Sunday, March 15, 2009

Quaker Batman

Literal Truth Department disclosure here: Batman is not a Quaker.

Not that that's a surprise to anyone familiar with the Dark Knight's career. Though he does not take life, he is a violent vigilante; and even in his life as Bruce Wayne, his life is not only a testimony to luxury, waste, and conspicuous consumption, his corporation, Wayne Enterprises, has numerous contracts with the Defense Department and the C.I.A.

So, lest anyone get the wrong idea here, let me say it straight out: Batman is not a Quaker.

Nonetheless, he attends New England Yearly Meeting of Friends on an annual basis, and Peter, at least, would be lost without him.

What I mean is this:

I've written before about how deep and rich Peter and I have both found the worship at NEYM, particularly in the Meeting for Business. The "Bible half-hour", too, despite a title that kept me away for the first two years attending NEYM, turns out to be gathered, rich, and full, and if I am not a convert to Christianity, I am a convert to attending this time of worship at Sessions each year.

Last year, in particular, I felt like even the casual conversations between workshops and over lunch were challenging me to find new depths within myself. I was aware of the Presence that gathered us together almost the entire time I was awake, and I found myself dreaming Quaker dreams at night. There was a lot of prayer, a lot of breathtaking song, and just a lot of feeling caught up and gathered into God going on for me... for both of us.

Spend too long at an unaccustomed altitude, and a newcomer to the mountains can get sick. Spend enough time deep enough in the oceans, and it's best to surface only very gently and gradually, to keep nitrogen bubbles from forming in your blood.

The spiritual world is like this, too. If I attempt to spend too much time in a state of spiritual profundity, I lose my balance. I start to get strange and distorted ideas of my place in God's (or the gods' if we're talking a Pagan context) universe. Up to a certain point, I can carry communion with the spiritual world gracefully, unselfconsciously, proceeding as Way opens, listening inwardly to the gentle tugs and leadings of the Light working on me.

Beyond that point, I get lost.

Communion with God in whatever form, after all, is largely about transformation of the self, changing to be in better, truer relationship with the Spirit. It's a deep and lasting transformation, from the inside out.

But, if I've been open to that Presence long enough, I start to outrun the quiet leadings that rise from that communion. I start leaning into my transformation, over-enthusiastically trying to second-guess what I'm meant to be and to do tomorrow. I start trying to hustle into being a better Quaker (or, back in the day, a better Pagan, a better worshipper of Herne or the Goddesss) from the outside in.

And that trick never works. It just makes me... stupid. Overexcited and stupid.

Or perhaps the difficulty is this: when I've been opened to Spirit long enough, strongly enough, I need to step away from all that brightness long enough to let the transformations within me... settle. I need to assimilate them into myself, so that they will stay and so that they will take the final shape they were meant to take, not mutate into something grandiose and unreal.

As plants grow and change in the night after their days of photosynthesis, ordinary human beings need a time away from the earth-shattering and soul-filling spiritual encounter. We need, at times, to remember our ordinariness.

And that's where Batman comes in.

Peter always brings a huge stack of comic books to NEYM. Me? I bring a laptop computer loaded with a silly, gaudy, addictive video game, filled with orcs and goblins and zombies for my pixilated alter-ego to hew down in droves.

Both of us, in other words, turn from deep reflectiveness and worship of the Spirit of Peace to comic book violence and mayhem.

So far, neither of us has been remotely tempted to bring all that violence into the dining hall at crowded meals. For whatever it is worth, we do not seem to need to introduce violence into the communal experience of Sessions in order to get our needs met.

But we do feel, both of us, a real hunger to step back from anything that feels remotely spiritual, at least for a few hours every day. And it's tough to get less spiritual than Batman, at least among Friends. (My orcs and goblins have to struggle to keep up... but we make do.)

I know there are those who are able to step back through music and the silly fun of the coffee house show; I know those who find it possible to get their breaks through a long bike ride or a hike. For me, these things, made as they are of the stuff of community life and communion with the natural world, are just other ways of seeing God. And sometimes, I find I must look away from God for a bit. I am not strong enough to bear Her presence, unbroken, for very long.

