“All the Saints and the Worldwide Web” —A Sermon by Phillip Bennett, Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, November 4, 2018

All Saints cloth for my blog

Today’s collect—our opening prayer–sets the tone for our celebration of All Saints: “Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Jesus Christ”. We are all knit together, woven together in love. The bonds of love are stitched upon our hearts, woven into the fabric of our being. We are wrapped up with all those who have gone before, are still alive, and are yet to be born. Here at the cathedral, we symbolize this in a wonderfully physical way: we stand together in a circle around the font and envelop ourselves in a prayer cloth on which are stitched the names and the symbols of those we have loved and lost. As we hold the cloth together, we are reminded that we are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses”—that we and all those who have come before us and will come after us, form the living fabric of the Body of Christ—that Mystical Body which stretches across all time and space. We cannot understand this Mystical Body with our intellects, but we can use our imaginations; we can use what scientists are telling us of our mysterious and ever-expanding cosmos: that there are connections across time and space which defy our ordinary understanding. We don’t know for sure how we are all connected over time and space, but the symbols of our faith give us clues about the enduring bond of love across seemingly separate dimensions.

If love is what knits together the Mystical Body, it is evil which tears it apart. Evil rips up the fabric of interconnections; it shreds the ties of civility and respect that bind us together in our common life. As I watched the awful footage of bodies being taken out of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I felt an eerie resonance with my recent visit to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. Walking through the dim, cramped rooms where Anne and her family hid from the Nazis, the reality of such evil was hard to take in. Pictures of Anne and her siblings—hopeful young faces, peered out through family photos. Most gut-wrenching to me were the pictures of movie stars that Anne had cut out of magazines and pasted to her bedroom wall; a heartbreaking reminder of the typical fantasies of a young teenage girl who was soon to be captured, wrenched from her family, and thrown into the unspeakable horror of the death camps. The diabolic delusion of Hitler and his followers was that you could cut out a whole piece of the fabric of humanity and destroy it forever. It was a preposterous, delusional fantasy, but one that lives on in every attempt to pull the stitches out of the rich, complex and often challenging tapestry of human civilization.

God is a mystery beyond all images, symbols, and metaphors. God is always “more than”. And yet, we need words and images to convey something of our experience of the Sacred, both individually and collectively. Although all images are partial and even sometimes misleading, let me make a try at yet another image; one I think may speak to our time: it is the image of the Net or Web. We use these words constantly: we “surf the internet”; we “look on the web”. We are all wrapped up in the worldwide web, whether we like it or not. This net is the growing fabric of technology that binds us together, but also sometimes tangles and strangles the goodness of our common humanity. We can create great good through our technological interconnectedness, but also great evil. There is the web that helps us reach out, to create, to work together; and there is the “Dark Web” of hatred and fragmentation that aids terrorism, espionage, and human trafficking.

We are living in a deeply disturbing time; it is a frightening and perilous time in which hatred and fear of the Other are emboldening neo-fascist leaders throughout the world to whip up their followers into hatred, fear, and frenzy. It is frightening. Innocent people are being scape-goated. Fear-mongering and lies abound. Perhaps we have been naive in thinking “it couldn’t happen here”. It may be that these alarming development are an inevitable backlash against the challenging reality of globalization. The world has changed radically. Cultures are interpenetrating at a rapidly increasing rate. Old boundaries are breaking down; familiar moorings are giving way to a new fluidity that can be both exciting and destabilizing. In such a time of momentous and rapid change, political and religious intolerance are ways of trying to revert to a previous, often idealized time. Current attempts to retreat into imagined national and ethnic purity—the very platform on which Hitler came to power—will ultimately prove futile, but in the meantime, much damage is being done to our common national and international life. It seems sometimes that the very fabric of our common life is being ripped apart and shredded. But the clock cannot be turned back. We can’t get rid of each other, for we are all knit together. This is most inescapably evident in the reality of climate change. We can’t erect walls to keep out harmful greenhouse gases. The earth’s ecosystem, once robust and self-replenishing, is now being frayed, and torn, perhaps irreparably.

I think the Web and Net images may help us access some of the power of the image of the Body of Christ. Jesus himself used the image of the net to describe the kingdom in which all is gathered up– the good and the bad. He commanded the disciples to cast their nets into the deep and, to their great astonishment, they caught an overflowing abundance of fish. The Net and Web, like all god-images have their limitations. They may not be as personal as many images, but they are a way of using analogy—a tool used by many theologians over many centuries. They are ways of using contemporary experience to envision the pervasive connection in which we are all embedded. The net and web as well as “link” describe relationship as communication and communion–words which come from the same root. In our age of instant communication, the threads of our lives, our cultures, our religions, are woven so closely together that we cannot unweave them except through violence, and even that will not undo or reverse the reality of global pluralism. We can try to tear the fabric, cut out parts of it, try to unweave and reweave it, but the fabric remains. It is the fabric of our shared humanity, and the fabric of our planet.

