesticated dogs and sheep in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains.  They cultivated wheat and barley and by 5500 BCE has developed the first irrigation system.  One thousand years later this technology to aid in farming would reach the Indus Valley in India.  In 7000 BCE mankind began living in rudimentary mud huts and not only had livestock consisting of goats, sheep, and pigs but also grew wheat from seed.

Also in 5500 BCE trading commenced from the Persian Gulf to Mediterranean port cities.  Mankind was no longer living in isolation, meeting others on the battlefield.  Culture was being sold and bought and spread along the trade routes.  In 3100 BCE cuneiform script developed and was used to record sales and contracts.  Cuneiform is not just one alphabet but a group of scripts all employing the use of wedge-shaped symbols.  In 2700 BCE Gilgamesh reigned over the city of Uruk, the fifth king to do so and many believe it was his reign that inspired the mythological poem about him we discussed yesterday.

“Why Mesopotamia?”  someone asked.  The answer is quite simple and hearkens back to the early beginnings of mankind.  Mesopotamia and its mythologies are important because they cannot be ignored.  In 1797-1750 BCE, during what is known as the Old Babylonian Period, Babylon became the capital of Mesopotamia.  Hammurabi composed one of the first legal codes in the history of mankind, a code which said to have been the basis for the Ten Commandments of the Jewish and Christian faiths, and a code upon which many legal systems have been based.

In 1295-1200 BCE, exact dates are unknown, the Jewish people participated in a great exodus from Egypt and the epic poem about Gilgamesh was composed.  It is not only the oldest surviving epic poem, it is considered the first known written legend.  In 1005-967 King David reigned in Israel and Jerusalem was established at the capital.  And yes, this is the same King David we discussed last year during Pentecost when we studied the psalms and hopefully, you wrote your own along with me.

So, in a few short paragraphs, we have connected Mesopotamia to the Greeks and Romans, the Abrahamic faiths, and, if you were paying close attention, even the typical Friday night club scene.  You see, the Mesopotamians not only developed that receipt the waitress gives you as a bill of sale and the alphabet it employs but also the beer served, the astrological calendar with its zodiac signs and the seven-day week that gave you the weekend.

For many, the weekend is the time they celebrate their beliefs.  For others, it is the end of one week and the beginning of another.  “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”  Mother Teresa was not referring to the love one seeks to find on the weekend but the love of mankind, one being for another being, we all seek to experience in our daily lives and which our belief systems encourage.  Today is the first sentence of the next chapter of your own story, the mythology you are writing with your living.  I hope it is your best one yet!

Easy on Sunday Morning

Easy like Sunday Morning

Pentecost 79

It was on their fifth album, an indication that they had received some popularity but the song was designed to help the Commodores cross over, bridge the gap between their audiences of R & B fans to the larger listening group of all music fans.  “Easy” became a #1 hit on Billboard’s Hot Soul Singer Charts, now known as the R & B/Hip Hop Songs listing and #4 on the top 100 Songs list. The question on everyone’s mind, though, was not if it was a good song or if it would indeed provide them a bridge between audiences.  No, most people just wanted to know what the last line of the chorus meant.

Today is Sunday, the Sabbath.  For two of the Abrahamic faiths, the Sabbath represented the seventh day, the day in which their mythology says their Creator rested.  (It is on the calendar day of Friday in the Jewish faith because of the many evolutions of the modern day calendar but that is a discussion for another time.)  In Islam, devotion is considered to be an everyday thing but on Fridays they do have a noon prayer service.  There are five daily calls to worship for a Muslim and three voluntary prayers.  During the Friday noontime service, a sermon is given and then the prayers commence with men and women being separated.

The Calendar for Judaism and Christianity has undergone separation and the reasons for that are found in history.  Both religions, though, set aside a day to for more concentrated worship.  For the Jewish faith, the day begins at sundown on Friday.  No work is to be done from this time until sundown on Saturday.  Families gather for a meal which has been prepared in advance in the orthodox household and then on Saturday morning, all go to temple to worship.

