Friday, June 22, 2007

"Enlightenment, don't know what it is"-Van Morrison

I was listening to "All Things Considered" yesterday to an article about a new middle/high school that will be opening in New York based around video game design. The theory is that to be literate today is to understand systems and the interrelations of things and video games are all about systems. Sounds like a great way to make learning relevant for teens; particularly teen boys.

One of my favorite people, my friend Marion (mother to my dear friend Helen, who I mentioned seeing at the Adrian Belew show a few days ago) gave me a set of Chinese calligraphy cards with the meaning of each character in English, as well. There are probably 40 or 50 2x3 inch cards in the set. I decided that every day I would pick one randomly from the deck to post on the wall above my desk and that word would be one I would ponder for the day. Today, the third day of this new practice, the word was "Enlightenment". Hmmmm.

The first thing I think are the lyrics to the above quoted Van Morrison song. But then I begin to really think about it and what I come up with is the knowledge that when I am enlightened I am filled with God's Light. I am aware of God in all things, in my relation to God and to all things; in the system of God's world-how all things are of God and connected. When I have moments of enlightenment I understand that the physical and mental boundaries that separate us from one another are temporary and that what unifies us is what is eternal: God, the One.

Carrie Newcomer a singer/songwriter (who happens to be Quaker, although I just recently found that out) used to be in a folk band, Stone Soup, that played around Indiana back when I lived in Muncie a couple of decades ago. Their music is out of print and I've long ago lost my cassettes but a line from one song runs through my head often: ..."And we're all links in a chain, yes we are." I can hear the clear simplicity of Carrie's voice in my head and I wish I could remember where the lyrics go before and after.

Enlightenment is being aware that we're all links in a chain.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

My Lesson for This Week

I've been given a bunch of new cases. I'd been whittling my caseload down but now I'm back up to 60. These cases are called "list" cases because they're chosen for specific reasons (from within a huge pool of potential respondents). These were listed because, mostly, they're in the highest income brackets in the country. We're talking the wealthiest of the wealthy. I have two international celebrities in my caseload and several heads of major corporations and a whole lot of inherited wealth. Mansions, gates and a full staff are the norm. Many of these people I will get nowhere near, their handlers making the decision to not disturb them about this survey. It would be a major coup if I so much as spoke with one of the celebrities to get them to turn me down in person.

I'm dealing with a lot of my own issues about wealth. A couple of days ago, I was attempting to contact a couple of heads of industry at their downtown offices. I parked and was walking the 4 blocks to one of the offices when I passed a homeless man who asked me if I had any change so he could get a bite to eat. I gave him a couple of dollars and we talked a bit. He told me his name is John and asked mine. When I told him, he said his mother's name is "Mary" and showed me my name on his knuckles. He said his mother is on her death-bed. He was very nice and we shook hands when I left. I walked two more blocks and went up in the private elevator to another world; a world of rich men and the professional women who serve them by protecting and insulating them.

I am so intimidated by wealthy people and their staff. I feel like it's obvious that I don't belong. I don't know the protocol, don't know what's expected, feel like a phony and am sure that I'll be called out at any time. When I step back and question why I am able to see "That of God" in the homeless man but not in the secretary to a powerful man, I gain perspective. She is a person just doing her job. The wealthy man is just a man with the same fears and needs as anyone else. When I can think of what George Fox said about not treating anyone as a means to and end but as his (or her) own end, it helps. We're all spiritual beings having a physical experience and when I can remember that about each of us, I am better able to begin to open myself to that of God in me.

Which doesn't help me know which door to enter or how to get through a locked gate but it does help me to know that those moments of frustration or embarrassment are transient and unimportant. What is eternal is what is true and the more I am able to keep that in my head the more I allow God to guide me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

And last night...even more music!

Hammy and I went to see the "Adrian Belew Power Trio" at Mercy Lounge. We'd ordered the tickets last week before we had any idea I'd be going with Hammy to Bonnaroo. If we'd known, I'm sure we'da bailed on the idea of being out late THREE TIMES in FOUR NIGHTS, but we had bought the tickets and so, went. And how glad I am that we did! What a fantastic show!

