behind the waterfall

do you remember the time
when we were simple

we went to the place
back in the woods
behind your parents’ house
where that creek
the one with all the crawfish
rushes down
over jagged rocks

and if you get down low
and make like a caterpillar
who doesn’t mind getting wet
you can wriggle your body
or maybe two bodies
if they are close friends
into the cavelike space
behind the cascade

we did that
me and you
my brown-eyed girl

we slipped and slid
got mud in our hair
messed up our bluejeans
seriously

a broken stick
jabbed you in the arm
it bled a little
but you didn’t care

then we lay down
and cuddled close
in that cool and cozy
damp cocoon

and looking out
we saw golden light
streaming through the fountain
fashioning each droplet
into a tiny prism

rainbow showers
dappling down
over a green canvas
reminding us of verdant life
in the wood beyond

we held each other
in the midst of magic
for a brief forever
until our sogginess
broke the spell

and we squirmed out
filthy hands clasped tight
shining in the summer sun
and ran back home
laughing

driving

ever since i was a child
i’ve been having the same dream

i’m driving
(even as a little boy
i dreamed of driving)
over a suspension bridge
the kind where the road curves up
to a summit
and then back down
to rendezvous with the far bank

except

in my dream
when i reach the top of the arch
i can see
there will be no meeting at the shore

the road ends at a drop
i’m going too fast
and i plunge
screaming
into the cold dark water

over the years
my dream has mutated
and sometimes
rather than a bridge
the highway forms a towering parabola
or a roller-coaster loop
which even the most skillful driver
could not hope to negotiate
without falling
screaming
into the depths

each time i have this dream
it is terrible
and as i see the behemoth approach
my heart is filled with fear
yet i am powerless to turn away

last night
i had the dream again

i recognized the road i was traveling on
i knew well what was coming
yet i was powerless to turn away

i saw the colossal arc of skyway
which i knew
no sane driver
would attempt to traverse

i saw the wave-licked surface
of inky waters below

it was sunny in my dream
a beautiful day
other drivers on this road seemed
unperturbed

it’s always like that
in this dream

and i knew i could not stop
and i could not turn
and i had no choice
but to try and fail
and fall
and die

i was cold

but at the feet of the leviathan
i closed my eyes
and pressed the pedal to the floor
and i whispered a prayer
(though i do not ever pray
like that
i do not pray for rescue)

and then
and then…
i don’t know

my brain moved on
to another province of sleep
leaving me suspended
with hands on the wheel
eyes shut tight
gravity pressing me
compressing me
back into the seat

did i make it?
or did i hurtle downward
to the indigo water
as i’ve done in so many
dreams before?

i don’t know
i honestly don’t know

but i know
that i closed my eyes
and i said a prayer
i pushed the gas pedal hard
and i told my fear

honey
you can have the back seat
this time around
and i recommend
that you buckle up

memoir

i’m a leaf on the wind
watch how i soar

held aloft
for stretched-out seconds
lifted up on frail breezes
little zephyrs made capricious
by new, unforeseen power

by now
my flight should have ended
i should have tumbled
to the ground
and yet, still i soar

but in the end
there is only one destination

fate and gravity agree
there is nowhere else to go
but down

did i know this, as i clung
snugly to my branch
for week upon week
watching spring’s greening
explode all around?

did i understand
as summer’s sun warmed me
and by that kind and shining god
i was lovingly given
my photosynthetic daily bread?

what did i know
while i hung there
absorbing jubilant energy
rejoicing in my kinship
with the community of leaves?

united in our mission:
we feed our tree
we are all one
we feed our tree

what did i think
while i suffered there
absorbing the pain
of late summer and autumn
as nutrients waned
and my lush chlorophyll
gradually vanished?

could i see that this
accumulation of wounds
made me beautiful?

that it pulled to the surface
magnificent colors
that were always there
in potential within me
though i never knew?

what did i think would happen
when i let go?