It was like that in the Pagan world, too, for those who are wondering. After a long enough time of ritual and retreat in the woods with Pagans, Peter and I would both begin to feel the itch for concrete under our feet. And the first junk food stop after a Pagan gathering was always deeply satisfying: the bright lights, the unnatural food, and even the cranky waitstaff were balancing and refreshing to souls that had had, somehow, just a little too much Nature than was good for us.

There's hope, however. I've noticed that not all Friends seem to need as much superficiality as I do to stay grounded and sane in the midst of spiritual encounter. The retreat at Woolman Hill, for instance, which felt so overwhelming and transformative for me, was at least deep and gathered for other attenders. And while I tended to stagger out of our sessions during breaks, feeling a need to slay an orc or eat some deep-fried processed potato food, I noticed that J, from our monthly meeting, was perfectly content to read in his Bible for a bit, and then re-enter prayer or worship alone.

J., in other words, was able to take advantage of the breaks in our work to deepen himself spiritually. He had acclimated to the altitude; or, perhaps it would be better to say that, like an experienced runner, he can run a marathon without needing to stop and walk every few miles.

Perhaps our human spirits, like human muscles, need to be strengthened before they are fit to run long with God.

I find it likely, judging from my own experiences, at least. And I will go on attempting to strengthen mine--I intend to become the best Cat I can for God. But, in the meantime, there's always Batman, ready to back me up when my strength begins to flag.

I will dare to be ordinary as I seek to grow into the Light.

13 comments:

Rose said...

Thank you. Sometimes I want that feeling of being at altitude and I have trouble not feeling guilty at the calm periods in between. It makes me feel like I am not being spiritual and not moving forward. A lovely perspective.

Yewtree said...

I find I need to watch some sci-fi after a high-altitude session.

A propos of comics, you might enjoy The Periodic Table Of Video Game Charcters

Pax said...

Strange how synchronicity works,

I've been working recently at keeping a balance of spiritual and spirit feeding things in my mundane life now that I am on a full work schedule again...

...and here is your post about keeping a balancing element of the mundane in a very full spiritual schedule...

What is it you think that causes so many of us to have such trouble balancing these issues?

Peace,
Pax

Hystery said...

Cat, as I was reading this, I was thinking that I've not imagined that turning toward the mundane was actually turning away from the divine. I guess the way I think of this is more like marriage. The Divine is the Beloved but as in a successful marriage, one cannot maintain the first blush of infatuation, the deepest moments of passion, the intensity of emotional or physical intimacy...at least not all the time. There are times when the divine energy is rapturous, burning, consuming and deep. And there are times when the relationship is practical, common and everyday. After searing spiritual revelation, God stays with me in the often dull work of manifestation, of bringing the fruits of divine conception to maturity. The Egyptians called their husbands "brother." And like a husband/brother, I am allowed to take "him" for granted, to joke with "him", to speak to "him" in the way couples have of shorthand jokes, body language and just a "look." This is an intimacy far beyond passion. This is the intimacy of the everyday. Whenever I look up from laundry, dishes, or even Star Trek, there "he" is- gentle and ever-present.

Micah Bales said...

This post spoke to my condition. Thank you for it.

Anonymous said...

Cat thank you very much for the post. Hystery thank you very much for the comment. your comments mean much to me, they speak of the shallow times between the highs of intamite contact.
Peace

Glenn

cubbie said...

man, you write well. when i read your blog i want to have time to read your blog more often.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Thanks to all who commented!

Hystery, perhaps it was your comment that was working on me this week, and led to my most recent post. I'm not sure. (I am sure that your writing, both in comments here and at your own blog is among the most important reading I do every week. I am deeply grateful for your words.