First, the opening act was Swan Dive which meant that I got to see my dear Helen, whom I love dearly and who is romantically involved with the male half of Swan Dive (a great name, by the way), Bill. She and I got to catch up a bit and I got to meet Bill and hear some sweet, lovely music. I also got to see Jim Hoke (who played flute for Swan Dive-which added breadth to the music) and let each of them (Jim and Helen) know that they're both homeschooling families. I'm always happy to see Jim because he was celebrating his 40th birthday on stage at Exit/In with NRBQ the night Hammy and I met and seeing him sends me down memory lane.

As for the Power Trio: Wow! Of course Adrian is an amazing, whimsical, energetic guitarist who is tremendous amounts of fun to watch and listen to. And now, he's playing with 21 and 20 year old siblings Julie and Eric Slick (on bass and drums respectively) who are such instinctual, innovative and talented musicians that they seem to encourage Adrian to even greater feats of musical outlandishness. They were all three so good I don't know how they kept up with one another.

It was a crazy, loud, late night and getting up was really hard this morning but it was so worth it! I love to be reminded of how much I love music.

Woo-hoo Bonnaroo!

Hammy and I lucked into tickets for Bonnaroo this weekend. (Bonnaroo is a huge 4 day music festival that happens to be held in Hammy's hometown of Manchester, Tennessee.) Hammy's folks live a couple of miles away from the site. Hammy's dad, being connected to several of Manchester's illustrious bureaucrats, got Hammy a pass. The day before Hammy was going to leave, a friend of mine said she had an extra ticket and did we want it. Neither boy wanted/could go with Hammy so I blew off work and went.

We showed up Saturday in time to catch the last few songs by Ben Harper. Powerful and beautiful! I had tears in my eyes as he closed with this song:
Ben Harper - Better Way
I'm a living sunset
Lightning in my bones
Push me to the edge
But my will is stone
Fools will be fools
And wise will be wise
But i will look this world
Straight in the eyes
What good is a man
Who won't take a stand
What good is a cynic
With no better plan
Reality is sharp
It cuts at me like a knife
Everyone i know
Is in the fight of their life
Take your face out of your hands
And clear your eyes
You have a right to your dreams
And don't be denied
I believe in a better way

We stayed around and watched the Police. Hammy'd seen the Police once or twice "back in the day" but I'd never been much of a Police fan. I allowed the worst of their pop to define them for me. Recently, though, I rediscovered the song "Spirits in the Material World" and have added it to my "Soul" music play list. I also appreciate the lyrics to "Message in a Bottle" about alienation, loneliness and reaching out. So, seeing the Police was nice.

The next day we got to the festival in time to see Mavis Staples perform. Wow! She and her fabulous band had the tent rockin' and swaying! Her songs are one's of hope and uplift: "Keep Your Eyes On the Prize" and "This Little Light of Mine" and "Respect Yourself". She was Hammy's favorite act of the weekend.

Mine was the next one on the same stage: T-Bone Burnett. He had an incredible band with him and his songs are lyrically mysterious and wonderful but it's his arrangements that transform his songs into haunting moments of music and feeling. When I listen to his work, I'm taken to another place; one that's strange to me-disconcerting, maybe even a little frightening because I never know what's around the next corner. In a black and white world, he seems to see everything in the twilight. It's hard to know if his songs are full of hope, fear, cynicism, regret, earnestness or all or none of these things. The first time I saw him perform was 20 years ago (at Summer Lights) and I identified with the outsider feel to his music. I guess I've mellowed with age because I now hear righteous anger mixed with genuine hope.

"If I could only see through glass
I would know what has come to pass
I wouldn't hurry,
but I'd get there fast
What's last is first
what's first is last.

We're marching on to Zion.
That beautiful city of God"
(from "Every Time I feel the Shift")

Is he using Biblical imagery for to make a cynical point or is he really seeking heaven on earth? Does it matter? What I hear is that he is aware of the veil separating us from Spirit and longs to see past it but knows that this human journey has to lead where it is inevitably leading and all we can do is accept that we're on it and walk it with as much truth as we can.

Umm, moving on...we tried to see Flaming Lips and White Stripes but both bands were on a stage way too small for the number of people who wanted to see them and I wimped out on fighting the crowds so we didn't stay for either show.