i don’t know the answers
to these questions
i ask myself
as i soar

i’m just a leaf
a leaf on the wind
drifting finally
necessarily
to earth

At the Bridge

I can smell your frail hope, little goat
Just as clear and strong and pungent
As the tantalizing odor of your fear

They’re quite alike
These two fine scents
Sweet and tangy
Toothsome and rich

Like juicy mutton roasting, charring
Over crackling, reaching flames

But the aftertaste
So scrumptious
Deep and secret in the throat

That’s how you know
That’s how you recognize the savor
Born in some peculiar corner
Of the soul

And I, little goat
I love fear the very best

And it’s terror most exquisite
That I cherish in the darkest folds
And crannies of my
Prune-dry, shriveled heart

So now you’ve met the troll
Now it’s time to pay the toll

I see you quivering up there
One tiny hoof a-tap-tap-tapping
On the closest creaky floorboard
Of my bridge

I see your soft chin-hair convulsing
Like itty-bitty mousie in his trap
Sorry, broken-backed and scared

And oh so scared
And oh so scared

But you know
You mustn’t cross my bridge
Oh no, you’ll never budge
Until I’m satisfied

Are you ready, little goat?
Ripe to settle your wee debt?

Then come on now
Come on quick
Come on under with the troll
Come and see me down below

these dreams

a moment
thirty years delayed

to the chubby, awkward kid
too smart to be cool
for whom this song
was a first kiss
a first love

thirty years
was twice a lifetime

thirty years
was an age unimagined

thirty years
was a thing unfathomable
known only to the ancients

but to the grown-up me
who experienced
at long last

the flawless woodwind notes
of nancy’s lead vocals

the spooky playfulness
of ann’s sweet harmony

the consummate
otherworldly guitarwork
of the band

to that svelter, still awkward man
standing in the cut grass
standing in the warm dark
standing in ecstasy
thirty years was only

a short climb up the stairs
from the vendors of t-shirts
and frosty margaritas
sipped from the necks
of plastic guitars

to arrive at the top of the hill
and our blanket
thrown on the lawn
far above the crowded
auditorium seats

in the company of dear friends
beneath a rippled sunset sky
like the sky above the fey-lands
or the realm of morpheus

and surrounded by thousands
of fellow travelers
each in their own euphoria

augmented by drink
or weed
or nothing but the night

and surrounded by sound
submerged in waves of music
as the band began to play

and surrounded
after all
by these dreams

Bottom’s Death

The poetry prompt was to write a poem using only the words of one character in one scene or speech in a Shakespeare play. So I decided to write one using Bottom’s speech after he wakes up, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act IV, Scene I. I wanted to try and write him a death speech – before falling asleep, so to speak, rather than after waking up – and it’s an older, wiser, humbler Bottom, and in proper iambic pentameter (because he’s a serious character now). Here it is.

Bottom’s Death

If Bottom’s cue is next: to be no more
And sing an answer to God’s gracious flute
This ass, this fool will be a man and go
His eye hath seen, his ear hath heard the call

But when this play of life is at an end
Will I expound it more, this dream I had?
My ballad, peradventure, hath no heart
My tongue, asleep, can offer no report

My life hath stolen hence – no vision comes
No more shall mender make a patched me
Methought I was a duke; I am a man
I shall conceive of death, and her fair hand

geek chic

geek chic
the nerd mystique
this t-shirt highlights my physique
and every day of every week
(six months now, in my current streak)
my shirt drawer opens and i seek
a different icon (so to speak)
to demonstrate my fan technique
they’re never bought in a boutique
but they are laundered (else, they’ll reek!)
they often feature snark and cheek
at times, political critique
but don’t you dare call me a freak!
for i am mighty, though i’m meek
i have a voice that’s quite unique
and i express it through
geek chic

So I bet you thought I was…something other than a Scientific Pantheist

hst_ngc4414_9925Photo credit

As a companion piece to my post on my sexual identity, here’s one that lays out (in somewhat less conversational manner) how I identify spiritually. In case you wondered. 🙂

For a somewhat similar project – and one with which I can, to a large extent, get on board – see Mike McHargue (aka Science Mike), Axioms About Faith. Actually, while you’re on his website, check out other stuff Mike is doing, including his book Finding God in the Waves and his podcasts. He and I are on a very similar wavelength (pun intended) and he’s been a welcome companion on my journey recently.

