25 July 2013

Riviera


The Buick Riviera is the first car I ever drove. I’d’ve been 13 and it would’ve been in 1964. My father was a General Motors executive; he’d bought a ‘63 Riviera; one of the first.
My father’s Riviera came with the 401c.i. 4bbl V8 / 325H.P. engine, automatic (dynaflow) transmission w/stick shift, power steering, power brakes, power windows, power seat, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt steering column, remote trunk release, AM Radio, remote outside mirror, bucket/console, broadband whitewall tires on factory steel wheels with wire hubcaps, and “Granada” red exterior. My father called it “fire ball red”. The interior was black leather, with bucket seats, mahogany details and chrome finishes. He liked the way it looked.
I’ve learned General Motors advertised the Riviera as “the car you wear”. This is perfect! My father liked charcoal and light grey single-breasted wide lapel fine wool business suits with pleated cuffed pants held up by suspenders or a black leather silver-buckled belt. He placed a folded tri-cornered white handkerchief in his suit jacket breast pocket. He wore white cotton French-cuff shirts finished with emerald-cut, 5-carat black onyx, gold-posted, cuff links. Black art-deco diamond shaped RTC pocket monogram adorned his shirt pockets; the shirts were always freshly laundered, starched and ironed. Black polished wing tip lace-up calf-leather shoes and black knee socks, sometimes w/garters, finished his everyday business attire. He liked the way he looked.
My father let me drive his Riviera. I drove it around our semi-ovular Oakwood, OH. driveway. I must’ve been asking to drive, my sister and brother were gone by that time, and a limited permission was granted; I was restricted to our driveway. My father had spoken. And that is what I did, a round and round and round and round I drove in a counter clockwise fashion.
After some time I decided to reverse course. The driveway’s eastern end was a steep uphill; I wanted to drive uphill. And that is what I did, around and round and round and round I drove clockwise and uphill. I went nowhere but my experience was exhilarating.
I wanted to try something different. So I attempted to pull into our garage, into the space next to, and to the right of, my mother’s Buick LeSabre estate wagon. I pulled in at a 45° angle to her car and the garage space. I was blind to the tight geometry and declining space. I gashed the Riviera the length of the driver’s and passenger doors. Terrified but confident, too bull-headed to ask for help, fearing dire and painful physical consequences, but working to cover-up my errors, I backed up and pulled forward again and again and again so to extricate myself. I succeeded in deepening and lengthening the gash. I lifted the LeSabre up and over to it’s left, while creating squealing tire noise and ruckus, wedging it at its own 45° angle into the closed garage space. I recall screeching rubber on concrete and the wagons violent up and down bouncing landing. My father appeared wedged between wagon and entryway, then my mother, both aghast and dumbstruck. I wriggled out of the driver’s door window.
I never bought any car until I moved to Tennessee; I was 31. Ah well.

