Lest anyone reading here miss the point: there is no crisis in social security. Fine tuning may be required, but there is no need for hasty action at this time, much less a program that would weaken it. Do not be misled by the White House.
Volume One, Number One
el Alisal — memos from Hercules, California 94547
[Photos not included here, alas.]
Welcome to the premiere issue of el Alisal, your very own collector’s edition copy of a portal to worlds that may exist only in the furry brain of the editor. Although the sound of the duduk (an apricot-wood wind instrument) floats through the air, this is not a Middle Eastern publication. It comes to you from the powder keg town of Hercules, California, where a dynamite factory once existed, yet life here is rather quiet nowadays. We hereby express our appreciation to His Orthodox Majesty Maximiliano Cuauhtémoc Juárez Primo, Emperor of El Cerrito and Archduke of Hercules, for his gracious license to publish.
It doesn’t get less weird.
Once upon a time, 2002 to be exact, there were beautiful alder trees in this neighborhood, four of them in front of Bearfeathers Press. Though they were cut down, their spirit remains and they gift this rag with the Spanish name for an alder grove: alisal.
Come, take shelter beneath the spirit of these sacred trees, Gentle Reader, let the sinuous rhythms of the duduk soothe your weary soul. Perhaps a cup of tea, a little chat, and a few moments of ease.
Our Sense of Place, Our Place of Rest
As we sit for a while and acknowledge the rootedness and transience of trees, a sense of place comes to consciousness. Our Native American cousins always begin with a recognition of relatedness, of place and of ties with All Our Relations, human and other. The cardinal directions are saluted, Mother Earth upon whom we walk and the Sun from which our energy comes are honored, and the Creator is thanked. The circle of all things, the Sacred Hoop of which Nicholas Black Elk spoke, is renewed.
Considering place from a different perspective for a moment, we may look at Psalm 139:7, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” Though our location may change, the One beyond all names is there with us. In a similar vein, practitioners of Hindu or Buddhist meditation might remind us, “Wherever you go, there you are.” An article in the San Francisco Chronicle told of a yoga class in which the instructor asks, “What time is it?” and all the students reply, “Now!”
We do not need to look at a clock to know what time it is. It is always the only time we have, Now. Nor do we need a map to tell where we are. We are always Here. We have no other time and place than here and now. We carry with us memories of previous times and places, but that is not where we are. We often burden ourselves with anxieties about future times and future places, events that might take place but have not, but that is not where we live either. Trying to live in the past or the future are both illusions, and they can ensnare us and cheat us of the only place and time we actually have in which to be and to act—Here and Now.
The First Nations have an additional understanding of the Sacred Circle in which we are gathered. The two roads that run from north to south and west to east cross in the middle and that center of the Medicine Wheel is where we find ourselves. We are always in the center of the Circle, no matter what our geographic location. This is mystical topography, of course, so we must let go of our Cartesian coordinates for a while to understand. You and I may be thousands of miles apart, yet each of us is in the center of the Sacred Circle, at that crossing point, always in the Here and Now. There is no place we can go and not be with ourselves. There is no place we may flee and not find God already present with us. There is no place but the one place. That is where we are.
As I have encountered these various visions of place over the years, I am struck by how they resonate with my own theology, a theology of imagery and poetry (as my theology has always been). My central image of God is not the bearded old man I associate with Victorian religious art, though it goes back many centuries, but rather of a dynamic, ever-unfolding radiance, the Uncreated Light always shining, giving light and warmth and life. (The Greek words for light and life, phōs & zōē, are often combined in a crossword cross.)
For me, the variant on this radiant Light that speaks of God in relationship to us is the Sacred Heart. Here we see the heart of Jesus, on fire with the love of God, surrounded by the crown of thorns to show God’s passion for us, usually pierced, and radiating light. Light and Life are united by Love.
Since there is no place that God is not, I have wondered where creation occurs. (Remember, my Rational Readers, that this is poetry, not philosophy.) How might there be any room for the Other when the fullness of God fills all? My answer is that a space was created within God, possibly that gap where the Heart is broken by love before all time, a gap manifested in time by the piercing of the lance on Golgotha. “The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world” is the image of God’s great love for creation transcending the category of time and the death of Jesus on the Cross is a concrete manifestation and fulfillment of that love within time.
Dame Julian of Norwich (d. c. 1417), speaks in one of her “shewings” or visions of how “our good Lord looked into his side, and he gazed with joy, and with his sweet regard he drew his creature’s understanding into his side by the same wound; and there he revealed a fair and delectable place, large enough for all mankind [sic] that will be saved and will rest in peace and in love.”
I have thus visualized all of creation, time, and history as taking place within the Heart of God, which might be another view of the eternal Here and Now. Though we live in time and space, our deepest reality abides in a place not defined by space or time.
So, though I began by inviting my Gentle Readers to rest a while with me in the shadow of the sheltering alder tree, these musings suggest that our resting place is much deeper and more abiding than any temporary shade. For me it has meant learning that the tree I loved continues to exist in me, and I must be my own alder, my own sacred tree. Our resting place is everywhere and it is within us. There we find our true self, there we find God, for God dwells in us and we in God.
May 2005 be a time of refreshment and renewal for all who read these pages. May we all learn anew to find refuge within, in all circumstances, no matter what the external hour or location. May we learn to cherish the moment, the breath by which we live each second, the realities around us, the options and opportunities that are ours. May we be free from burdens of guilt and regret over the past, without dodging the truth of who we have been and done. May our thoughts of tomorrow not blind us to now, nor anxieties mislead us. May we live into the future from the freedom of the present.
The views expressed on this blog are solely those of the blogger and do not represent the positions of any group or organization with which he may be affiliated. As one who spent decades stuffing down his opinions and emotions, I am inclined to cut loose here, which I believe is healthy, honest, and part of the process of sanctification in the long run. Politics and spirituality mingle freely here, along with theatre reviews, photography, and passionate talk about food, literature, and the human journey. If anything written here offends you, please find other blogs to read. I am here to share, not to do battle.