Anyway, read on if you dare.

General identification

In rough order of preference:

  1. Scientific/Naturalistic Pantheist and Humanist
  2. igtheist, ignosticagnostic, atheist, nontheist, post-theist, skeptic, secularist, empiricist
  3. Episcopalian, therefore Anglican, therefore Christian (though a heretical one)
  4. Drikung Kagyu, therefore Tibetan Buddhist, therefore Buddhist (though a heretical one)
  5. Heavily influenced by portions of Quaker, Taoist, JewishHindu, and Marxist thought

(I should mention that nearly everything I know about Scientific Pantheism I learned from the good folks of the World Pantheism movement.)

Creed

  1. I believe in the sacred.
    1. The universe – all of reality – is sacred.
    2. What I mean is: in potential, and very often in actuality, it is a good place.
    3. I am comfortable, depending on the company I’m in, using the term “God” to represent this universe, this reality, in all its fullness.
  2. I believe it is on us to work to make that good potential more real.
    1. If God is love, or the source of love, then that love is expressed only when we animals and humans express it.
    2. If God is the source of justice, then that justice is approximated only when we do the work required to move toward it.
    3. Love and justice are aspects of God only via those aspects of God called animals and humans. (Barring other types of sentient life so far undiscovered.)
  3. I believe it is on us to work out how to do this.
    1. Nobody is going to tell us how.
    2. Nobody is going to tell us “right” from “wrong”.
    3. We need to work it out, as individuals and together.
  4. I believe that the sacred is reality, and reality is sacred.
    1. Reality (or God) is: this one, everyday, natural universe.
    2. No “supernatural” makes sense to me.
    3. There are many, many things in this natural universe that we do not understand. There may be things within it that we can never understand. That does not imply that they originate in a separate “supernatural” universe.
    4. If there are other detectable universes, they may one day be discovered; presupposing them is uncalled for.
  5. I believe in the sacredness of, and the call to care for, the earth, with all of its oceans and lands, plants and animals. We are all one, and all in this together.
  6. I believe in humanity, and in the potential for humans to be good, individually and together.
    1. I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every human.
    2. I believe that we must work for one another’s dignity, wellness, and liberation, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual identity, dis/ability, social class, faith or lack thereof, etc. We are all one, and all in this together.
  7. I believe in science and the scientific method as our primary way of understanding reality, with philosophy and the arts playing a crucial role in interpreting that reality.
  8. I believe in mindfulness/contemplative/meditative practice and spiritual experience.
    1. As ways to grow in understanding and acceptance of the inner reality of the mind.
    2. As ways to grow in appreciation and gratitude for, and acceptance of, the outer reality of the universe.
    3. Depending on the company, I am comfortable referring to some of these practices as “prayer”.
    4. I am comfortable calling myself a contemplative, and a mystic, as well as a practitioner of mindfulness.
  9. I believe that we are better together than individually.
    1. I believe that when we listen together, to one another,  in sincerity and openness, what emerges from our discernment has the potential to be better than the sum of its parts – of us as individuals.
    2. I believe in this communal listening as a method to discern a path forward that is closer to unobstructed reality (both of the participants’ minds, and of the outer universe) then we might otherwise discern.
    3. Depending on the company, I am comfortable referring to this kind of listening as “prayer” and to the communal phenomenon of achieving greater clarity as “the Holy Spirit”.
  10. I believe in learning from human teachers (such as Jesus and the Buddha) and human writings (such as parts of the Bible and the teachings attributed to the Buddha), without dangerously deifying those people and documents.
    1. All that said, the lives and teachings of Jesus and the Buddha – as well as of many of their followers through the ages, and of sages from other traditions – are centrally important to my journey.
  11. I do not believe in any God who speaks (except when we speak), or who responds to supplication/prayer (by changing anything but the heart and mind of the speaker or listener), or who expresses favor or disfavor, or who takes sides.
    1. I do not believe in a God who “plays favorites”, both because I am highly skeptical that one exists, and because if one did, I would find that entity morally reprehensible.
    2. “God says” are possibly the two most dangerous words in the English language.

