In which Jesus plays the guitar

The Muses of ancient Greece were the goddesses of inspiration (we get our word “music” from them, by the way.) Inspiration is the energizing in-flow of the breath of God, a breath of wind or spirit.  And a mysterious and ephemeral thing it is; as you know “the wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (John 3:8)

Would that we all lived a life so attuned to the movement of God’s spirit that inspiration was as near to us as our next breath. The result of inspiration is the stuff that makes life worth living: music, poetry, art, humor…any creative endeavor, really. You just never know when or whence the muse will come: in a memory, a random phrase, a dream. But whatever: when it does come, you should listen. Because that’s God talking to you. And sometimes the muse comes in a piece of art sent to you by your friend Kim.

Okay… my friend Kim. A ridiculously well-educated and highly skilled guitarist (unlike some others of us,) Kim is privy to all kinds of esoteric stuff that professors share with one another. She is nice enough to let me play along (sometimes literally) and when she finds something funny (especially of the geeky, esoteric variety) she shares it with me.

And one of the great things about being a geek of any kind is the hilarity that ensues when geeks share esoteric stuff.

Namely, this:

Photo credit: Bryan Johanson

Y’all. This is Jesus. Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes. Playing a cross shaped like a guitar. And…wearing earbuds? (What in the world does Jesus listen to on his iPod?) This confection of pure awesomeness comes to us from Kim’s friend Bryan, who found it in an out-of-print book entitled something like “Art from Baroque Mexico.”

Now, neither of these professors lives in Austin. But here in Austin we LOVE our baroque Mexican art. And what’s not to love about what Bryan says is “The Infant Jesus, Redeemer. Baby Jesus is playing a guitar in the shape of a cross with images of the Passion surrounding him.” The artist is unknown, from a private collection.

One of my other esoteric friends, Clint the Latin Teacher, tells me that the ribbon scroll says this: “Cantabiles mihi erant iustificationes tuae in loco peregrinationis meae.”  It is Psalm 119:54:  “Your statutes have been my songs wherever I make my home.” (NRSV) The Latin more literally reads: “Your statutes were my songs in the place of my wandering.”

We are co-creators (with God) of the world, my friends. God is with us when we wander, wherever we make our home, and when we sing, and when we share fantastic stuff like this with one another. God is with us, talking to us and inspiring us to enjoy creation, and each other. Doesn’t this Baroque Baby Jesus Playing the Guitar While Wearing Earbuds just make you want to get over yourself? It does me.

Lovers in a dangerous time

Museum sculpture, Santa Fe.

Growing up, I didn’t know I was an introvert, I just figured there was something wrong with me.  I am glad to see Introversion starting to gain some momentum as something other than a disability to be overcome. There is some pretty good stuff out there these days contributing to what the Huffington Post calls “the growing conversation around introversion.” (See the fantastic graphic “Dr. Carmella’s Guide to Understanding the Introverted.”)

I never really felt quite at home in the world as a kid, but I learned to adapt. Having extroverted friends helped: often I could just float along in their slipstream. Also, while I would go to sleep-overs, I usually ended up finding a corner or a bathtub to sleep in, away from the others. I did worry, despite my efforts to fit in, that the real problem was that I possessed some sort of Flaw: life seemed so effortless for so many others, so what the hell was wrong with me?

I realize now that it was my perceptions that were flawed.

I made it through those early years thanks to my various communities: I had a good family and just enough friends to feel safe. As an adult I have learned more and more about what I need (time with others balanced with time alone, for example), which has helped me have compassion for the needs of others. I know now that my experience, even though it is very personal to me, is in fact universal, and not just for other introverts.

My journey as a human being and seeker and priest is teaching me that this feeling of not fitting in, not feeling at home in the world…this is the human condition. I can picture a Universal Truth Mad Lib we could all fill in: “As a child, I felt bad about being __________ and ___________. I thought it was because I was ____________ in a world that was ___________.”