For Christians, the resurrection of the character Jesus began their separation from their Jewish beginnings and Sunday, the day believed to be the day of this resurrection of Jesus over the mortal death of his mortal being, became the first day of their calendar week, their Sabbath.  On Sunday morning, for over three centuries in many areas of the United States, businesses closed.  Laws stated what work could be completed for monetary reimbursement and what items could be purchased.  People were expected to be in church on Sunday morning and then the rest of the day was set aside for family time and enjoying the creation of their deity.

Lionel Richie, Commodore group member and songwriter of many of their hits including “Easy”, the song from which the title lyric comes, is from Tuskegee, Alabama.  Ritchie described his hometown once in an interview by saying it “closed down Saturday night at 11:59 P.M.” and then reopened on Monday morning.  Nothing moved on Sunday morning, according to Ritchie.  People awoke at later times and then eased into the day, attending church around noon and then having a large church dinner afterwards.  Older people would sit under the trees and talk while young adults cleaned up and children played outside the church under the trees.

“Suffer the little children to come unto me.”  This quote from the Christian mythologies known as the New Testament is part of a story which is used to indicate that beliefs are for everyone, even small children who seemingly would not be able to understand all the ramification and reasoning of the faith.  As a parent, it is probably the one quote I repeated more often than any others.

Sunday mornings were chaotic in our household.  And that is an understatement.  Whether it was one child or all of them, whether I had planned out their apparel and accompanying socks, shoes, jackets, etc., whether the weather was comfortable of a more enticing swimming weather or stay-at-home freezing sleet or snow, whether we overslept or not…Sunday mornings were hectic and busy.  Sunday is often described as a “day of rest”.  For me it was anything but restful.  By the time we were all in the car going to our house of worship, I definitely felt like I had suffered and my Jewish and Islamic friends reported feeling similar agonies.

I was a dutiful parent with my first child.  We appeared at our place of worship coordinated in our attire with hair styled and everything neat and orderly.  By the time I had my last child, I just wanted their bodies covered and clean.  Forget having socks that matched their outfits or even matched one foot to the other.  And when I sat down in the community room at my house of worship and gave a deep, heartfelt sigh in gratitude that we had finally gotten there all in one, albeit discombobulated piece, I was joined by other parents who had gone through the exact same struggle to get there.

Mohammed knew several tribes of Jewish followers and felt their “book” gave them a sense of unity in their legends of faith.  He quoted their character Moses, although rather vaguely at times, and took pride in his interpretations when they varied.  The Islamic deity was so powerful that it needed no day of rest, for example.  What the three Abrahamic faiths have in common is the call to faithfulness.

“El Emunah” was the Hebrew deity of faithfulness.  Today Emunah is used as a girl’s name, signifying not only that one is faithful but that one can be renewed daily by steadfast faith.  I have stated before and will say so again that I do not think faith is supposed to be comfortable.  Faith should be, I believe, steadfast – every present, ever strong, ever motivating.  In this context, faith is persistent and represented by the efforts of one’s daily living as well as in one’s worship.

Regardless of what I went through to get to my communal reverence service, once there I was at peace.  I felt secure and loved.  My soul was …easy.  I have learned in my maturing that faith should be restful.  It can be annoying to be reminded to act in the faith of my beliefs and not in instant human response sometimes, but overall, it is satisfying, relaxing inwardly my soul and thoughts.  Sunday mornings are my “easy” in an otherwise busy life.

All too often our appearance can take over the real purpose for our being somewhere.  Awards programs are preceded by reportings from the arrivals of the honored and invited guests, reportings that often are two or three times in length compared to the actual event.  My faith in taking my children to church without their looking like fashion plates was far greater than the faith I exhibited in taking a beautifully dressed child.  After all, my god was not supposed to care about my clothes, just my heart and soul.  As I grew older and began to realize what my actions were really saying – the appearance meant more than the going – and changed that behavior, I recognized that my children were happier in their faith when they could ease into the day of worship instead of treating it like a necessary function of turmoil.