We saw Wilco, which made Hammy very happy, they being one of his favorites. I was tired out from having been on my feet all day so I didn't really enjoy them the way I usually would have, but I did appreciate the dynamic power of their music to evoke mood and create emotional tension and resolution. I haven't listened to more than a song or two from their latest CD but I understand many of the songs are about addiction and heartache, which I thought they masterfully expressed through the alternately melodic and cacophonous music.
They didn't play the song "What Light" (or, if they did, I was daydreaming and missed it), but it's from their latest CD and I really like it. Here's some of it:

If you feel like singing a song
And you want other people to sing along
Just sing what you feel
Don’t let anyone say it’s wrong

And if you’re trying to paint a picture
But you’re not sure which colors belong
Just paint what you see
Don’t let anyone say it’s wrong

And if you’re strung out like a kite
Or stung awake in the night
It’s alright to be frightened
When there’s a light
(what light)
There’s a light
(one light)
There’s a light
(white light)
Inside of you

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

In My Own Words: The Lord's Prayer

Divine One, who made all things,
May Your name always be spoken with reverance,
As the reign of God is now,
Thy will, not mine;
Let my life be a reflection of You.

Please, meet our basic needs for food, shelter and love,
And support us when we make mistakes so that we may begin anew,
As many times as needed,
Encouraging us to be compassionate as you are.

Let us become aware of our egos, which make us think
We are more important than You,
But help us to know Your Truth in our hearts
And be always guided by You,
Because You are the Creator and the One
And all of Life eternal.

I saw a blog post on Quakerquaker from a man who had done a workshop in which they used the Lord's Prayer as a template for their own prayer. I guess the idea has been rolling around in my head because I awoke with it this morning and had to write it down. Thanks be to whoever it was that blogged his version!
I'm gonna use this idea when we do our spiritual formation group.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Gift of Musical Beauty

Yesterday, I, along with many of the attenders of Nashville Friends Meeting, some part of the practitioners of Nashville Buddhist Temple and those two institutions themselves, was given a lovely gift. Chris Moore has been attending Friends Meeting since he moved here 5 or so years ago (I think in terms of "in the old building" and "after the move"-I can't remember his family at the old location, but that may be my faulty memory), also meditates at the Buddhist Temple and is a sincere soul trying to create peace in this crazy world. He's a mandolin player; came to Nashville because of music (natch). His son and Zed are the same age and were friends the first year they were here because they homeschooled and the boys were together fairly often (they're still friends but only see each other once in a great while).

Chris has written a bunch of songs of a spiritual/innerpeaceful nature. He came up with the idea of holding a concert at Nashville Friends Meeting to benefit the NFM and the Buddhist Temple. Mark Wingate is a fiddle player who collaborates with Chris (and harmonizes most beautifully) (and is the father of Brian Wingate of our Meeting), performed with him.

I attended Meeting for the first time in a month, yesterday, and it was like a breath of fresh air after a long while in a stale room (or more accurately, car). I hugged and was hugged and was so happy to be with my spiritual family and to sit in silent worship, even though bringing with me not the least amount of centeredness, having "chihuahua mind" of late: I know God loves me and accepts me where I am.

It was potluck and Penny's last day with us before her move, but I could not stay to visit. I ran home, sat down to work, made one phone call and got in touch with a woman who is a bank V-P, has a friend who works for the feds and who was quite happy to do the survey right then and there! We finished the interview with just enough time for me to run back to the Meetinghouse for the concert.

I'm not sure what I expected but whatever it was, my expectations were far exceeded. I would call the music Americana Folk/Buddhist Bluegrass; the instrumentation was simple with the music sometimes very spare, others fingers flying. Chris writes about mindfulness and death, silence, prayer and life. My hearing isn't what it once was, so I didn't catch a lot of the lyrics (can't wait for a CD!) but what I did hear really moved me. I had one moment of transcendent joy listening to the beauty, love and pure happiness of the music. It truly was a blessing and a gift.

I asked Chris, afterward, when he will release a CD because I can't wait to sit and listen to his music and meditate on his lyrics. He said he's working on one. I asked him about how he feels about people putting his music on mix tapes; that I'd like to add him to my spiritual song mix: He said he's fine with it. I've been thinking about making him a mix CD since then, kind of as a thank you for yesterday. I'm realizing (duh) that music is a tremendously huge part of my spiritual understanding, at least as big an impact as books. I find Spirit sometimes in the most unlikely places, but there It is! God in lovely harmonies; Grace in a beautiful turn of phrase; love for God in sometimes seemingly banal love songs. I consider Van Morrison to be one of my most important spiritual teachers.