The same is true of your work, Micah, and for you to say that something I've written speaks to your condition gives me a feeling I wish I could easily put into words! Similarly, cubbie, your blog nourishes me in ways I'd have to be a truly magnificent writer in order to express! I'm very glad you read and liked my post--and I hope you keep putting your words out there into the universe for me to read, too.

I know this is sounding more like a mutual admiration society than anything else, but the gratitude is very real, however hackneyed are the words I'm finding to express it.

(Rose, thanks both for your kind words here and on your blog--and for the solidarity of owning your own fallow times! Yewtree, Glenn (MC?), Pax, you guys are such regular sources of support and laughter that I ran out of ways of adequately thanking you ages and ages ago--but thanks all over again, and especially for the nicely comic link, Yewtree. *grin*)

Riverwolf, said...

I can sympathize with that feeling you described. After my most recent shamanic workshop, I felt as I were going to float away from the physical. Everything in the 3-D world seemed odd, even unnatural.

And maybe it is. But yet here we are, this is where we live. Nothing pops me back "into place," so to speak, like some good pop music or television. Housework is good, too. So when I got home from the workshop, I folded clothes, cleaned the kitchen, took out the trash and watched TV for hours.

And it helped. All those spiritual things had time to settle into place. I agree that we need more balance. We can't do without a spiritual life--but we can't do without a physical life filled with more mundane things either.

Great post. And love the Batman hook!

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Sounds like some good things going on at your shamanic workshops, Riverwolf.

Did anyone at the workshop spend any time discussing techniques for grounding? I have noticed that the New Age end of the magical religions spectrum will often leave this teaching out! Pagans are generally better at remembering to include it. (I couldn't tell you what traditional shamanic practitioners do--probably it varies from culture to culture.) If you haven't had any instruction in techniques for grounding--for centering yourself energetically and spiritually in ordinary waking reality outside of trance work--I'd recommend seeking out a teacher or two who can walk you through it. It's not difficult work--generally speaking, I can teach the rudiments in 20--30 minutes, and most of what I've learned over the decades in an hour or two--but it is important!

There are a few wrinkles that are specific to shamanic work, as many practitioners of core shamanism will "go" under the earth in trance journey, and so typical Pagan practices such as lying on the earth to emphasize our connections with it (and, in Western Magickal traditions, with the world of physical, practical, consensus reality) may not be entirely helpful to the shamanic worker seeking to ground again into the everyday. But there do need to be established practices to return you to ordinary waking reality when you are done working with trance.

Of course, it sounds like you did a good job improvising some, and, in fact, things like cleaning and physical work are among the best tools for that purpose. But if this part of your education has been given short shrift, think about finding some Wiccan or Pagan trance workers, perhaps at a festival this summer, to give you a crash (no pun intended) course. Or a Wiccan coven--there are things about traditional covens that make me crazy, but most established traditions will spend time going over the basics, like this.

You remind me that not everyone does.

Hm.

There's not much call for it in the Quaker world--Quaker practices are different in that regard. But now I'm wondering if a basic grounding post is something I ought to write in the near future. Not everyone does cover this stuff properly.

Hm again.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Oh, yeah! And let me repeat--you seem to have done a good job on your own, Riverwolf--I am _not_ dissing that! *grin*

And I'm also grateful for the compliment. Don't think I said so clearly before, but I meant to. *smile*

Riverwolf, said...

Cat, no offense taken! And you're absolutely right about the grounding work. Fortunately, this facilitator does a really good job of reminding us and providing techniques, which as you say isn't always the case.

After any kind of journeying work, we always go through some grounding exercises, and the facilitator encourages us to do so on our own as well. There's a simple breathing exercise for grounding that I like to use, and I find that I use it more and more in the everyday world.

It's key to listen to our bodies and spirits, to the signals that let us know when we need to ground ourselves. Even though we did our grounding before leaving the workshop that one night, I still felt like I might float away--and so I realized more was needed.

It's odd--I find grounding more and more helpful and, well, practical, and I use to think it was all hooey!

Yewtree said...

It's official - Batman is lectio divina :)

Electric Children: Superman is Real

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