We tend to put so many caveats on our identities as people of faith that we overlook the need to have that faith, to be steadfast in its teachings.  Someday I hope we are able to approach each other with the love and open arms that we believe our deities have for us.  Someday I hope that acceptance relies more on our internal goodness than in our outward appearance – what we are wearing and our physical characteristics.  Someday I hope we are able to put the world to bed at 11:59 P.M. and awake and show each other love, love that comes to us as easy as Sunday morning brings the new day.

Circle of Protection

Circle of Protection

Pentecost 61

In many countries it is quite common during holidays to see wreaths hanging on doors on gates. During the twentieth century, such wreaths became very commonplace decorations year-round. Grapevine wreaths adorn gates in the summer, sometimes with flower garlands interwoven among the vines. Quilted balls are often found on the wreaths hanging on the doors of crafters and during various holidays like Independence Day, Mardi Gras, etc., wreaths are decorated with pertinent colors. In regions with strong sports teams, loyal fans will often hang wreaths in their team’s colors. Wreaths are more than mere decoration, however. They are a very real connection to the mythologies of the past.

Rhea Silvia was the mother of Romulus and Remus and, if you remember her tale from several days ago, she was placed in a type of confinement in the temple of Vesta. Vesta was the Roman goddess of the Greek goddess Hestia, both being the deity of the hearth. The hearth, like our more modern-day kitchens, was the central point of the home in ancient times. The hearth was not only a gathering place because food was prepared there. It also afforded protection.

Camping in nature is great fun but at night, when everyone is ready to go to sleep, a wise outdoorsman will make certain there is some protection from the elements and the wildlife. The fires of the hearth afforded heat in cold climates but also served to protect from various animals. The fireplace was much more than a vehicle for making s’mores, those delightfully gooey chocolate and marshmallow treats that scouts and guides like to make. It was the center of the home and family living. The goddesses of the hearth were primary deities in these ancient cultures.

Vesta, unlike many of the deities of antiquity, was an unapologetic virgin. Chastity was her hallmark and she fiercely protected it. If you have ever seen a western film, you know at some point the wagon train will stop for the night and the wagons will be arranged in a circle around the campfire. Many of the Greek temples were geometric shapes, generally either a triangle like the pyramids on a square base or a rectangle like the Parthenon.

Vesta’s temple was a circle, a round edifice that offered protection from all sides and vantage points. Her handmaidens or Vestal Virgins were housed within the circle of protection and the circle became her hallmark. The Etruscan’s took this circle of protection idea a step further and placed a wreath on the head of their kings. The more modern tiaras and crowns of monarchs can be traced to this circle idea. In the earliest Olympics, the victors were given wreaths of laurel leaves placed upon their heads rather than the medals of our times. Etruscan jewelry often featured motifs from Greek mythology. Roman writers described these wreaths as diadems that had metal leaves attached.

Wreaths were also adornments that represented a person’s occupation, status, and other achievements. Wreaths were also known to be made to represent homage paid to various gods and goddesses. A wreath made of oak leaves would honor Zeus himself since he was said to meditate in a grove of oak trees. The Twelve Tables, a series of Roman laws and definitions of citizen rights and procedures instituted the practice of funeral wreaths, a result of the overthrowing of the Roman monarch after the crime committed against Lucretia, the subject of yesterday’s post.

We think of spirits and deities as something that most likely originated from the imaginations of our ancestors. We seldom realize the influence they have had on our current living. The shape of an Olympic medal is still a circle and it still has great meaning. Kings and queens worldwide still wear crowns to designate their status. People today hang wreaths up on doors over entrances and to commemorate events. The hearth is still a primary point in our homes.

What we are not so aware of is our own circle of protection. For many it begins with our beliefs, our faith or spirituality that we use in living and to guide us. However, we also create our own circle of protection with our choice of friends, activities, and convictions. All of these things are a moral compass but also a circle of protection. The value of these ancient stories is as vital to us today as it was for those living in ancient times. We may dress differently and certainly most of us have completely opposite lifestyles. Yet, at the heart of our beings, we are very similar. We are the family of mankind – always have been, always will be.

A New Day; A New Story

A New Day; A New Story

Pentecost 48

Today history will be written. New myths will be created. Today we will not spend time in rehashing old living. Today is for living the here and now. It is, after all, the only door to the future.

