Play For The Light

Photo by Wes Morrissey. See more at rocknfish.com

Photo by Wes Morrissey. See more at rocknfish.com

I’m hanging out listening to the handbell choir practice. I meant to bring my ipad so I could write while hanging out but I forgot it so I had to go old school and find a pen and some paper. The pen was easy but the only paper I could find was the back of an old church bulletin. I opened the bulletin and found the language for the communion celebration, “…he took bread, gave thanks, and broke it saying, ‘Take this and eat. This is my body, given for you….”

In reading the words I was thrown back in time (a meditative handbell soundtrack is very useful when being cast backwards in time). Many years ago, just after I moved to Seattle, the Makah tribe attempted to revive their traditional whale hunt. The entirety of their traditional ritual life stems from the hunt – the whale is their central god much as the buffalo is central to the worship of the plains tribes. In the early 20th century the Makah voluntarily suspended the hunt because European whaling techniques had devastated the whale population. Consequently, with no central ritual, their community fell into disarray. The revival of the hunt brought intense opposition and a media circus of epic proportions.

At the time, I was taking a masters degree in systems theory with a focus on Cultural Mythology and Transformational Art and, so, was enrapt by the collision of cultural perspectives. Through one lens, the hunt was an unnecessary slaughter of a whale. Through another lens it was a communion meal; the hunter is deemed worthy and chosen by the god (the whale), the god gives his life to nourish the people (spiritually and literally), and the people, in turn, perform the rituals of rebirth that bring the god back to life. It is a cycle of death and rebirth, the god nourishing the people and the people revivifying the god through their rituals and attention to life.

The central word is “communion;” to commune with the divine – regardless of faith tradition. And, in the end of the day, when the shopping is all done, isn’t that what this season is about? Does it matter how we mark the return of the light, the winter solstice, the return of the god to eventually bring life to a barren winter landscape (I’m writing metaphorically, too), the fulfillment of a prophecy, as long as we truly experience communion with something bigger than ourselves? It is an awesome responsibility to revivify the god – especially when the return depends upon how we live our lives and perform our rituals.

The handbell choir is working extra hard. Although they play each month, this preparation is for something special. They play with a sense of stress and excitement and desire a perfection that they usually do not entertain. This performance matters more than the others because they know, just like this time last year, they are playing for the return of the light.

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Hold A Vigil For Kermit

My studio moves into the light.

My studio moves into the light.

Life returns slowly. It is the time of year that the goddess Demeter ceases grieving because her daughter, Persephone, is allowed to return from the underworld. Demeter’s joy ignites earth’s renewal.

This morning we sat outside on the back porch, wrapped in a blanket, our chairs facing the sun, our backs to the wall so we could feel the radiant heat. We drank coffee, soaked up the sun and talked about everything and nothing at all.

We are feeling the stirring. We moved the studio from the basement into the light. A stalled project now has life and is arcing toward production. Inspiration and enthusiasm are playing chase through our creative sessions. A few days ago I found my sketchbook and spend time each day filling its pages. There are new canvases sitting on my easel.

It is the season of resurrection. We are holding vigil for our pond frog, Kermit. Although his name is common his story is extraordinary. Last summer, after we dug the pond in the backyard, Kermit suddenly appeared. All through the fall we checked on him. He looked out at us from his hiding place in the rocks or if caught him by surprise, he’d dart to the opposite side of the pond. This winter was harsh and the pond froze solid. We worried about his fate. When the pond melted, we found a seemingly lifeless Kermit on the bottom with the leaves.

Many species of frogs hibernate. In fact, we learned that certain wood frogs freeze solid to the core. When winter comes their bodies replace the water in their vital organs with a protective “anti-freeze.” All signs of life cease. The heart stops (it is frozen). All measurable electric impulses close down. When the weather warms, their core thaws, and they quite literally come back to life. If you’ve ever doubted the magic and mystery of this life, spend some time watching frogs.

We don’t know yet if Kermit is hibernating or not so we watch. A layer of ice returns to the pond each night. The temperatures are bobbing just above and way below freezing, so we wait, drink in the sun and good coffee. We watch Tripper-dog-dog-dog discover birds and bark at raindrops on the pond; this is his first-ever spring. We fill with hope and ourselves slowly revive from a long winter of hunkering down. We stretch our limbs, we thaw, we breathe.

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