Monday, October 24, 2011

something of inexplicable value

...I feel the sun itself as it blazes over the hills, like a million flowers on fire - clearly I am not needed yet I feel myself turning into something of inexplicable value . . .
(mary oliver)
24 oct, london

When we returned from London with just enough time to get a little rest, and for Brigid to runoff and set up the evening event. I was part of an event which included a book launch, an Indian classical dancer and me. It was held at a Uniting Church near where I was staying in Cardiff. I left the book with Brigid to mail to me so I am not going to get the name of the author nor the title of the book correct just now, but the author was a rather well known liberal Baptist minister (I said, "We don't have any of those where I come from."), a mentor of Brigid's. And the book was entitled something like "Encountering the Sacred in Unexpected Places." We met briefly before the event (he had been to the event at St Michael's on Tuesday) and he told me of his interest in dialogue with the neo-pagan movements and with modern science, beyond that of with other religions. (There's that pagan theme again.) He was interviewed by a well-spoken man who was a friend of his. It was fascinating. Then a young woman from Karnatika gave us a beautiful performance of bharata natyam, Indian classical dance with an explanation of the story she was conveying. She seemed particularly pleased to meet me because of my connection with India, and we had our picture taken together on her cell phone (so it's official...). And then I did my thing, which seemed to be a pretty good blend of the two previous events.

The next day, Friday, after a good morning off, Brigid brought me over to the house she shares with Richard, who is a professional musician and part time recording engineer as well. He has a recording and filming set up right there in the house. Brigid had had the idea that I should a couple more videos for You Tube (with due regard for the irreplaceable Devin Kumar...), and so we did. We had a lot of fun working together and also talking afterward. Richard travelled playing for Van Morrison for five years, so of course lots of anecdotes about life on the road, but also about the deeper things of the musical path. He is that kind of musician I have always gravitated toward, these guys who are great players, maybe session players, absolute pros, but may never be the stars in the spotlight. The Brigid and I made the long trek down south to county Dorset for the retreat weekend. We didn't arrive lit late that evening when everyone had already gathered. The retreat facility is called Holton Lee, and if I remember the story correctly it started as a Christian community, dedicated to spirituality and the arts. As a matter of fact one of the founders, Jodi, who is still there, was a member of the musical group the Fisherfolk who I knew of already some years. Now they have done few intentionally Christian activities in the past few years, but are dedicated to arts, ecology, and especially to work with handicapped people. They are experimenting with a few specifically spiritual retreats again, and this was to be one of the absolute first. Brigid had worked there for some time some years ago, so she knew the place well. When I left California there were only three people signed up for the retreat and we weren't sure it was even going to go, but by Friday, after the events around the UK and a connection with the Bede Griffiths Sangha through our old friend Jill Hemmings, there were a full 25, a perfect number for the facility. We were mixed bunch, some Catholics, some Anglicans, several non-affiliated. I make it a point not to ask what tradition people are from when we start. For some reason I don't want to know. I guess it's that I want to believe that what I am talking about is universal, and if it isn't then I need to change the way I talk about it. We only started on Saturday morning, but we packed in a lot between then ands Sunday lunch, including "stretching and breathing" (which looks suspiciously like a yoga class), the regular prayer service, teachings, meditation, and musical presentation like the ones I have been doing, and a nice Lectio and Agape feast to close. I thought it went super. The feedback I heard from folks as well as the questions they asked during the discussions made me think over and over again of Fr Bede, how he could re-articulate Christianity in such as way as to help people to make peace with it, and to understand the other spiritual traditions enough to be able to encourage and uphold them too, and so to aid anyone in their spiritual life. I left feeling very grateful for this work we get to do. We met in a wonderful white box of a room with ceiling to floor windows on one side that looked out to the east. During our stretching and breathing in the morning, it was still pretty dark when we gathered at 7:15, but the overhead fluorescent lights were too harsh, so we just had lit candles around the room. So the beautiful sun was coming up right in the beautiful faces of the retreatants, full on by the time we got to the meditation period at the end. I shall remember how several of them stayed afterward when it was time for breakfast, siting on the floor in front of the window, admiring the sun and letting its warmth spill over their upturned faces. "Awakening in this moment of peace..."

I think the work I have done here these past weeks has been good. "Clearly I am not needed," yet it would be nice to think that I might be doing something of inexplicable value. After lunch I took the train up to London, a good two hour journey, which I enjoyed as always, to Waterloo station, buzzing and cold, and then took the Tube up to Islington, where I am now staying with my friend, yogi and Rolfer Giovanni and his mate Luke. Just enough time for a good sleep, a hot bowl of porridge, a trip to the gym and then my other friends Paul and Catherine of Psallite are coming up from Portsmouth to take me to lunch and then drop me at Heathrow for the flight to Tel Aviv. I have nearly finished this second book on Jerusalem, saving the last few chapters for my time there. I feel like doing some kind of ablution to prepare myself, but I may have to content myself with breaking a sweat in the gym and a good long hot bath. I expect I'll have some things to write about from there soon.