Bold words, huh? Perhaps they are also a little bit scary. Tomorrow we will return to the legends the Greeks told but today, today is for the legend of you, the story that you yourself will write.

The Greeks lived with their gods and goddesses. They did not keep them on some high mountain, objects to be worshipped only. Their deities often posed as humans or animals. They interacted with mankind and mankind interacted with them. Their names became common words, not whispered only in hallowed halls. This interaction gave them life and gave their stories heartbeats that continue to be heard today, pulses that keep the myths alive.

Today is a blank canvass. Your story is yours to write. Interact with the world and live. Be the hero or heroine of your own wonderful, magical myth, the story of you today. How do you start? Share a smile. Give a hug. Hold the door open for someone, not just the elderly or the infirmed. “One of the secrets in life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.” Lewis Carroll knew that each day we fall down the rabbit hole called life. He became the legend known as the author of many poems and the children’s classic, “Alice in Wonderland”. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, famously penned: “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” The he was Charles Dodgson; now he was Lewis Carroll.

“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him.” Ralph Waldo Emerson knew the value of the individual.

Today write your own story. Maybe one day we will read it; maybe not. What matters is that you live the life you want. This is your day to become what you desire. Today’s myth is the story of you.

Reflection

Reflections

Pentecost 42

Today is the United States of America is the Fourth of July. Actually in every country that has not yet turned their clocks to Sunday, it is, generally speaking, the fourth of July. It is capitalized in the US, however, because it is considered the birthday of the country. It is the day on which a document declaring the thirteen colonies to be “independent” from England was adopted. The document, known as the Declaration of Independence, had been voted on July 2nd and published for the colonists to read on July 6th in a newspaper known as the Pennsylvania Evening Post but on July 4th, it was officially adopted. This adoption was the culmination of events that had begun three years earlier.

The Boston Tea Party is one of the American myths that every school child soon learns. Protesting a tax on tea, an item considered to be essential in every home, particularly those of immigrants from England, a group of men dressed themselves as Indians and proceeded to the docks. Most items came from England and the cargoes aboard ships were eagerly awaited and happily received. The English government had appointed governors for the colonies but then, without warning or giving the colonists any representation in the Parliament that levied such taxes, had raised them on a very needed and common item. To the colonists it was as if nature had begun taxing them for the air which they breathed. The British government reacted violently with great power and pride. War eventually ensued and like the story about the little engine that could, the colonists defeated that country that, for eight of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, was their birthplace.

The stories of the American Revolution and its subsequent battles, the most prominent and final being the War of 1812, are the beginnings of legends. While the words myth and legend are often considered synonyms and used interchangeably, there are subtle differences. A myth often is the story of a supernatural being. A legend has its basis generally in history and while the exploits of the characters are larger than life and daily living, heroic at times, they do not have the “other worldly presences” like the main characters of myths. The first American President was George Washington and many legends about him are the result of one man, Parson Weems. Weems called himself the rector of the parish at Mount Vernon and something of a biographer. After Washington’s death, he gathered a collection of his own penned stories about Washington and published them as a group of morality tales for children. In life, George Washington had been respected but lived as just a man. Weems’ stories made him a legend when coupled with Washington’s leadership in the military and as first president.

It may be difficult to see ourselves in the Greek mythologies. Most of us are not the children and spouses of our parents as many Greek mythological characters were. None of us can die and then be reborn, although science had saved many people whose hearts had stopped breathing and could have been considered clinically dead. An age-old question about myths remains: Were the deities of the world created in man’s image or is it the other way around?

Another common myth about the United States of America is that it was a nation founded on Christian principles. In the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli both the first and second presidents, George Washington and John Adams stated otherwise: “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion.” Washington is said to have been a follower of Deism, a philosophy that had a great deal in common with the twentieth century film series known as “Star Wars”. Deism was a system of thought advocating natural beliefs based upon human reason rather than revelation and followers believed in a cosmic energy or “force” governing all as opposed to a specific deity or god. James Madison was an atheist who delighted in writing about the failings of the Christian faith and the negative “fruits” as he described them: “What have been [Christianity’s] fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”

Even the author of the declaration of Independence mocked the Christian faith. Writing to John Adams in 1823, Thomas Jefferson is reported to have penned: “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus…will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” Of the Bible, Jefferson, known for furthering education in this new nation wrote: “The whole history of these books is so defective and doubtful — evidence that parts have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds.” Thus there apparently was no one clear definition of terms the founding fathers used, terms like Prudence and Creator.

