An Apology

I have decided to remove my most recent post. While I was trying to convey my insights, I revealed too much about someone else. My sincerest apologies to my friend, whom I love.

I haven’t read all of Dante’s Inferno, but I wonder if he created a circle of hell wherein people spend an eternity hunched over trying to pull their feet out of their mouths. If this exists, surely it is where I shall end up.

I’ll be gone from this blog for the next two weeks. My family is off to Colorado and Kansas for a sort of family reunion.

Honor the Hearth

I’ve actually got a large post brewing in me about vulnerability and writing, but I’ve not had the space to cultivate it. The kids are intensely clingy – all the change of travel gets to them, even though I am so lucky that they travel well. We’re back from Alaska but I’m preparing to leave again tomorrow for another trip for five days. This time alone, to California for a good friend’s wedding. Of course, there is much to be done to prepare myself and my home for my departure.

Which is a great segue into the next Delphic Maxim: honor the hearth (or Hestia).

Few of us have a hearth anymore – that central location bordering an open fire that serves as light, heat, and cooking spot. The hearth is the central symbol of the home, and I love my home. Not just the structure in which I and my family live, though this rental is pretty nice. But I love even the idea of home. While I love to travel and go out, I adore coming home, be it the greater geographical sense and the more personal space in which my family resides. Turns out that I’m a real home-body.

Thinking about ideas of home in society, I wonder if Americans haven’t conflated the idea of home with the physical house. We seem to worship the house, raising home ownership up as the Great American Dream. I can’t speak too much to this, as I don’t understand the recent housing crash or the world of finance, nor have I ever owned a home, but this conflation feels more a lie of capitalism than anything on which to build a life.

For me a home is a place where we take refuge, where we build ourselves up so that we might venture forth into the world. A home is a place of healing, rest, renewal, and all the cycles of life. As some one who has birthed a child at home, I take that cycle of life one seriously! Homes are not just places to store our stuff and sleep, they are places to cultivate our whole lives. In a religious context, this also means erecting places of devotion to our gods. All of our lives are present in our homes – or should be, ideally. I know that not all of us live in safe (or pleasing spaces. [May all who read this post find safety and refuge in their own homes, or may they find new homes where that can happen. Amen.]

I don’t have a formal relationship with Hestia, as a Greek Goddess, but if she is the spirit of the Home then I suppose she and I have been teaming up for a long time. For a long time, the Blessed Virgin Mary was my home goddess. In a way she still is. I have a small nook in the space between the dining and living rooms, where I keep some ancestor photos, a statue of Ganesh, and icons of Mary. For years I lit a candle and asked for blessings on the house and meal I was preparing [May this home be blessed and all who dwell here]. But since moving to this house I have forgotten to light the candle. Maybe it was the shift of the move? Maybe it’s because the altar is out of my view while I cook? Maybe that it’s that I just don’t pay much attention to Mary anymore? I’m not sure.

Ganesh has become the patron ‘saint’ of our home and family. We all make offerings and he is present in statue form in three rooms. It’s not an intimate relationship; I feel a little rude asking for his blessings so often these days – please help us with our finances, keep us safe in all our travels, may all the obstacles to these things be overcome, bless the house, etc. But he wants to be present, and so he is.

There’s a saying ‘a man’s house is his castle.’ I don’t like that analogy as I think of a fortress or some other impenetrable structure, as if the home is again relating to the building, not to those who live there. My home is my ashram. My sanctuary. My refuge. My hearth. I honor it by keeping it clean, welcoming, and a place of comfort. I honor my hearth by honoring myself and my practice and those who dwell within the walls.

May your home be a place of comfort and refuge to you too.

Dispatches from the Great White North

It’s been three years since I’ve been back to my hometown, Juneau, Alaska. My relationship to Juneau is complicated. I wrote about its formative qualities in the early part of my spiritual biography. I’ve never been away from Juneau for this long. It’s as if I have new eyes, and yet my senses remember: the way the water smells here, the feel of this beach, my legs know how to respond to the sea, my eyes know how to spot whales and eagles at 300 yards, my ears recognize the wake of the cruise ships and the sighs of the whales as they come up to breathe.

The one question I have  is what the hell the crows are talking about. My parents’ property is overrun with crows. It’s the worst it’s been in 15 years, they say. The crows are eating all their lettuce in the garden; the broccoli is entirely pecked to death. The crows yammer from morning until night – which here is about 3am (yes, I woke to the first birds chirping, at 3am precisely) until twilight, about 11pm. I have no idea when they sleep.

There are very few ravens out here on the island this year. But they are in town – hovering around parking lots and on lampposts. In Wales I was hard pressed to tell the difference between ravens and crows without a good hard stare (beaks are different, and the shapes of the feathers). Here, the ravens are massive. A few people in Wales tried to convince me that ravens were large, but oh no. The ravens here are 2-3 times the size of crows. If a raven and I have to face off, the raven always wins. That people groups around the world revere them and connect them to strong forces (The Morrigan of Ireland and the Trickster figure in Pacific North West Coast Native traditions immediately come to mind) is no surprise at all.

A view from Paradise Point on Shelter Island, Alaska

Sitting out on the beach, feeling the wind, watching the water, smelling the air, retraining my eyes to the myriad different shades of green and grey, I am struck how unmagical it is out here. That’s an odd thought coming from me! I mean, of course it’s magical – how could such natural beauty not be magical? Yet, there is a lack of mysticism. The land is too rough, too wild to be mystical, at least in a Western Mystical Tradition sort of way. There is something more primal and wild, less rational and thought through out here. Any magic gained here comes from listening, watching, and getting dirty. My senses may be attuned to this place, but listening? I’m out of practice with these particular languages.

The kind of magic that exists here, the first magic I ever knew, is not even so much ‘magic’ as it is interconnectedness. My father, one of the least religious people I know, is perhaps the high priest of this kind of magic. I don’t think he views it like this, but he knows this land like the back of his hand. I know that’s a weak cliché, and yet….. I mean it. He knows the trees, the plants, the fish, which type of fish heads attract the most and best crabs. It comes with a lifetime of paying attention and getting one’s hands dirty. Coming back here I realize how much I know about this place wherein I no longer live, but also how much I don’t know or understand about this place. And that reminds me of how much I have to learn about my new adopted home in Washington State.

I want more of this kind of ‘magic’ in my life. I know it’s the kind that comes slowly, over years, not just seasons. Pass up no opportunity to explore, watch, listen, feel. Fear not any weather or landscape. Sometimes I wonder about the other forms of magic. Some kinds I’ve experienced myself, other kinds I wait to experience. But this kind, this primal interconnectedness is a form I know exists. It is the touchstone I return to, much like Alaska itself. It is like a mother to me: I go out confidently into the world, knowing that I can always return if I need to.