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.
Blodeuwedd embodies the spirit of the trickster. She is herself literally the work of trickery and artifice. Her physical body is not a unity, but a cobbled-together assortment of twigs and blossoms given a kind of unnatural animation through the magic of Gwydion. And although she is designed by men far more powerful than she is for one specific purpose — to serve as Lleu's wife and queen — yet she thwarts that purpose through lies and deceit, following the call of her own hunger, her own passion and desire. As a result she is cursed, like so many other trickster figures, to aimless wandering in the wilderness, a social outcast. She is both subhuman and superhuman, both bestial and divine. She is the thief who steals away the beloved from the rightful king, except that it is her own self that she steals away — is this theft, or reparation? Either way, this is a goddess familiar with dislocation and disconnection, and one who embodies within her very being the ambivalence of human technology and how it mediates our relationship with the natural world.
Jeff Lilly's most recent article raises a lot of questions about the assumptions we make when it comes to the relationship between knowing the facts and actually understanding what those facts can tell us. It turns out that huge stockpiles of consumers' personal information, known as "Big Data," might not be the Holy Grail that the tech industry would like it to be. Persistent cultural biases can blind us to unexpected interpretations, or even lead us to see patterns where none exist at all. But what does that mean for the rest of us? For those of us more likely to be on the receiving end of Big Data-driven marketing strategies and social media algorithms, the limits of Big Data are both a blessing and a warning. How will these new insights change the way we think about our online lives?
The outpouring of warm sentiments and fond memories on the internet today about the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs is a reminder that what we accomplish in this life is deeply colored by who we are. We are flawed, imperfect human beings. As T Thorn Coyle says, "You try to do good work in the world, and die when you die." This iMac computer that I write on is just a gadget, hardly better or worse than any other in the grand scheme of things. Many ethical and environmental compromises went into its making and marketing. Yet it has also opened up opportunities for conversation and community that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.
At the heart of my spiritual life rests the deep knowing that ritual is a way of listening to the Song of the World as it moves through the earth and the land, and engaging with that Song as something holy, wholly challenging and transformative. Shared ritual is when we accept the burden and blessing of being embodied beings of this dense, physical world that gives us life, and when allow ourselves to respond in kind, to speak back to the natural world with its energies and currents and wild mysteries. Ritual is not for our sake alone, but for the sake of the whole world. It is for the sake of the solitude and silence that surrounds us, that frightening shadow of void and absence that makes us who we are, makes us whole.
It's pretty cool to see that I have readers in places like Moscow (Russia), Shenzhen (China), Sydney (Australia), Jiddah (Saudi Arabia), La Paz (Bolivia), and even Nairobi (Kenya). Though that last one might have just been Peter. Obviously, the vast majority of my readers live in the United States (tied for second: Canada and the UK). I have readers in 42 of the 50 states. Only 42?!, you ask. I know, right?
As both Rumi and T. Thorn Coyle have said, you must ask for what you really want. What I want, and what I've wanted for as long as I can remember, is to be a writer, and to share my writing with a community of engaged and interested readers. Sometimes that seems like a really easy goal: all I need is a computer or, if we're getting really rugged and old school, a pen and some paper. Other times, it feels like the most difficult, intimidating and impossible goal in the world. I care passionately about all the work that I do and all the writing I share, and the fear of being overlooked, unsupported, misunderstood or laughed at can loom large in my peripheral vision. But eventually I realized that if I'm not ready to stand up and brag about my work, to shout my enthusiasm and excitement from the rooftops — then why should I expect anyone else to?