It is also a myth that, once published, every colonist now knew about the Declaration of Independence. It is NOT a myth that the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was rung before the Declaration was read on July 8th to the masses assembled there. It is also NOT a myth that this same document served as a compass point for freedom and was used as a model for France, Greece, Poland, Russia, and some South American countries. It is also NOT a myth that when people feel respected, they will be more productive in their living and more loyal in their duties.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

The telling of one story or the signing of one document is not the complete story nor does it accomplish the purpose of said story or document. We have to follow such with actions and those actions may, at some point, become the substance of their own mythologies, their own stories of being.

Freud certainly believed that all myths originated in the mind. Very few people can tell you every single Greek myth. There are thousands of them and almost as many characters, Greek gods and goddesses. At least was described as being somewhat barbaric, wearing an animal hide as a garment, fighting for the rights of the downtrodden while espousing peaceful living. For some that also describes the Biblical character John the Baptist. For others, the description might fit any one of twenty lesser Greek gods. To the refined British gentry accustomed to parlor musicales and lacey Regency-era clothing, it might describe a colonist living in the mountains of Pennsylvania or New Netherlands, the state we call New York. All of a sudden, history seems to give a wee bit of credence to those fantasy figures the Greek built temples for and wrote poems about.

What is not myth is the fact that July 4th has been a prominent date in American history. Three US Presidents died on this date, two within hours of each other. Did John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe have some supernatural help in finding eternal freedom on the day ascribed in history as the day they helped start the path to freedom for the colonies? Perhaps someone should write a myth about that.

Today many people in the USA will celebrate their freedoms and their history. Hot dogs, hamburgers, and yes, even tofu burgers will be eaten. Families will gather, some municipalities will shoot fireworks, and most will wear the red, white, and blue of their nation’s flag. Some will use the day to target this nation and security has been elevated. The gatherings will center on the stories of the nation’s beginnings and, hopefully, include a few prayers about its future. Some will use this day to remind us that the fight is not over, that there is still much to be done. Not all peoples in the world are free and even some living in the USA still feel constrained or are still the victims of discrimination and false assumptions. The myths of the past are still very much with us; the false expectations based upon culture instead of fact still exist and affect our living.

This is why we continue to tell our mythologies. We continue to learn from them, recognizing in antiquity our future. The fourth century BCE writing of Euripides in his tragedy “Medea” is still the unspoken prayer of many today: “Let no one think of me as humble or weak; let them understand I am of a different kind: dangerous to my enemies, loyal to my friends. To such a life glory belongs.”

So, let me say today “Happy Birthday!” to the United States of America and to all those nations who used its declaration as a guiding light to achieve their own. The myth of freedom is fortunately alive and well and continues to be told and believed. Now comes the hard part – We must live it, without bias and for all people.

Reaping What Is Sown

Reaping What It Sown
Lent 18

Spring is coming. Hard to believe it if you live in the eastern United States where winter has been throwing slam dunks and burying cities in six feet of snow but spring really is coming. Tonight as many go to bed, they will, in the USA turn their clocks ahead one hour for the start of Daylight Savings Time. I personally never “Spring ahead” my clock without thinking about October when we get to “Fall back” and regain that extra hour of sleep. I also never think of spring and the start of planting season without thinking about reaping the benefits of my garden. While some vegetable plants have pleasing blooms, let’s face it. We plant gardens because we like to eat the harvest.

Spirituality and religions also have a harvest. Harvest festivals abound all over the world. In his book “The Hamlet”, William Faulkner alludes to the fact that the bountiful harvest comes amid the dying of summer. We reap the benefits of our work amid the ending of the season commonly thought of as the fun time. Perhaps, though, it is not in the “dying of summer” as Faulkner described it that we find the harvest but in the transition and passage of time. Summer never really dies; summer just becomes something else, something to celebrate.

