Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sister Moon, Sister Water

Sister Moon, Sister Water

Sisterhood is powerful.  

Especially if your sisters are Sister Moon and Sister Water. 

With my UCC clergy colleagues I spent two days in retreat this week with the Franciscans of San Damiano Retreat Center.  The spirit of St. Francis pervades this place of beauty; it felt like we were constantly humming along with him his “Canticle to All Creation.”

“Praise be to you, my Lord,
Through Sister Moon and the stars;
In heaven you formed them
Clear and precious and beautiful.”

At dusk on Sunday, looking east over Mt. Diablo, our song was:
“Praise to you, O God.
Behold, our Sister Moon rising blood red, eclipsing and ascending.
She is our sister, kin in blood and change.
She is clear and precious and beautiful.”

The fountains at San Damiano gurgle without ceasing, harmony for Francis’ paean to water:

“Praise be to you, my Lord,
Through Sister Water,
Which is useful and humble and precious and chaste.”

To honor Francis we took short showers, and were frugal at the sink.  Our bathroom song (always fun to sing in the shower) was:
“Praise to you, O God,
For our Sister Water,
So very, very precious. 
We too are humbled in gratitude,
And if by chaste you mean saying no,
We’ll say no to wasting water.”

Francis called both Moon and Water, “precious.”

Thanks, soul sisters.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

2.4 Million Pounds

2.4 Million Pounds

Can a painting change behavior? 

After an hour in an art museum I am full of joy, connection, inspiration.  Will these feelings make me less likely to drop my trash outside onto the sidewalk?  Might my art-expanded heart enlarge my compassion for the world outside?

Artist Chris Jordan hopes so.  This collage, an homage to the classic Japanese painting of a crashing wave with Mt. Fuji in the distance, is not just a pretty picture.  He created it to inspire us but also to change us, to make us less trashy and more compassionate.

And we will change, he hopes, because we will understand what the number 2.4 million looks like.  Or weighs like, actually.

Every hour, day and night, 2.4 million pounds of plastic enters the world’s oceans.  So to help us comprehend that number, Jordan used 2.4 million pieces of plastic to create this collage. (This is a photo of the original, which is huge, 8x11 ft.) 

If you can zoom in you’ll see plastic spoons and combs and toothbrushes along with millions of specks and flecks of beautiful color and deadly poison.

It’s part of the exhibit about plastics at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, encouraging us to reduce, recycle and reuse.  But instead of dreary photos of all the plastic found in one albatross’ stomach (well, they’ve got one of those too) they invited artists to create things of beauty, made out of things of ugly.  Lots of gorgeous sculptures and installations all made from plastic.

At first we see beauty and our hearts are opened.  Looking closer and seeing the trash, we see the ugly, and our hearts are broken.

Jordan says of this work, “It is so hard to comprehend the gravity of phenomena [like ocean plastics] through the anaesthetizing and emotionally barren language of statistics.  Sociologists tell us that the human mind cannot meaningfully grasp numbers higher than a few thousand; yet every day we read of mass phenomena characterized by numbers in the millions, billions, even trillions…I believe it is worth connecting with these issues and allowing them to matter to us personally, despite the complex mixture of anger, fear, grief and rage that this process can entail.  Perhaps these uncomfortable feelings can become part of what connects us, serving as fuel for courageous individual and collective action as citizens of a new kind of global community.  This hope continues to motivate my work.”

2.4 million bits of ugly combine for one work of beauty.  We stroll by, inspired.  We slow down and learn.  We pause and try to count, to grasp the number.  And then maybe our hearts turn, just a bit, and we say, “Stop.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

There is No Legend of This Place

There is No Legend of This Place

There is no legend of this place
no myth of Gods or men
that being told could be translated
into our tongue,
or being translated could be understood
of our mind.

This is a lost place – out of the memory of the race –
of any known race.
One goes into it unaware;
one comes out from it haunted
as the trees are haunted
and the undying rocks
and the dark groves where fear is.

These that are here have no likeness;
they are not troubled as we are troubled;
they move on different feet – they look with other eyes
on a sea that hold their ships –
ships that come and go,
mysterious as thought –
shadows in a moon.

Jeanne D’Orge, 1928

(English author and painter Jeanne D’Orge (1877-1964) came to NYC and was one of “The Others” with William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens; they did a poetry read at the Armory Show in 1913.  She moved to Carmel with her academic husband and children in 1920 but soon married the much younger fellow artist/eccentric Carl Cherry.  Friends with Robinson Jeffers and Edward Weston, she walked Point Lobos nearly every day. She donated their studio/home to be an arts center and it’s now the Carl Cherry Center, a great local place for art shows, theater, poetry readings.  It’s where the Monterey Bay Zen Center meets and I go there every week for meditation.   In my “Selected Poems of Point Lobos” I have four Jeanne D’Orge poems. A local account reads, D’Orge  “often appeared on the streets of Carmel wearing a big pink hat, ankle length Chinese robes and paint-stained tennis shoes.”  My kind of woman.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Travel Suggestions

Travel Suggestions

“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

So wrote Kurt Vonnegut, whose books are certainly full of the peculiar, travel, dancing and God.

These medieval travelers are pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.  Surely a peculiar travel suggestion from God; leave home for the dangers and drama of sailing to Jerusalem.  Dancing?  Only the waves are dancing at this point, but maybe the pilgrims danced with joy when they walked where Jesus walked.

On Labor Day weekend I always look back at my summer travels.  Highlights were:
- the new Whitney Art Museum in NYC and the High Line,
- listening to gospel flute and eating Cajun fish in a lush Savannah square,
- and my personal pilgrimage journey: a visit to Dr. Bob’s house in Akron, birthplace of AA.  

(I wrote about that visit in my other weekly column:

Nothing peculiar about that travel suggestion, just your basic visit to a holy shrine, with a little dance of gratitude on the side.

Where did God suggest you travel this summer?  Do any dancing?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Sea Glass Carousel

Sea Glass Carousel

I took a ride on this magical new Sea Glass Carousel last week, in New York City’s Battery Park.  Waiting in line with lots of excited children, I had happy memories of childhood merry-go-rounds in Oak Bluffs and Palisades Park.

But this time, instead of horses, I rode these exotic fish.  For four full minutes, 30 angelfish and lionfish shimmer and rotate, change color, yaw and twirl, up and down, to the strains of mysterious music. 

Actually molded of bioluminescent fiberglass, it’s called the Sea Glass Carousel, evoking one more magical mystery – sea glass! How is that ocean waves can transform a simple broken bottle into those precious soft sea glass treasures?

If our Blue Theology Mission Station had a theme park – this would be the main attraction.
One of the carousel’s creators was set designer on the Broadway version of “The Little Mermaid.”  Darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter, under the sea!

It’s called Battery Park because the first Dutch settlers set up cannons there. A hulking War of 1812 fort still looms over the shoreline.  The nearby new Freedom Tower can’t erase the nightmare of 9/11.  2012’s Superstorm Sandy flooded and scoured the park.  Despite happy families and tourists, the raw memories of war, terror and devastation still stalk the park.

Like beating swords into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks, the Battery Conservancy has turned cannons into fish hooks.  And fish carousels. Sea stars whose arms have been devoured can grow back new arms; so the Carousel is helping the park resurge and resurrect.

(I wrote last week about “Big Blue Live,” the BBC/PBS live TV/online show about ocean diversity and recovery on Monterey Bay.  My favorite line so far, “This is about redemption!”  You can see the last episode tonight Sept. 2.  Or stream the whole thing anytime from – it’s fantastic.)