The first step to overcoming this isolation to confront it as a lie. Our sense of separation and division is not real:  we are one, as God is one. We are, in fact, all beloved of God, and created to love one another. These are dangerous times for those who seek love over hate, light over dark. It is a radical act–and a real risk–to reach a hand across a boundary. But we can be healed (and agents of healing) only if we cultivate compassion for the isolation of others.

When you’re lovers in a dangerous time/ Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime / Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight / Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight when you’re lovers in a dangerous time (Bruce Cockburn)

Raise my hands / paint my spirit gold

I want to live in the world, not behind some wall

Want to live in the world where I will hear if another voice should call

to the prisoner inside me, to the captive of my doubt

who, among his fantasies, harbors the dream of breaking out

and taking his chances alive in the world (J. Browne)

I had satellite radio for a while, but my free trial expired and I don’t miss it. For me, listening to the radio is the aural equivalent of mindlessly flipping through channels on TV: all you can do is Keep Trudging and Hoping Against Hope. After a while the dreck just rots your brain. You are what you listen to.

Picture 123
Self-portrait, Santa Fe

I am obsessively intentional about my listening habits and my collection has been carefully curated over the years. This passion has its roots in my childhood (as…indeed…what passion doesn’t?), and I inherited it from my dad, who inherited it from his dad. We always had very complicated audio set-ups: hi-fi speakers the size of dressers, mysterious add-ons like woofers and tweeters, also that disc-washing system with the squirty stuff you stored inside the brush-pad thing. You had to be very, very careful with the needle because it was a DIAMOND, for heaven’s sake. Which meant you couldn’t just walk past the turntable with your regular feet because the needle would skip.

From my earliest years, I would lie on the floor in front of the turntable with headphones listening to the music of the house: folk, classical, soundtracks (Gilbert & Sullivan, Rogers & Hammerstein, Disney…even Captain Kangaroo.) Then there was the occasional new artist. I remember the day my dad brought home Abbey Road; the whole Paul-is-dead business was my first Beatles experience. (He wasn’t–and isn’t–dead.) John Denver came into my life in the same way. (He is, unfortunately.)

Then, later, when I started falling in love and I began to pick my own music, I developed a special penchant for the depressing stuff. I would lie on the floor in front of my own turntable, usually in the dark, and listen to the same albums over and over and over.

Sometimes my dad would make me stand in the middle of the room the better to Experience The Music Fully. (“WAIT!” he’d say, “listen for that harmony/banjo/drum!”) Of course, I subjected my daughter and son to the same lessons in listening, and I happen to know that they have done the same to their friends. I’m so proud.

Listening to music (carefully chosen) with one’s whole body and attention and spirit is a soul-cleansing practice. I listen to music the way some people read their horoscopes or self-help books. In the music I find God, meaning, direction, and encouragement. I receive assurances that I’m not alone in what I am feeling and thinking and dealing with at that moment. Often, often a song or a lyric or a chord change will pierce my thoughts, or my troubles, or my heart, affecting my outlook.*

Thankfully, while I still love the depressing stuff, some songs are guaranteed to raise my spirits. The title above is a little lyric-gem from the British band Mumford & Sons. The song, “I Will Wait” is in my current car-listening loop,** because it just makes me happy with its gale-force harmony/banjo/drums.***

What do you listen to?

*In the interest of full disclosure I must confess that I am working on reading the Bible with the same devotion.

**Also in the current loop: Walk of Life (Dire Straits), Choctaw Hayride (Union Station), Part of the Plan (Fogelberg) and Obvious Child (Simon) among others.

***Here’s a link to the video. Best served loud.

Give me Shavasana or give me death, Pt. 1

When I feel like exercising, I just lie down until the feeling goes away. Animator Paul Terry, quoted in the New York Herald Tribune

I love yoga. I love yoga so much that I think really hard about having a strong yoga practice. The problem (well, one of the problems) is that my desire to practice yoga is not always strong enough actually to get me to class. Unfortunately, my good-health work ethic is pretty shoddy. For it to work, I need everything–and I mean everything–to align: the weather, my schedule, the occasional flash of motivation. An alignment of stars wouldn’t hurt, either.IMG_1268

At the same time: as a person of faith, I am convicted that good physical health is as much a priority as my spiritual health. I know this. So, even though it’s easier for me to maintain a spiritual practice (one can do that sitting down, after all), I know the time has come to make a commitment to a physical practice. There is more and more deferred maintenance due on the temple: my body is getting older, and if I want all the parts to keep working, I had better start taking better care of them.