In such a turbulent time, is easy to feel helpless and despairing. But every act of justice, courage, and love is a way of stitching together our  common web. In the face of the fascism of World War II there many heroic people who helped make connections that saved many lives. There are dark forces at work in the world but there are also many people of good will. This does make a tremendous difference, although it may sometimes be hard to see in the face of the attention-getting, preoccupying discord that surrounds us.  History continue to reveal human evil but also great human goodness. As the Letter to the Galatians says, “ Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”.

When we stand in a circle with the cloth of all the departed enfolding us, we are enveloped in the presence of those who have gone before. We remind ourselves that we are all knit together in a Mystical Body, a Holy Web, a Sacred Net. Today’s collect ends with this petition: “Give us grace to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you”. It is not only love but joy–unspeakable joy—which binds all the saints together. It is a joy that comes out of the depths of sorrow and loss. The joy and sorrow are woven together; the loss and love are woven together; the past, present, and future are woven together. May we take our place in the circle, where the threads of our lives are interwoven with all the saints—both the famous and the ordinary; those past, present, and yet to come. Let us celebrate our place in the ever-expanding web of life; the widening net of the kingdom where there is room for all and where there is unending love and ineffable joy.

 

BECOMING WHO WE ARE

   Sometime ago, a friend said to me, “There is no recompense in not being yourself”. I forget the context of his comment but it struck me and remains with me. There is no recompense, no reward in being other than we are. We may try to trim ourselves, mold ourselves into being another sort of person—one we or others think is more desirable—but not only is this effort futile, it is a tragic failure to appreciate and nurture who we really are. In the end, we can only be ourselves. It is true that each of us has many “selves”—ways of being in different situations, relationships, and times of our lives. Yet, I think there is some felt-sense when we are in tune with ourselves—“comfortable in our own skin” as we say—and when we are misaligned with our natural identity. In common speech we say, “I am not feeing like myself”. The challenge of feeling disconnected from self may not be something everybody experiences, but it has been a struggle for me and some other people I know – – either in my personal relationships or my clinical work, and so I offer these reflections.  
When I was 29 I had the following dream:

I am in a large Victorian house with a central winding staircase that goes up many flights. A skylight at the top of the stairs sheds a dim, filtered light down the many circling steps. In this shadowy light all I can see are room after room lining the stairs. The door of every roomed is closed. As I stand at the base of the stairs, I hear a muted cacophony coming from the many closed doors. I begin to ascend the darkened stairs. Under the first door I hear exuberant Dixieland; at the next, sedate Baroque. This musical variety continues as I climb higher. Seemingly infinite styles of music are leaking out for under the closed doors: blues, folk, Romantic, Medieval, a panoply of “world” music from different continents and era. Each room produced a distinct music unlike the rest. At each door, I stopped and listened and wondered, “Is this my kind of music?” Although I found each musical style compelling in its own way, I had an increasing sense that none of these musical styles was the music for me. I ascended floor after floor, room after room, music after music, until I reached the top floor where the skylight shed its light on a single room which was padlocked. On the door was scratched, in crude, uneven letters, “Here lives someone who makes his own music”.

As I finished recounting the dream, my psychoanalyst—a wise, older woman—looked out over her thick, owl-like glasses. She let a long silence settle, then she said slowly, “It is going to take you a long time to realize the full meaning of this dream.

I had entered therapy like many of us do—because of pain and suffering. As I embarked on my vocation, I felt the long shadow my father’s depressed and thwarted life begin to fall over my own life. I thought I had escaped his inner demons; that I had run as far away as I could from a family legacy of neurotic conflict and psychic suffering, that