22 July 2013

Beginner's Mind


TIME: The Weekly Magazine, April 8, 1966

Once upon a time in my Episcopalian journey I had beginner’s mind. I didn’t think of it that way. And no Roman or Episcopal priest worth his formation, certainly not C. FitzSimons Allison, then rector Grace Episcopal Church, would’ve spoken of a “journey”. I think ordained western traditions in the late ‘60’s, early ‘70’s, were still struggling with men, that men are sinners, our bodies are corrupt, and God may be dead for us all. Beyond Reverend C. Fitz Simons Allison’s welcome and cordial social grace the technical word “received” might still be the word to welcome a beginner’s mind to Episcopal traditions.
I worked in bookstores. I’d majored in religious studies, though it was called history & literature of religion in my day. I knew of Shunryu Suzuki’s, Zen Mind ~ Beginners Mind. I tried to read it. His words were different, steeped in a tradition so new and so other to my mind and ears. I was hopelessly opaque to the simple insight of his cascading revelations. My birth family’s Roman Catholic religious and spiritual pathways bound me; I was entangled. My holy longing was strong; not yet formed by a sustained traditional practice through time. My rote prayer felt empty. It was no longer rote until I was beyond my beginner’s mind. The closest I came to a zen-quiet beyond my beginning narrative prayer was contemplative prayer practiced on a retreat. We sought the still point. A poster in the room proclaimed He is the still point of the turning world. “He” was not the Buddha.
I’ve heard Buddhists speak of “beginner’s mind.” They say the best way to approach meditation is not to focus on how long or how still I meditate, but instead focus on the simple action of coming back from distraction to the still point again and again. Buddhists say if I could see myself as always beginning, and never pay attention to how advanced you were, it would be so much more fruitful. [1] I don’t practice Zen Buddhism. It and Confucianism and Taoism are religious and spiritual cousins. I do practice Taoist Tai Chi. I practice with my body and my mind follows. In so doing I return again and again and repossess my balance and still point. It’s one natural benefit of my physical practice. I practice with my body and my mind follows. The Tao is the still point.
The local Taoist Tai Chi instructors endeavor to keep words out of instruction. Imitation of movement is desired; words and metaphors often lead to distraction, a narrative misapprehension often linked to the student’s visual understanding. There’s no equivalent spiritually integrated bodily religious practice in the western narrative Episcopal tradition. In contrast Episcopalians are enmeshed in words. We isolate body and mind; we schlepp the body, a sort of red-headed devil’s child, the corrupt vessel, as obligation; it’s so unfair. Episcopal beginners grumble about sit, kneel, stand. We sit to learn. We kneel to pray. We stand to sing and give praise. Sit, kneel, stand; sit, kneel, stand; on and on woven through our worship. It’s just a little movement; enough to keep us awake and coming back to the words Ah well. What is to be done?
I’ve heard the first line of the Chinese language Gospel According to John translates as, In the beginning was the Tao. To me this makes complete sense and I have immediate intuitive understanding. If I tried rewriting the beginner’s Taoist Tai Chi practice and mind into a New Testament beginner’s words, as my personal Taoist Tai Chi creation story, I’d say, And the Tao becomes flesh and dwells within us. [2]
In the end there is no “right” way for the beginner except to begin. Social manners, posture, being received, specific books or priests or teachers, none of them are the means of obtaining the “right” state or mind or “proper” manner of movement. To make the effort of any kind within any form is the right state of mind. There is no special state of mind. There’s just practice, participation, practice, participation, and practice.

11 July 2013

Artisanship

Birdhouse by ReBob @ Borderland Woodworks.
Image by SweetWilliam
I look straight into the heart of Appalachian culture when I see its folk art. Nothing expresses so well the spirit, creativity, and values of southern Appalachian people than their homegrown and untrained personal expressions of artisanship. I can not hope to understand the women and men of this region without my glimpse into their characters and their affections?
I see how folks pass their time. I see what amuses them and what Appalachians view as satisfying or curious or essential. I see loving care and expression through their hands. Mountain, hill & holler traditions inform their work and their creativity gives their forms craft and their care elevates their craft to artisanship. By their hands Appalachian traditions and people are known. 

04 July 2013

Suffering


“Tell my wife I do not fear to die,” the twenty-nine year-old North Carolinian (Major General, CSA, William Dorsey) Pender said, in the course of his suffering, which was intense. “I can confidently resign my soul to God, trusting in the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. My only regret is to leave her and our children.” If this had the tone of Stonewall Jackson, under whom Pender had developed into one of the best of all Lee’s generals despite his youth, his last words sounded even more like his dead chief: “I have always tried to do my duty in every sphere of life in which Providence has placed me.”[1]
Pender had been unhorsed by a casual fragment of shell fired from Cemetery Ridge during the Battle of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863 wounded in the thigh. It wasn't thought serious. He was carried from the field and transported by hospital wagon to Staunton, VA.  
(Brigadier General John B.) Imboden had made good speed with his 17 mile long column, though at the cost of much suffering by the wounded, whose piteous cries to be left by the road to die were ignored by the drivers in obedience to orders that there were to be no halts for any reason whatever, by day or night. Many of the men had been without food for thirty-six hours, he later wrote, and 'their torn and bloody clothing, matted and hardened, was rasping the tender, inflamed, and still oozing wounds. Very few of the wagons had even a layer of straw in them, and all were without springs. . . . From nearly every wagon as the teams trotted on, urged by whip and shout, came such cries and shrieks as these: 'Oh God! Why can't I die?' 'My God, will no one have mercy and kill me?" "Stop! Oh, for God's sake, stop just for one minute; take me out and let me die on the roadside!' 'I'm dying, I am dying!' . . . "'Duing the one night," the calvaryman added, "I realized more of the horrors of war than I had in all the two preceding years." [2]
In this horrific transport infection set in and on July 18 an artery in Pender's leg ruptured. Surgeons amputated the leg to try to save him but he died some hours after.
Would that I feel the assurance and the resignation and the confidence and the faith found in Pender’s words in the course of suffering. That I might so proclaim, Lord hear my prayer.


[1] Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative, (New York, Random House, 1963) II, pg. 513.
[2] Ibid, pg. 584