But my wellness practice is like a cat: you can’t look directly at it or it will slink away and not come back until dinner. So I need to proceed with stealth. Sneak up on it.

I have recently found a free yoga class, offered weekly at a convenient time, about 100 yards away from where I work. That’s a nearly perfect hand, and as long as I just do it, I have a chance. I have now attended the class four (FOUR!) times in a row. My favorite part, the thing that keeps me going through the groaning, is Shavasana, at the very end. This is “corpse pose”: lying on the floor in the cool, dim room, listening to peaceful music. It’s lovely.

I can’t call it a yoga practice yet, but I am hopeful.

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. 3 John 1:2

Sometimes life sucks (Or: If I had wanted lumps in my smoothie, I’d have ordered a “lumpie”)

Hey, Dollface! These guys are both cute...and terrifying. It's all about your perspective.
Hey, Dollface! These guys are both cute…and terrifying.
It’s all about your perspective.

Let’s face it: Life is hard, and dangerous, and sometimes you get lumps in your smoothie. People who pretend otherwise bug me, because they are not just lying to themselves, they are lying to me. The ones who REALLY bug me are the Christians who act like if your life is hard, it’s because you don’t have enough faith. We Christians need to stop lying to ourselves and each other about that. That’s the kind of lie that keeps us separated from God and from one another.

I am always amazed to realize that the SAME THINGS that were TOTALLY FINE yesterday can be a crushing burden today. I guess this is where we get the expression “same shit, different day,” but actually, I’m saying that the shit itself is bi-polar. It changes personalities, like the demon under the bed that turns out to be a teddy bear. Or like this box of doll faces. All depends on your perspective, I guess.

One night at a women’s group gathering we were discussing that sense of isolation that troubles bring. My friend Frana (who has been around long enough to raise six children and survive two years of widowhood–and counting) said something like: “I just realized that all these years I have been comparing my insides to other people’s outsides.” Yes.

When I hear something like this, shared by a sister or brother in the community of faith, I am able to unclench a little, and breathe a little deeper, and thank God for making me a human. That’s why we are here. That’s why we need each other: to share our insides, and our struggles,  our joys and our fears. Faith is not the magic juju that keeps bad stuff from happening; it is the energy that keeps us connected to God and one another so we can keep going.

Noticing hidden layers of reality

The Costa Rican sun back-lights a lily.

Even though I have had a motorcycle license for over a year, I’m still experiencing my scooter riding in a new way, every time. I ride for fun, not as my primary mode of transportation, so nothing has become second nature to me yet as a rider. Feeling exposed out there on the scooter is an intense exercise in paying attention: trying not to get killed really is a kind of spiritual practice.

When I ride, I notice every single smell: there are lovely woodsy or restaurant smells (is there anything nicer than the smell of garlic or barbeque smoke in the outdoors?) alternating with things like garbage and road kill, not so nice.

Even the slightest temperature change is noticeable on the scooter: one travels at 40 mph through alternating curtains of heat and coolness. If I were in the car–even with the windows down–I wouldn’t have this strange experience of shifting reality.

It occurs to me that–in fact–there are all kinds of layers to reality that we NEVER see, probably because we just aren’t paying attention. We travel all the time without awareness over and through layers of history and memory, without even registering anything beyond our own senses.

My practice these days is to pay more attention and cultivate my sense of wonder. I am practicing: what are those birds I hear? Where does this river go? What are the words to this new song? Oh, look at the light through that sprinkler. And one of my favorites is from the Book of Common Prayer: Thank you, God, for the gift of water. I am practicing waking up to other realities, raising my gaze above the path immediately before me.