I would escape unscathed. I decided to become the sun to his shadow. But as I entered my thirties I began to wonder whose life I was living. Confusion over my identity and fear of a family curse of self-thwarting defeat, I began seeing June Singer, a senior Jungian analyst, who listening patiently, discerningly to an anxious and confused young man. The dream of the winding stairs and the many kinds of music, has been for me what Jung calls a “Big Dream”. It stays with you all your life. It gets your attention.This Big Dream spoke of identity—of finding out who I was to become as an individual. The locked door at the top of the stairs was yet to be opened. It has taken me many years to unlock it and claim my own originality. Some of this has involved literal music. I am a singer-songwriter who began writing music in my teens. I was steeped in folk music movement of the 1960’s: Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Peter Seeger, Odetta, Peter, Paul and Mary—and many more. I got my first guitar—it was old and battered—at a rummage sale when I was 12. I spent hours and hours learning chords, singing lyrics from records. In time, I began to compose some songs of my own. My voice was untutored and natural—I wish I still had some tapes I made then so I could listen to my younger voice. When I got to college, I took voice lessons which helped me learn to project, to open up my voice, to make it richer and more nuanced. In some ways this was a good thing; I have never regretted my vocal studies. But in another way it separated me from my natural voice. Although I enjoyed some of the classical music I sang and liked the new power and resonance of my voice, I felt disconnected from earlier untutored but spontaneous singing. This was not helped by my voice teacher’s dogmatic proclamation that “popular” singing was incompatible with my vocal studies and could, in fact, “damage my voice”. Years later, I would find a voice teacher who understood my different vocal styles and how they each had their own integrity and palette. He supported what is now called “cross-over” in musical styles. It was a liberating experience—being heard and coached by someone who could hear my different voices as each having their own integrity and vitality. Out of this experience I wrote the following poem:

Singing Lessons

Before I studied singing

I really sang—

Full-voiced,

Belly-deep,

Soul-free.

 A boy of five

Out in a summer field,

Arms raised to the heavens,

Bellowing, skyward,

Lungs full and flying.

The song inside me

Simply sang itself—

The song sang me.

Then came school

And learning

And shutting down the passion,

Turning the spigot

Tighter and tighter,

Until the flood of song in me

Was just a cautious trickle.

 My singing teacher

Poked my diaphragm

And scolded:

“Use more support!

Tighten your stomach,

Loosen your jaw!

Relax, relax!”

In trying to make a voice

I lost my true voice,

Now, so many years later,

I find my voice again

The gateway of my throats

Has relaxed its sentinel grip

And the old, young

Music pours forth.

To learn to sing,

Studying singing,

The throw throw away the book.

Surrender to the

Song inside you,

Longing, bursting

To flow free.

My most recent voice teacher—the most helpful one—does master classes around the world and gives out this poem to the attendees . He says he often gets intensely positive responses. I have gotten emails from around the globe from attendees from other singers who say the poem resonates strongly. I think it’s example of how there is nothing as universal as the personal. Our individual struggles are often not ours alone. When we share them we may get a “Me too!” which can be liberating.

Although, I’ve been talking about singing, I think this extends to all of us in terms of how much we can trust being our true selves and find our unique voice.

 We get a lot of messages about how we should be and do, but unless we can trust our own unique way of being, we don’t ring true; our resonance is muffled. Sondheim: “Everything you do—let it come from you”.

This was made clear to me in another dream while I was with the same analyst:

I am with June, my analyst and another woman analyst. We are sitting in a circle around a large brass bowl—like those used in Tibetan meditation. I ask the two women, “What should I do with my life?” They don’t say anything. Instead, they strike the bowl and it rings with a rich tone that takes a long time to fade into silence.

On telling June the dream, she said, “You will know what to do because it will ring true”. Of course! Sometimes the unconscious is not so subtle!

Personal authenticity has nothing to do with narcissistic self-absorption. It is the opposite. When we can trust being ourselves, we don’t have to pretend by covering our insecurity with a false self. Narcissism arises from an insecure sense of self, no matter how strong the posturing. In fact, the shakier the sense of self, the more the obsession with strength and specialness. We are getting a ringside seat for this sad and dangerous show in our present political arena.

May Sarton has a poem that speaks beautifully to all this:

Now I become myself. It’s taken

Time, many years and places;

I have been dissolved and shaken,

Worn other people’s faces,

Run madly, as if Time were there,

Terribly old, crying a warning,

“Hurry, you will be dead before–”

(What? Before you reach the morning?

Or the end of the poem is clear?

Or love safe in the walled city?)

Now to stand still, to be here,

Feel my own weight and density!

The black shadow on the paper

Is my hand; the shadow of a word

As thought shapes the shaper

Falls heavy on the page, is heard.

All fuses now, falls into place

From wish to action, word to silence,

My work, my love, my time, my face

Gathered into one intense

Gesture of growing like a plant.

As slowly as the ripening fruit

Fertile, detached, and always spent,

Falls but does not exhaust the root,

So all the poem is, can give,

Grows in me to become the song,

Made so and rooted by love.