General thoughts and genesis of this document

I started this when the thought occurred to me: maybe I’m an atheist, but I’m a mystic atheist. The “mystic” stuff I was thinking of includes: meditative and contemplative practices (I’ve been sitting in silence each day), including “spiritual discernment” in the style pioneered by the Quakers (which, in my current understanding, is really just a combination of silence, openness, and listening to oneself and others), and also a deep sense of hopefulness and gratitude regarding our one natural universe. I have a deep sense of the actual and potential goodness of/in the universe, and my response to that doesn’t seem completely unlike “worship” in some ways. I don’t expect to get any communication or action from anything outside of or above our natural universe from any of this, but it still feels to me like “mystic” is not entirely an inappropriate term for these aspects of how I relate to the world.

Spiritual autobiography

I was brought up essentially secular in a family that was nominally Episcopalian, but mostly stopped going to church after I was confirmed at age 9. I was fascinated by evangelical Christianity (and friends with many evangelicals) through middle school, high school and college, without ever converting. In college I minored in religion, which opened up the vista of world religions to me, and I basically fell in love with all of them, collecting scriptures and bookmarks to web sites and visits to temples and centers, without ever adopting a faith.

Then when I was 27 (1998) I discovered my bipolar disorder (the hard way – pretty much how it goes, I think) and one of my therapists said something that led me to seek out the local Buddhists. I then spent three years as a practicing Tibetan Buddhist before moving and failing to find a Sangha which clicked for me.

About a year after that I had an experience that led me to seek out the Episcopal Church of my childhood, and finally converted (albeit to very progressive Christianity). I spent years in both the Episcopal Church and what was/is known as the “emerging church” (a progressive, experimental church movement informed by evangelical, liberal mainline, and non-Christian sources), and I’m still an active member of an “emerging church” community.

Then in 2010 I spent 9 months clinically depressed, and for the first time was forced to stare into the abyss of my own mortality – something I’d avoided (actually, violently recoiled from) doing before that. After that, I found that I was OK with life being finite – not thrilled about it, and of course I’d love to be proved wrong – but OK. Gradually I realized that, once I didn’t need a supernatural God to save me from death, I no longer really believed in one. But I was (and am) still actively involved in a Christian church and on the boards of two explicitly Christian nonprofits.

In early 2016, on a weekend retreat for one of these boards, I had a strong feeling that simply “atheist” was not a sufficient term for me. I didn’t believe in a supernatural, personally active God, but I did have a deep sense of connection to the universe and a reverence and gratitude for it – and that this felt “mystical” to me, in a non-supernatural way. This led me to write a “creed” of sorts for myself now, which I shared in a group called “Life after God”, and someone there suggested that I check out World Pantheism (an organization of folks who identify with scientific or naturalistic pantheism). So I did, and I’ve really liked what I’ve found.

Now I describe myself as both a Humanist and a Scientific Pantheist, although “agnostic” and “atheist” are not inappropriate terms for me – they just don’t say much. Also, I still consider myself a part of both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Christian tradition of which it is a part, and also the Drikung Kagyu Lineage and the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of which it is a part, even though I no longer share the supernatural beliefs (resurrection, trinity, karma, reincarnation) of those traditions. And I have a lot of respect and affinity for a number of other world faith traditions as well, including the Quakers, Unitarian Universalism, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Baha’i Faith, and, well, really the more progressive and mystical and naturalist branches of all the world faiths. And I also kind of love the weird bits too, despite that they can so easily become harmful.