One of the more well-known harvest festivals is Thanksgiving, a national holiday in the United States of America. Celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, the holiday commemorates the harvest festival of the American Indians which they shared with the new settlers to the land, the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims were not equipped to handle the weather and harsh environs of the new territory and would have died if not for the American Indians who shared not only their meal but also their knowledge. In a coming together of different cultures and beliefs, they harvested peace as well as the fruits of the land.

Harvest festivals do not always occur at the end of the growing season, though. In Greece, on Epiphany, there is a blessing of the sea to celebrate and give hope to a bountiful fishing season. The final Sunday in February sees the people of Mendoza, Argentina celebrating the first new grapes of the season. A bishop blesses the coming vintage and all give thanks to their Creator for the blessings of the future harvest. The Madeira Flower Festival in Portugal marks the start of the flower season, the blooming beauties adding joy to the living. From the Rice Festival in Bali to the Fruit Fair in Thailand which features gemstones in the shapes of mandalas, from Sukkot in Israel to Incwala in Swaziland, Olivagando in Italy to the Lammas Festival in the United Kingdom, mankind celebrates and gathers what the year has yielded.

What about the life we are busy living and planting? All too often we encounter roadblocks and sometimes it seems that no one cares. Yvonne Pierce, in her book “The Day My Soul Cried: A Memoir”, advises: “Don’t be discouraged if people don’t see your vision, your harvest. All they see from their perspective is that you’re watering a whole lot of dirt. They don’t SEE what seeds you’ve been planting with blood, sweat, tears and lack of sleep. Make sure you don’t abandon or neglect it because “they” don’t see it. You have to KNOW and believe for yourself. They don’t see the roots and what’s budding under the dirt. But it’s okay, because it’s NOT meant for them to see it. While you wait, MASTER it. You continue to do YOUR work and have unwavering faith! Remember why you started planting in the first place. Your harvest WILL come!”

A farmer’s work is not easy. What we fail to realize is that we all farm this thing called life. Lincoln Patz discusses the difficulties of our living and why we should not be surprised that growing such a life can be difficult. “Before the fruits of prosperity can come, the storms of life need to first bring the required rains of testing, which mixes with the seeds of wisdom to produce a mature harvest.”

We never really fully harvest life. I think we are called to continue the living until we can do so no more. What happens after that is for another time to ponder. The task at hand is the living, the planting of a good life. The sacred thing about life is that we have the opportunity to reap the harvest of each minute. Every action plants a seed and how we nurture our living determines our harvest.

Celebrating Humanity

Celebrating the Peace
Christmas Day

For Christians, today is the day they commemorate the birth of the man they know as Jesus Christ. His creation story begins with an angel appearing to his mother and what is called an immaculate conception – the impregnation of a young girl by a deity. The girl, engaged to be married, comes from a family of devout believers, and while not a great deal of made of her fiancé’s faith, he too obviously believed.

The story of this Jesus’ birth is well known. The parents have traveled to another city from their home and find themselves arriving with no place to stay. A benevolent innkeeper lets them bunk in his stable and it is there that the baby called Jesus is born. What is sometimes forgotten is that it was all so very ordinary. Mary, the mother, was no different than most girls of her age and ethnicity. Joseph, the earthly father, was a simple carpenter. The baby was not surrounded by family but by nature, ordinary animals in their commonplace stalls.

Whether or not you believe the creation story of the man who would become Jesus Christ doesn’t really matter. It is a story believed and revered by the multitudes of Christians throughout the world. It has stood the test of time and is now standing the test of science as more and more archaeological finds are providing evidence of the places of the Jesus’ story. Places that today incorporate all three Abrahamic faiths in their creation stories.

We have spent the time known as Advent learning of not just the Abrahamic faiths but of over forty other religions and spiritualities. What may have been overlooked is their ordinariness – not in the beliefs but in their targets. The beliefs of each faith are extraordinary and all should be respected for that. Though the rituals may vary, the terminology differs, and the practices contrast one with another, they all celebrate a type of peace. Nonetheless, they all exist for man – the ordinary man.