Now there is time and Time is young.

O, in this single hour I live

All of myself and do not move.

I, the pursued, who madly ran,

Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

The problem comes when we don’t like the self we are. We may have some ideal self that we would hope to become. Sometimes when people enter psychotherapy or some spiritual practice, there is an unconscious fantasy that they will leave parts of themselves behind – – the parts they don’t like – – and become the ideal image of what they hope to be. Of course there are ways in which we can and need to grow – – ways in which we can be healed and become stronger. But that’s different from trying to remake the essential person we are.

The phrase “becoming ourselves” may seem strange. Aren’t ourselves are ready? We are, and yet there is more to be lived into. There is always more life to be seized – – more vitality to be claimed. This vitality is always unfolding. We are not just a human being; we are a human becoming.

 A friend of mine, a pianist, had this waking dream when his wife was dying of cancer. He had been in a despairing state and was even considering suicide. In his waking vision he saw the universe as a huge musical score stretching out beyond Andromeda. On this cosmic score every living thing that ever was or will be was orchestrated. Animals, rocks, plants, meteors, stars – – they all had their part to play with their starts, rests, and endings. He looked down and saw, on the bottom left of this cosmic score, his own small part. He saw how he had his own part to play and that if he took his own life he would diminish the whole cosmic symphony. My friend’s vision was symbolic – – we may not in fact have that much influence on the cosmos, but it speaks to the importance of being fully alive and contributing as much as we can. We have a small part to play in the cosmic endeavor, but it is important to contribute all that we can. Becoming ourselves is part of the becoming of the universe. It is our opportunity to contribute, each in our own small but very important way, to the unfolding of the mystery of life.

“Now I Become Myself” by May Sarton, from Collected Poems 1930-1993. © W.W. Norton, 1993.

Facing Into Holy Mystery: A God Beyond God

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I have a confession to make. I’m coming out of the closet in saying this publicly: I no longer believe in God. There, I said it. It may seem like a strange and unlikely thing for someone who has been associated with religion all my life —perhaps even an incriminating self-disclosure; a revelation that could make me seem hypocritical and disingenuous. 

In saying I no longer believe in God, it is important to clarify which God I no longer believe in. It is the God which many atheists  also reject: a distinct and separate Supernatural Being beyond the bounds of ordinary space and time, who causes certain things to happen or not happen, sometimes according to how we have obeyed or disobeyed Him (the masculine pronoun has been the most traditional one used and rightly so, since it reflects the hierarchical patriarchy from which such God-images have often developed). This God is a “deus ex machina”—an external driving force beyond the machinery and fabric of nature. This God is the missing jigsaw piece without whom the puzzle of the universe and our personal lives cannot be fully whole and meaningful. I remember defending this kind of God in college bull-sessions, arguing with fierce and untroubled certainty that a world without such a God would be meaningless and without whom the human race would have no ethical moorings. I could not see then what history makes glaringly clear: people can be very ethical without a belief in a God, and, conversely, some of the worst atrocities in history have been perpetrated in the name of religion.

This traditional theistic image of God is a Person who, in many ways, is like a human person–only larger and more powerful. It is this Supernatural Being who can be prayed to and pleased or displeased, who lies at the heart of the three great monotheistic religions. This God determines who lies within or outside the circle of revelation and salvation; who separates the sheep from the goats. Most problematically for our current geopolitical situation, this God has given particular pieces of real estate to God’s “chosen” people, thus setting up centuries-old competition for land-rights which fuel fierce and seemingly unresolvable wars. The sacred sites of the three “children of Abraham” are piled on top of each other; the land-grabbing and acrimony sadly seem endless. All this in the name of a God which each religion believes it represents the most comprehensively, and sometimes exclusively.

I am not saying that the term “God” is meaningless for me or that the Sacred doesn’t resonate in my experience–both personally and communally, but it seems that we sometimes use the word “God” so freely that we lose a sense of mystery. God-talk can become overly-familiar and so second-nature  that we really begin to think we know what we are talking about. The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner saw this problem and suggested using the term “Holy Mystery” when speaking of God. I like that. I am also fond of Paul Tillich’s term “The Ground of Being”. Both these images convey that whatever we mean when we say “God” is much bigger and more mysterious than our overly-familiar language often indicates.

