Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

reflections on mortality

Hieronymus Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch

Nothing like a nervous day at the doc’s to make you realise your life is very good. Not that I needed reminding… But it still serves as a bit of a wake-up call. You know: what the heck are you whining about?? :)

The eye that was giving me fits is just aging, as I am. And it’s unlikely it’s more than that, although I donated blood in the interest of precise science to make sure.

Still, nothing like weird stuff w/ the eyes to make a reader/ writer totally paranoid… :)

And to remind me: life is not a sure thing. Nor is health, or other things I tend to take for granted.  No matter how I try not to, it’s easy to become comfortable.

But the basic premise of Buddhism is change — and our discomfort with that. Attachment. And boy, am I attached to my eyes!

So here’s my advice to you: use your eyes today. Take notice of spring, all around you (even in Florida & California!). If you don’t have dogwood, do you have jacaranda, with its lush purple blossoms? Or lilac? Are the trees dropping catkins for you? (My driveway is furry!) What about that clear blue sky? Or the silver grey of rain?

Don’t take it for granted, folks. It’s not a given. Not much is.

you don’t always get what you want…

photo the author

photo the author

I’m raising bees! Today I went outside to check on them, and the brilliant blue/ green/ yellow & black of their bodies glittered as the females laid multiple eggs in the tubes of my mason bee house. The newer one is almost full, and even last year’s (carefully cleaned out for another year’s use) is filling up.

This is such good news. Bees are dying, and it breaks my heart.

Surely there’s almost no one who hasn’t heard the dire plight of bees, and what it means for so many American foods (and farmers, not to mention the two billion dollars beekeeping adds to the economy).

For years, I’ve wanted a beehive (actually, make that plural). A couple, at least, of the beautiful hives that Dadant sells — with a copper roof, and on a cedar footing. I’ve been reading bee books — and lurking on the Northeastern Beekeepers of Oklahoma Association listserv (NEOBA) — for years.The beekeeper listserv is the best followup class in beekeeping you could ask for. I know this, because I took exactly 1/2 of the class NEOBA teaches; family matters intervened… :(

courtesy Google

courtesy Google

But it’s not the right time — and who knows when it will be? — to invest the $500+ needed to set up in bees. It’s not a cheap hobby, although it’s a fascinating one, w/ a history as old as human beings. There are cave drawings thousandsof years old, showing  bee robbers scaling cliffs with baskets to glean honey, much like the Nepali bee robbers do to this day.

So a couple of Christmases ago, one of my sisters bought me a mason (carpenter) bee house. It’s basically a gourd-shaped piece of wood,backed w/ woven basketry, filled w/ small bamboo tubes. Inside each tube, a female mason bee lays multiple eggs — males first, then females. The females hatch first, then wait for the males to hatch. And then there’s the mating dance. :)

photography by Andrew Newey, for The Guardian

photography by Andrew Newey, for The Guardian

Mason bees, unlike honey bees, don’t live in colonies, or produce honey for us. In other words, you can’t domesticate them. But they do provide pollination, and they’re every bit as interesting. Just different.

So despite not having a beautiful hive or two,I do have two mason bee apartment houses! And they’re filling up, even as I write. Somehow, this seems a metaphor for much of my life these days: learning to let go of what I thought I wanted, to appreciate the amazing world in front of me.

 

when Buddhism and Christianity were THIS close

from the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

from the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

Most of the time, I confess, I think of Christianity as a violent religion. Beginning w/ the Crusades, various holy wars, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, Nazi Germany… It doesn’t appear to have read the New Testament, and it certainly doesn’t stress peace on earth to any real degree. Or so it’s always seemed to me.

I’ve always loved the stories of Jesus, and believed in the historical Jesus as a child. But early on I could see that most of the Christian systems I knew — churches, schools, etc. — didn’t follow Jesus. There was no turning of the other cheek, no welcoming of the metaphorical Samaritan. No feeding of the poor, unless it was convenient and not very expensive.

This sounds horribly critical, I realise. But it was, truthfully, the experience of my childhood and teen years. Christians, by & large, were not nice folks to others. They were constantly trying to convert each other — even though they all apparently shared Jesus. And a WHOLE LOT of them hadn’t read the Bible, but depended instead on received ‘knowledge’ from church leaders. Even as a kid I trusted my reading of texts over most others’.gero cross 2 Please note: obviously I realise this is a generalisation. Having at least 4 members of my family who are ordained Christian ministers, and countless other members of family (as well as dear friends) who are the best of Jesus Christians, I’m well aware that there are many wonderful Christians in the world. I just knew more of the other kind growing up, as well as in my home state.

Today, however, I read an article highlighted in the Unitarian Universalist newsletter, reprinted from the 2008 magazine.  The article is an excerpt from a book by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker: Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and EmpireIn the passage highlighted in the UU newsletter, Brock & Parker trace the transition from early Christianity’s focus, in the first millenia, on Christianity’s help in living a happier life NOW, on earth, to the 2nd millenia’s emphasis on paradise in the afterlife, and the Christian crucifixion as its symbol. The difference between the pastoral shepherd Jesus above, and the Gero crucifix.