Some belief systems emphasize individual peace while others strive for world peace. “The peace that passes all understanding” is the core for all of them. We tend to think of peace as the absence of conflict, the obtaining of all desires. We think incorrectly. Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, no trouble, or the absence of strife or hard work. Peace really means being in the midst of all of those things and yet, know tranquility in your heart.

On a cold December night in 1914, troops from opposing armies found themselves with only a bit of open field separating them. The field was littered with the bodies of fallen comrades and neither side felt it safe to retrieve them. Conditions were bitterly cold and, making it worse, all knew the date – December 24th. In the Ypres Salient region of Belgium, in an area the bordered both West and East Flanders, men huddled down hoping to survive the cold, the war, and their own melancholy.

Suddenly a melody is heard above the wind and chattering of men’s teeth. “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (“Silent Night, Holy Night”) was a German Christmas carol known to most of the men. However, though known to them, it was most unexpected. Not only was singing in the middle of a battlefield conflict not military strategy, it was also foolish. It gave away one’s location to the enemy, the enemy located just a few yards away across a field that once had seen red poppies bloom, poppies that were now shriveled in the harsh winter environment yet stained with the blood of fallen heroes. Ironically, singing the words “Silent Night” broke the uneasy silence of the two platoons of men.

It was the nature of the diversity of the countries fighting that not all the soldiers would have been Christian. Yet, an English voice would join in the singing. Together, the two groups of men, each singing in their own language, would rise out of their foxholes to walk towards each other in faith. Their faith might not have been exactly the same but the love and peace all revered was the same in each and every heart.

November 11, 1911 is the official Armistice Day for World War I but it was not the first armistice. After a brutal attack by German soldiers which left all but eighty of the Allied troops dead, having been backed into a barbed wire area known as the “Birdcage”, humanity saw light. It was not in a stable and the men were not messiahs but to each other, for a short period of time, they brought hope, camaraderie, and peace – an armistice of sorts. “We good,” was the beginning of a day which saw no hostilities, just the humanity and oneness of man. It was a scene repeated up and down the Belgium front as well as the Western Front which stretched from the North Sea to Switzerland. Later British corporal Eric Rowden would tell of how he and German Werner Keil exchanged names and a button from each one’s uniform. “We laughed and joked together, having forgotten war altogether.”

Whether or not you believe in a man called Jesus of Nazareth is not really important as this day dawns. You may celebrate the birth of one who preached universal love and peace for all or you may worship one of the multitudes of deities we have discussed throughout this month of December. The purpose of the season of Advent is preparation and introspection. Hopefully, you have seen that, regardless of what and how we practice our beliefs, each day is a time to celebrate. Each morning can and should be the dawn of humanity. The real message of Christmas is as that German young soldier proclaimed: “We good.” May today we learn to live the rest of his message: “We no shoot.”

May today we neither attack by words, thoughts, nor deeds any other part of creation. May today you feel the love of humanity and help spread it. Today, I wish you peace and harmony. I hope you celebrate the ordinary and in doing so, realize the miracle of humanity.

Evolving Beliefs: Pineapple and Figs

Evolving Beliefs
Advent 3

In the beginning was only Tepeu and Gucumatz (Feathered Serpent). These two held council and thought, and whatever they thought came into being. They “thought” the Earth and it came into being. They “thought” the mountains, and mountains appeared. They thought trees, and sky, and animals etc, and each came into being. However, none of these things could praise them, so they formed more advanced beings. It took several tries using different materials but eventually man was created. Interestingly enough, this story from Apache Indian mythology correlates with some evolution theories about the origins of man. From the sponge, the earliest known multi-cell being to the upright man standing on a street corner, the evolution of man is traced at the splitting of the reptile kingdom into two divisions.

