Thursday, August 2, 2007

so it begins...

A single word bringing peace to the listener
is better than a thousand speeches full of empty words.
A single verse full of meaning bringing peac to the listener
is worth more than a thousand verses full of empty words.
Dhammapada 8:1

Durango, Colorado

I'm in a cybercafe, the Steaming Bean, in Durango, Colorado. I got in just yesterday morning, having spent the past two nights with Lewis and TuAnh Holm and their family in Denver. Lewis and I were in school together, high school, that is, he graduating in '75, and I in '76. He and I and another schoolmate, our friend Michael, got very tight after graduating, even though they were both a year ahead of me. While I was a senior, Michael went off to live with a group of radical Franciscans affiliated with the Catholic Worker in uptown Chicago. Lewis went off to California, which seems an awfully long way off of a kid from the suburbs of the suburbs in Illinois, to work with Cesar Chavez and the UFW. (This latter piece of information I find especially a propos given that I met the grandson of Cesar Chavez last weekend at Esalen Institute, Anthony, a bright young man majoring in Religious Studies and minoring in Political Science at CSU Bakersfield, but taking some time for political activism in Phoenix. Perhaps more about that later.) After his time on the road Lewis wound up back in Illinois; Fr Tony Taschetta, who had been all of our spiritual director in seminary high school had just been transferred to Sacred Heart Parish in Hopkins Park, outside of Kankankee, Illinois, one of the few rural African American communities north of the Mason Dixon Line. Tony was rather insturmental in my own "conversion experience" during my senior year and would be come the spiritual father, or at least Big Brother, of the us three, and still very tied to all of our lives. Anyway, after little contact for many years, save us making Richard Rohr's Male Rite of Passage retreat together in '98, Lewis and his son Emmanuel join my freinds who came and met me in India this past January. One of my favorite memories of that trip was actually climbing Mount Arunachala with them one morning at the break of dawn. When the trip was over I made a semi-promise that I would try to stop by Denver to re-acquaint myself with his wife, whom I had only met once 23 years ago, and meet the rest of his family, on my way through to Durango on one of my semi-regular trips here. And so I did.

Those few years in Chicago are so pregnant for me still, in a sense the seed of all that was to come later, though there was a lot of side trips in between then and now. (I paraphrased CS Lewis from "The Great Divorce" in a song once writing, "We don't live in a world where all the roads go 'round and 'round in circles. Every road forks in two, and two again, and we always choose.") It was there in Chicago that I met my first Zen Christians, met my first wanderers and hermits (city dwelling ones). It was during that era that I was introduced to all kinds of music outside of folk and rock––the soul, R&B and funk that was playing in the living rooms of the kids and out the windows of the apartment buldings on Gordon Terrace in the heat of the Chicago summer, as well as the spirituals and Gospel music that was being sung in the little church the Sacred Heart in Hopkins Park, Illinois, where I spent many a weekend, "learning and teaching," but mostly learning. It was then, at the end of that year, that I also met one of my heroes, Clarence Rivers, one of the few African Americans working in Catholic liturgical music, along with one of his proteges, Grayson Warren Brown, and another incredible musician-magician, Avon Gillespie. The week-long conference that I did with them in Rensellear Indiana was the equivalent of a musical conversion experience. Everything opened up after that, all things were possible. Clarence had written some of the first Catholic music in English, just after Vatican II, and he did so utilizing meldoies derived from spirituals. Brilliant. It was then, even that long ago, that I got the idea that chant did not mean just Gregorian chant.

I guess what’s got me thinking even more about that time of grace all those years ago and the seeds that were planted is that, of the three of us, Lewis’ seeds have really sprouted beautifully and he seems to have made less deviations on the path than me. Back then, he was eating vegetarian, at times only raw foods, and was very interested in health and natural simple living. Now married almost 25 years (next year!), he has his own chiropractic clinic in Littleton, Colorado, at which is wife Tu Anh also works. To describe what goes on there, it would be best to tell you how they treated me as I arrived. Tu Anh informed me as she picked me up at the airport that she was taking me immediately back to the office for a treatment. The whole office with its several rooms smells of herbs and oils. They are also specializing in Chinese herbal medicine and offering alternative cures for many common ailments. I first got a massage from Tu Anh, then Lewis came in and gave me an adjustment. He remembered that I had had problems with my IT band some months back when I returned from India and so he wanted to deal with that as well which he did by means of a tuning fork struck and then placed right at the juncture of my hip and thigh. It made me laugh, the deepest tickle I had ever felt. They also do acupuncture and acupressure, a full-scale holistic health stop. I was quite impressed.

My treatment wasn’t completely finished yet. Tu Anh had told me that the kids really wanted to “do the bowls on me,” meaning these beautiful resonant Tibetan singing bowls. Tu Anh has purchased five of them and they are becoming more and more apart of their therapy. These beautiful bowls (I was rememebing Ziggy and I having our experience in Mahaballipuram) are made of combinations of fine metals and their sounds are believed to have healing propetrties. They are also very costly. L.A., the youngest son, apparently especially is fond of them and he was my healer for the evening. They had me lay down on the floor and put one bowls over my head, another between my legs, and one at each arm. They were then struck three times in the sequence of the sign of the cross, which I found endearing. I don’t know if that was their innovation or if it just turned out that way. And then another bowl was rung over my head three times and a set of those brilliant finger cymbals was rung over the area from my chest to my face. It was a beautiful and relaxing experience.

Speaking of the sign of the cross, Lewis and Tu Anh and family are pretty ardent steadfast Catholics, with devotion to Mary ad the Eucharist as well as involvement in Thomas Keatings’ Contemplative Outreach, not to mention Lewis’ social activism in the past. It is so cool for me to see Catholics involved in this kind of holistic living, especially when it is so seamless and natural, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world to be a practicing Catholic and also naturalists. I have this image of us having deviated so far from the “way of heaven and earth,” the way of the Garden, and all of these things are movements toward that new Garden, right reliationship with God bringing about right relationship among people and peoples, and right relationship with the earth. It makes so much sense to me that anything other than that makes no sense.

Lewis keeps a lively home garden which he tends to each morning and evening, coming in the house with handfuls of delicious vegetables, and whatever Tu Anh buys is strictly organic. All the food that Tu Anh prepared or Lewis provided direct from the garden was delicious. Dinner my second and final night there was a real treat, vegetarian egg rolls and make-them-yourself spring rolls. The egg rolls (which did not contain any eggs, by the way) were bought from and nearby Vietnamese restaurant owned by friends of the family. The spring rolls were circle of rice paper dipped in hot water to soften, then filled with fresh mint, basil, lettuce, rice noodles, cooked tofu, and then dipped in hoisin sauce. What a delicacy and what a blast as well. Desert was mangoes and lychees, which I admit I had never seen in their natural form. I guess I suspect that the kids (ranging from 22 down to 12) would tire of such fare after a while but, while there were intimations that they were not adverse to MacDonalds and an occasional canned soda, they sure didn’t show the least disdain for the food they were served and as a matter of fact were reveling in the spring rolls as much as I.

I had no idea that Lewis et al lived practically around the corner from the infamous Columbine High School, from which two of the kids having entered and graduated after the massacre there in 1999. Their younger boy, L.A., is entering this year. Lewis was happy that I was so interested in “that little piece of history” and took me over Wednesday evening. We walked around the campus, peered in the window of the new Hope Memorial Library where there is a plaque commemorating the slain students, all the while Lewis recounting to me the details of that horrible day, which I had forgotten. Then we climbed a hill––Rebel Hill––in a field abutting the campus where a large memorial is being built. Only the concrete is laid as of now.