Brock & Parker argue that early Christianity was not about paradise after death. Instead, they contend, it was about living well in this life, and doing as Jesus would do. The whole ‘after death you’ll be rewarded’ concept wasn’t big, according to their studies. Here they detail what they found:

The death of Jesus, it seemed, was not a key to meaning, not an image of devotion, not a ritual symbol of faith for the Christians who worshipped among the churches’ glittering mosaics. The Christ they saw was the incarnate, risen Christ, the child of baptism, the healer of the sick, the teacher of his friends, and the one who defeated death and transfigured the world with the Spirit of life. This transfigured world is our world, paradise reopened.(Brock & Parker)

courtesy Google

courtesy Google

Wow. How much like Buddhism this sounds. Who also teaches his friends, and is incarnate, transfiguring the world with life, and the ability to find happiness. Not identical, certainly (no baptism, no resurrection — although many Buddhists believe in reincarnation — no miracles on the order of the leper). But far closer than the Jesus war-mongers and homophobic bullies cite as their source.

The piece by Brock  & Parker took me back to the women in my childhood who believed w/out reservation in Jesus, and his teachings: help the poor, feed the hungry, do good. Live a life of love and service. Which is much what the Buddha asks, come to think of it.

I’m glad my roots in the Jesus stories of my Aunt Alene are affirmed. Somehow it makes my Buddhist adulthood far less esoteric, and much more inevitable.  :)

 

form, poetry, and the empty cup

imageI spent the day researching obscure poetic forms.  And it was enormous fun — thinking about what to pour into those elegant white cups of structure. Along the way, I wrote this poem for my sisters (the least structured of women). But we’ll get to the poem in a moment.

Because what’s important is this whole cup thing. How the shape of the container/ vessel impacts what goes inside. I don’t drink tea (or coffee) from ugly containers — and don’t go making more of that than I’m saying. :)

Anything worth writing deserves the best possible — and most appropriate — presentation. Forms also help us give shape to the booming chaos within, especially at times of grief, or even great joy. I have written elegies and eulogies (and yes, there is a difference), and the shape of a poetic elegy is no more difficult than a spoken eulogy, sometimes easier.

Form, after all, is just shape. It’s drinking green tea from the celadon tea set my husband brought me from Korea, not from the Aynsley pot my tea conspiracy gave me.

author's photo

author’s photo

That’s reserved for when I need to remember I’m loved, and have overcome difficult times.

A sonnet (at least in my hands) is rarely funny, although that can have its own appeal, the subversion of a form. Any more than I’ve ever seen a tragic limerick. The form (and all its cultural readings) doesn’t go there.

It’s why I don’t drink juice from a teacup, or hot chocolate from a goblet. The forms war w/ the content.

This may be more than you ever wanted to hear about form, structure, and cups. :) But it’s important. Honest.

Because people AREN’T cups. And our ‘form’ needn’t dictate (or even seriously impact) our ‘content.’ I don’t have to wear old person clothes — I needn’t eschew my beloved jeans. Any more than I had to wear a dress to my son’s wedding. :) I can reject form, up to a point. (I’m NOT going to a funeral in pyjamas, despite how many students turn up for class that way!)

But in poetry? I’m sticking to my initial claim: form is a great way of enabling content. :)

septolet for four sisters

eldest
middles
younger still
our lives stairstep

each sister a tread
family the risers
connecting

Previous Posts

reflections on mortality
Nothing like a nervous day at the doc's to make you realise your life is very good. Not that I needed reminding... But it still serves as a bit of a wake-up call. You know: what the heck are you whining about?

posted 6:12:24pm Apr. 23, 2014 | read full post »

you don't always get what you want...
I'm raising bees! Today I went outside to check on them, and the brilliant blue/ green/ yellow & black of their bodies glittered as the females laid multiple eggs in the tubes of my mason bee house. The ne

posted 4:09:22pm Apr. 22, 2014 | read full post »

when Buddhism and Christianity were THIS close
Most of the time, I confess, I think of Christianity as a violent religion. Beginning w/ the Crusades, various holy wars, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, Nazi Germany... It

posted 6:43:33pm Apr. 21, 2014 | read full post »

form, poetry, and the empty cup
I spent the day researching obscure poetic forms.  And it was enormous fun -- thinking about what to pour into those elegant white cups of structure. Along the way, I wrote this poem for my sisters (the least structured of women). But we'll get to the poem in a moment. Because what's important i

posted 3:41:38pm Apr. 18, 2014 | read full post »

poetry, structure, and creative beginner's heart
Last night, discussing structure and writing with my elder son, I said I couldn't write w/ too much structure. That writing is -- for me -- a discovery process. Structure, I told him, can actually kill my ide

posted 3:03:47pm Apr. 16, 2014 | read full post »


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