However, for those who do not believe man descended from reptiles and amphibians to walk among the mountains, the Apache Indians had another creation myth. This myth begins with darkness, for darkness was all that existed. Then the One Who Lives above, a small, wizened man with a beard, appears as if from a deep sleep. This man, the Creator, claps his hands and a little girl appears. She is Girl Without Parents. The Creator rubs his face with his hands and the Son God appears. The creator rubs his forehead and Small Boy appears. These were the four gods of all – the One Who Lives Above, the Girl Without Parents, the Sun God, and the Small Boy. The four gods shook hands and their sweat mixed together. The Creator made Tarantula, Big Dipper, Wind, Lightning-Maker, and Lightening-Rumbler. He rubbed his palms together and a small brown ball fell from them. They all took turns kicking it which made it grow. Then Wind blew into the ball and it grew even larger. Tarantula spun long cords which were then attached to the ball. Pulling as far as he could, Tarantula first pulled a long black cord to the east; a blue cord to the south, a yellow cord to the west and a white cord to the north. When he was finished, the brown ball had become the planet earth. Creator clapped his hands and told the Hummingbird that appeared to fly over the earth and report back. Hummingbird noted the presence of water on the west. To stop the bouncing and rolling of the earth, Creator made four giant posts in the corresponding colors of Tarantula’s cords. These were placed at the four compass or cardinal points of the earth which stopped the earth from spinning and moving. Now the rest of creation occurred.

Other native tribes had their own creation myths, many similar to these. The Chelan tribe myth contains twelve moons. The Cherokee myth speaks of a giant island floating on a vast ocean. To alleviate the darkness the sun is lassoed and moved from east to west, providing light in the darkness. Other tribal myths involve beetles being sent from the living above the land. In some it is a mud beetle that ventures forth and gathers soil enough on which to live. In others it is the water beetle that is the explorer of new areas. No matter the legend, however, there is some connection to the science we know and not only study but use every day. The twelve moons correspond to the twelve months of the calendar many in the world utilize every day. The sun indeed rises in the east and sets in the west for these people who traveled from Asia across the Bering Straits to the North American continent thirty-plus thousand years ago. And again, the evolution of man includes the smaller animals who crawled on the ground before learning to walk upright on it.

Many of these tribal stories were celebrated and retold in the form of dance and dramas reenacted with face paintings and masks. Herbs were used both in the cooking and in the celebrating, smoking in long pipes, etc. Some of these herbs were hallucinogenic. Also present in many of these customs is Animism. Animism is not a religion but a belief system found in many of the tribal faiths. Today it is used to refer to beliefs of many indigenous people, sometimes known as Pagans to those in organized religions. For those who believe in Animism, humans are not the only things with souls, with beings. They see themselves as part of a multispecies community and recognize the life, the soul in things many consider inanimate such as rocks. As in the native or indigenous tribal customs, the animism or spirit is recognized in all things and to be respected. The sharing of a peace pipe, for instance, is the showing of respect to the sacred being of another.

The connections these myths and beliefs have to the evolutionary sciences is both interesting and weirdly accurate. The connections with later organized religions are also evident. We are indeed all part of the larger one, the body of mankind and the creation in which we live.

Curried Pineapple and Dried Fig Salsa

Like the four cardinal points of the Apache creation myth, today’s recipe has ingredients from four food groups.
Produce: 1 cup Mission figs; 1 3.4 cup fresh pineapple
Nuts: 3 tsp unsweetened coconut chips
Spices: 1 tsp curry powder; 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
Liquid: 1 ¼ cups water

Ina medium-sized saucepan, combine the figs, curry powder, red pepper flakes, and water. (Note: If using canned pineapple, use the liquid from that in place of the water. Fresh is really best, though, is possible!) Bring this mixture to a boil and then reduce the temperature. Allow to simmer for about 15-20 minutes, covered, until the figs are soft and plump. Leaving the liquid in the pan, remove the figs and quarter. Then place the quartered figs in a bowl. Add the pineapple fruit to the liquid mixture in the pan. Cook over a medium heat until the liquid has reduced and the pineapple is well coated. Add the pineapples to the figs and stir. In a small skillet, toast the coconut until golden brown. Stir this into the pineapple and fig mixture. Salsa can be served warm, chilled, or at room temperature.