Move. Between justice and mercy, between nakedness and warfare, between all that you would not do and all you have done, unknowing…
Even just a few days in Santa Fe can leave me speechless…
Partly because I’m parched — my rain-soaked soul, so used to wandering the misty shores of Puget Sound, rebels against the high elevation and incredibly dry climate… But mostly because, in the midst of the desert, the astounding color and diversity of human culture overwhelms me with amazement and gratitude.
We draw a line around what is sacred, to set it apart as special. We imagine the planet as a precious blue marble floating in space, so small and far away we cannot see the delicate contours of our own faces turned upwards towards the night sky, doing the imagining. We worship the lands that give us life, the earth that sustains us with its salty waters and wild winds, its mud and grit. We encircle the world in the darkness of outer space, and it shimmers all the brighter.
But when we’re not paying attention, the lines we draw around the sacred can cut us right through the middle.
In light of recent events and discussions, I wanted to share this essay as a robust defense of the sacred value of art, poetry and satire within both our theological explorations and our political discourse. It is my view that ambivalence itself can be sacred, for it opens us to authentic experiences of others which may be unexpected or challenging, and so we can appreciate this ambivalence and the art forms that express it as powerful and meaningful aspects of our relationship with the numinous, and with each other.
This post is about small things. It’s about moments that we take for granted. There is no big revelation here. I took a bunch of pictures of my cat and put them on the internet. I write this post in defiance of the expectation that only big revelations matter. I write in homage to the repetition of small rituals, in honor of grounding and self-care.
This post is about the simple companionship of ordinary objects and creatures and beings, and the way their presence shapes our lives even when we think we’re not paying attention.
A part of us is always paying attention.
It all started this past winter solstice when Jeff’s youngest daughter told us that she was going to be a dentist.
Actually, what she said was that she guessed she’d have to be a dentist, because everybody knows you can’t make a living as an artist.
Our heads kind of exploded at that point, so what happened next was a bit of a blur. I vaguely remember sitting her down at the kitchen table and asking her why this sudden about-face — she’d been talking about wanting to be an artist for the last several years which, for a nine-year-old, is almost a lifetime. I remember treading carefully, lest I inadvertently suggest that being a dentist wasn’t perfectly okay, too, if that’s what she really wanted. The world needs good dentists, after all. But what the world doesn’t need is a grumpy, jaded dentist who’s secretly always wanted to be an artist instead. That doesn’t end well for anyone.
“One day I am sweet, another day I am sour,” says the Irish trickster god Manannan mac Lir in his guise as the disheveled traveling buffoon whose hat is full of holes and whose shoes squish with puddle water when he walks. Manannan appears in folktales sometimes as a buffoon and sometimes as a richly dressed bard of talent and renown. When he is a buffoon, his words are sweet and his music sweeter; when he is a master of his craft, he comes off as a fake and an ass. When he is at home, he is a king whose otherworldly castle is thatched with white birds’ wings. But the half-thatched homes of the mortal bards will never be complete. While the poets are away gathering their feathers, the winds have already swept away the last day’s work.
Which is the real god? The king, the poet, or the wandering buffoon? Which is the real writer? Which is the real me?