Friday, December 19, 2014

Coyote Christ

“My mother’s punitive God was the enemy of Coyote,” writers Rebecca Solnit in the December 22 & 29 issue of The New Yorker. She goes on to praise the “prankish…Coyote…the unpredictable creators of the world in Native American stories,” which she contrasts to biblical religion, wherein “redemption was required, because perfection was the standard by which everything would be measured, and against which everything would fall short.”
I agree with this author about the spiritual potency of the Coyote tradition. She is also correct about one strand of classical Christianity. For me, however, Coyote has served as a mentor and tough love therapist ever since I first discovered Native American lore. For me, Coyote is just another way that the Incarnate Word of God shows up in the world, just another icon of Christ…
Coyote is a trickster who teaches the people by fooling them, and revealing their own absurdity to them.  This is pretty much as what Jesus does to the imperial powers and powerful priests when he provokes them into killing him. It is pretty much what Mary of Nazareth was doing when she predicted that, all appearances to the contrary, “all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48).  The elusive and strangely persistent reappearance of the dead Jesus has all the earmarks of Coyote-style trickery. The “Blessed Virgin” Mary continues to enjoy the irony of her blessedness while the names of her detractors are long forgotten. It seems that not even centuries of scolding by the institutional church can prevent people from getting the joke and becoming free.
In the last day of 2012 I wrote the following…
As I stood beside a thinly-restored, strip mined Alabama landscape, I heard a vast coyote chorus insanely yapping at the setting sun, like demented choirboys mocking the efforts of a damaged earth to heal. 

But coyotes do not mock the earth. These, after all, were heyoka tricksters of the Spirit, who only seem to lie,
And to ally
Themselves with what is most bleak and dry
Within the self.
In time, I come to see that they have drawn me out
Beyond my customary hunting-place,
To where I can hear their voices differently,
And now I see
The one that they were laughing at
Was me… 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Lake Isle of Innisfree reposted from August 21, 2012

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,

      And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

      And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,

      I hear it in the deep heart's core.

William Butler Yeats

I was an English major in college, but failed to thrive as such.
 When it came to the scholarly analysis of literary texts, I never
seemed to “get it.” I was, however, immensely affected by some
 of the material we studied, such as the poem shown above. No
 matter that my professor regarded Lake Isle of Innisfree as an
 interesting  example of Yeats’ immature work, but scarcely worth
serious scholarly attention.

It got serious attention from me, and still does, because when I
 read it I am once again standing on the shore of North hero Island
with my grandson, discussing  the merits of voluntary fasting;
I am once again on that same lake, fishing in a
boat with my sons when they were younger; or with my father,
when I myself  was young.

Speaking of my father, it so happens that he died on this day,
August 21, in 1981. I was with him, and few moments before
he died,  he roused himself from a deep coma  and cried out,
 “Jonathan! The boatman!” And now, when I read of “…lake water
 lapping with low sounds by the shore,” I am once again in a boat
with him, and he  s rowing while my sister and I fish, lines trailing
out behind.

“I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Reflecting on Nothing while hunting

"In a field/ I am the absence of field", writes Poet Mark Strand in "Making Things Whole". I thought about these lines all week as I stood in the Alabama woods. "The field" is quite literally what I am observing, in its every detail. I am very definitely part of the scene. I can see my camo-clad legs and booted feet, and am acutely aware of every twitch of nerves, sensation of heat or cold, and every decision to move, however slightly. In what sense am I "an absence?" I suppose it is the "I" that does the observing, the "platform" from which the field is observed and known as a field. I alone (as far as can be known) can detach myself from the scene, wander forward and backward in time, imagine this place as it will be when I have left it. I can turn inward and focus upon this "I", but cannot get "behind" it to observe "it" because "it" is always where I am. Can it be called an "it" at all? I seem to be a "nothing", a "no it", perched on the edge of the field, immersed in the field, inhabiting the field, but not the field. "In the field/I am the absence of field."
   The no-thing that I seem to be is what connects me to the no-thing that I invoke and seek in the woods. "God" is the "I" that witnesses the field I inhabit, the field I am not. "Wherever I am/ I am the thing that is missing." God is the missing "thing" in every field, every scene, the unobservable observer, receding before every effort to turn back and see, the ubiquitous absence, our companion in nothingness.