Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Holy and Perishable

For over six years, my altar's been falling apart.

It was a ruin when I first adopted it--a 60's-style backyard brick hearth, long disused, cracks already opening in the mortar. I swept it clean and filled it with votive candles and incense the night of Summer Solstice. My neighbours have year after year remained quietly tolerant that every morning I ring a bell and kneel in front of an eyesore fifteen feet from their kitchen window.
Every summer, I've removed objects and added others, as I do to the indoor altar that becomes the focus of my practice September through May. This year, I've included no Christian symbolism, though every day I begin by crossing myself and reciting the formulas traditional to the monastic morning prayer of Lauds. Red, white, yellow, and black stones for the four directions surround a small Shiva Lingam. Behind that sits a small, corroded bronze Indonesian Buddha, missing an arm and part of its chest--a reminder of the transience of all things, including our understanding of the Friend who makes our lives possible and gives them meaning.
Tibetan Buddhist monks proclaim this lesson of transience by spending weeks constructing mandalas of coloured sand--which they then sweep back into chaos and pour into moving water.
The collapse of my repurposed shrine continues. Yesterday morning as I knelt,  a cluster of bricks had skewed loose from the wall, wobbling under my touch. They're going nowhere for the moment, but the frosts and thaws of the coming winter will take their toll. The floor of the main chamber is already one course shorter than when I first consecrated it. The lower chamber, once the firepit, holds a compost of undisturbed garden detritus dedicated to the Goddess's endless cycle of generation, decay, and rebirth. Eventually, everything above that I've prayed over and venerated will collapse into it.
When it does, I will take it as an invitation to give thanks for the lesson and to look for the Sacred in another corner of the garden.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Jonathan's Circle

“When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.  Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.  Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.”   — I Samuel 18: 1, 3-4  NRSV

The story of David and Jonathan is one of the slim list of relationships in the Bible that give queer people a chance to see themselves reflected in the sacred scriptures of the West.  (Nehirim, the lgbtq Jewish spirituality group, has printed "Jonathan+David" and "Ruth+Naomi" bumper stickers!) But you don't have to go as far as reading erotic love into the story of David and Jonathan's iconic bond to register the undefended tenderness that passes between them. Amidst the militaristic retinue of Jonathan's father King Saul, who's already shown the first signs of paranoid tyranny, Jonathan takes the risk of handing over to David, the beautiful young shepherd who has won the king's favor, not only the garment that marks him as the king's heir but even his means of defense: he takes off his armor and hands it over.
The moment when Jonathan strips off his protection, and meets another man face to face and heart to heart, is the inspiration for a new initiative to bring men together at the place where their sexuality and their spirituality converge--a place where most of us feel, or have felt, apprehension, shame, misunderstanding, danger, and confusion, in a dominant culture that puts a Berlin Wall between sex and spirit, without genuinely respecting or honoring either. Frank Dunn, an Episcopal priest and counsellor in Washington, DC, has announced the formation of an innovative take on men's consciousness-raising groups like those that blossomed a generation ago out of a Men's Movement that never completely fulfilled its potential.
 Dunn's proposal is for something more focused and more fundamental than many of those groups of the 1980's and early 90's ever achieved. He's encouraging an open, undefended sharing of the links between participants' individual sexual practices and their spiritual journeys.
Imagine digging deeper into your pride and your insecurities about life in your amazing and not-so-perfect male body. Imagine digging deeper into what moves and excites you sexually in order to understand how those longings and pleasures are connected to your relationship to the Sacred. Imagine feeling safe to do that out loud, in a circle of men whose experiences might be similar to yours--but also may well turn out to be radically different .  Imagine being surprised by what you hear. Imagine being open to expanded perspectives. Imagine looking at your own view of the world from outside of yourself, as it's reflected back to you by other participants, with wisdom and compassion. Imagine doing all this not just in heady conversation, but dropping down into your body, by group consensus through yoga, meditation, movement, massage, structured erotic exchange, breathwork, chant, co-created ritual, any or all of the above.
That's a brief sketch of what Jonthan's Circle offers. You can learn more by visiting the group's new website: