I got asked a question today in the form of a statement: “Tell me about a favourite ritual”. I was just going to write a sentence, but I kept adding comments. Here’s what I finally said:
After a great rock show or other event, I keep the wristbands on till they fall off.
We have Drive-By Truckers Homecoming at the 40 Watt, where the coat checkers write the number of your item on your wristband with a Sharpie. I play with the numbers, whether they’re in order, whether the order is rising or falling, how they factor, what they might signify. This year, I got:
168–the hours in a week
93–the passengers who fought back
111–a sixth of the way there
It also lets me have some idea where I was in line each time. 😉
In the days after that in particular, I play with the wristbands, stacking them on my wrist, in date order sometimes, but really in whatever order they fit my arm best, the largest furthest up, each other slid under the next largest, a little showing of each.
They’d last longer if I didn’t, but then, so would I.
This morning in church, the responsive reading from Singing the Living Tradition was #660–just six short!–“Why should we live in such a hurry and waste of life?” from Henry David Thoreau. I do and did respond.
The call: “I do not wish to live what is not life, living is so dear,”
The response: “Nor do I wish to practice resignation, unless it is quite necessary.”
Gather around the tree of life
Feeling the sunshine for the last time
It could have been the tree of humanity
Sharing the sunshine for the first time
Calling the names of the ones we love
Sharing the sunshine for the last time
The President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Susan Frederick-Gray wrote a thoughtful call to action, Time for cold anger. It’s a quick read and worth your time. It contains several pointers to useful actions, and one piece of false hope when it says:
Anger is the legitimate response to pain, but it can become destructive. Turned inward and swallowed, it can consume us with shame, self-destruction, and despair. Turned outward, it can be explosive and violent. But when we understand the concept of cold anger—an anger that burns without consuming—we understand that anger can be the fire and the energy for action, for organizing, for creating justice. (emphasis added)
Right now, you are on fire. Every breath you take pulls oxygen in to burn in your guts; every exhalation puts out the carbon dioxide generated by the sacred trash fire that is our body. Every moment consumes a tiny bit more of us, some moments eating more than others. When we stop that burning, we are dead.
Take it from an anger swallower who wants to fly: There is no form of anger that does not consume you. Everything we do has a cost, even if it is only–only!–seconds of our life. Sometimes hot anger slices through stone cold bullshit like nobody’s business, saving precious time. Saving precious life. Precious lives.
There’s anger that costs more and anger that costs less, and anger that gets more done or less done. We all pick our way through these choices and burn a little of ourselves every step of the way. Some of it is conscious choice–a slow and cautious way–and most of us run on habit and reaction and inertia. Sometimes you have to burn your way out of a rut.
Not that burning is a pure good. It’s not. Fire is a great refiner, a wonderful source of heat and light, all that. And if you’ve ever spent a fun night around a trash barrel with friends and a six-pack, you will remember that “It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.”
So accept that you are on fire, that you are burning as we speak and will eventually go out. You may rise again like the phoenix, disperse like smoke, or settle like ash. You may just be a process that ends, or you may be one more cycle round the center. No one knows for sure, and I think most of those who claim they do harbor secret doubts.
Go ahead and burn as you wish, hot or cold, fast or slow, over under sideways down. Here are two opportunities to Catch Fire, two of many Great Ways To Burn:
Walk through the fire
Fly through the smoke
See my enemy
At the end of their rope
I can’t believe that the axis turns
On suffering when you taste so good
I can’t believe that the axis turns
On suffering when my head it burns
You don’t have to pick one or the other, or either one. You just have to choose something.
The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning. (emphasis added)
I could’ve cut that off after the first sentence, but that phrase: to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement. I’ve had that feeling with math, when something click click clicked into place and made the most wonderful, most unexpected kind of sense.
Beauty. Art. But most especially song and story, story and song.
Song and story intersect at rhythm and narrative. Song has harmony and melody; story has plot and character. Song slices through reason like a sharp knife through the butterlike-brain; story marinates and soaks and dissolves and precipitates thought from reverie.
Song and story are unreasonably effective in transmitting and preserving culture, persevering when written word and graven image do not. What’s sung and said is the most Permanent Record. Erasing that takes genocide, and even that doesn’t always work.
I could not accept a theory of humanity, a theology or a philosophy of life, without song and story as one of its foundations. Along with human solidarity and grateful wonder at the world, it is one foundation of mine.
Rev. Meg Barnhouse‘s lovely variation on the words of Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic and the first woman known to have written a book in English.
This is one of the songs, and links to a song, I keep in my back pocket for troubles, my own and others. It helps me. When I think I know when it will help a friend, I apply it to them gently. It seems to work; I don’t think it harms. It heals by virtue of being beautiful, in many different ways.
When I first encountered the next song, I’d passed through my first period of fascination with mystics and visionaries–Smart, Blake, Sor Juana, and St. John mostly*–so I didn’t see Julian of Norwich in it. Probably the authors didn’t either; I find the ways of the Spirit are even more mysterious to us atheists than to any believer. I was also far too hip to like anything Big On The Radio, and this whole record was big! Big! BIG!! It took my great and wasted friend Orlis to make me actually listen to the damned thing–on a cassette, no less, in a house stuffed with vinyl records–and discover it was really good. It took listening since him to see how it was great. Continue reading Why and How You Should Use The Word “Chickenshit” In Church Services→
That Talking Heads song is about touring. It took me a long time to realize that. It’s still not just about touring for me, which I guess comes from Romantic childhood delusions not being properly corrected at an early age. But it’s worked out for me.
Anyway, I’ve been keeping track of song videos that have struck me as right for this moment in time for a year now. The first four:
20-JUN-2017: Who am I to disagree?
Oh, to be seventeen forever. Oh, to be thirty-four forever.
24-SEP-2018: You think they’re dumb, you think they’re so funny.
Just wait until they got you running to those…
20-MAY-2018: Johnnie wants to think of a joke.
Johnnie’s an American. Johnnie’s an American.
01-JUL-2018: If you want to teach ’em how to fight, you gotta treat ’em all alike.