I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my questions about God. In fact, I join a long and venerable spiritual tradition which has been called by the fancy Greek name “apophatic”. In a nutshell, it means that we can never fully know or describe God because “God” is a mystery greater than our comprehension. Mystics have called this the “via negativa”—which means we can describe the Divine more by what we cannot know (“negative”) than but by what we can (“positive”). The German mystic Meister Eckhart has some arresting ways of addressing the God-question. He speaks of a “God beyond God”—a sacred reality that our religious language tries to describe but which is greater than our theological concepts. He exclaims, “God deliver me from God!” Judaism and Islam also affirm that the ultimate nature of God cannot be fully fathomed by our human intellects and language. The mystical traditions in all the world religions often share more in common with each other than they do with their own respective religion, because mysticism is grounded in the experience of the sacred, not simply an intellectual proposition. It is a willingness to be open to the Great Mystery of life without seeking to reduce it to easy answers and fixed categories. Many of the mystics of our day lie beyond the parameters of traditional religious creeds and institutional structures. They are poets and scientists. Poets seek to look more deeply into the experience of human existence, sometimes through direct self-reflection, sometimes through reflecting on nature, and sometimes through both. Scientists–especially those exploring Quantum Physics—are delving into the deep mystery of the cosmos—the Big Bang, expanding multiverses, the shifting warp and woof of time and space. Poetry and contemporary science provide us with a wealth of wonder and mystery which I call The Sacred. It is a sacredness rooted not in creedal formulations but in lived experience.

To say that we live in Holy Mystery doesn’t mean we cannot know or believe anything. Although there are many things I am less and less sure of as I grow older, there are  things I that I do know and believe in a way that grows more and more  bone-deep.  I experience both the power of Love and Evil in this world on a daily, tangible  basis. We have only to turn on the news; to see what happens in our local and global communities; to look into the conflicting movements of our own hearts. I also experience the reality of Grace–the surprising and enlivening  encounters that bring wonder, gratitude, healing, and reconciliation. These are the precious miracles that enlighten our often dark world. Above all, I think Holy Mystery is manifest in relationships. We are never isolated individuals, even when we feel so. We are all embedded in a great fabric of community, locally and globally. It is in relationship that we find meaning and the challenging soul-stretching that takes beyond our own egos. Maybe the limitation in our language is that God is not so much personal as transpersonal.

Does all this seem too abstract and ethereal—a personal navel-gazing unrelated to the hard realities and needs of the world? I think not. The way we think and talk about God or other underlying beliefs, has major ramifications for how we act personally and collectively. Fundamentalist understandings of God are at the root of terrorism as well as other expressions of hatred and prejudice. Reflecting on our language for the Sacred is, I think, a question of “evangelism”, which means “to share good news”. How do we articulate our communal beliefs and images of The Sacred so that we honor our traditions while also presenting them in such a way that others may understand them as good new and, perhaps, be drawn to them?

Back to  personal images for God. Perhaps we don’t need to abandon them altogether if we can remember and communicate that they are all partial metaphors that point to a Greater Mystery that is bigger than any one image can hold. If we say God is Father or Mother,  we are saying that the qualities of parents who conceive, nurture and champion their children is part of Holy Mystery. Likewise, images of a God as  Lover, consuming fire, a probing judge, speak to the richness of millennia of human ways of conceiving of The Holy. An image that currently fascinates me is The Web. We are all knit together in the Great Web of Being. The sacred is The Web, the Internet. This is an image we can all identify with in our daily lives. Could it help us imagine a Bigger God?

I offer a few questions for reflection:

–For those of us who use God language, of whatever tradition, are we willing to reflect on how our use of this language may be meaningful or alienating both to others and ourselves?

–Are we willing to struggle with how our lived experience of mystery and meaning does or doesn’t harmonize with the way we proclaim our religious/spiritual identity in our liturgy and conversation?

–When we identify with our particular religious tradition, are we willing to honestly grapple with whether we do or do not believe our own tradition to be superior to others? If we do, it is an act of integrity to defend that unapologetically. But if we do not, then we must repudiate the exclusionary language of our traditions. We can’t have it both ways.

I welcome your thoughts!


The Need For an Enemy–Further Thoughts

 

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I am adding to a previous post  that I wrote before the presidential election. Since March 2016 when I originally posted this, much has happenend on our political landscape. Since our recent presidential election I have been repeatedly struck by the powerful need some have for an enemy. I admit that in the face of nefarious, bigoted, arrogant leadership….(one can go on and on) I have found myself sucked into my own reactive negativity. There is something about evil that can bring out the worst in us if we are not very careful : self-righteousness, false innoncence and a preoccupation with the obvious flaws of others while our failure to see our less obvious flaws can seduce us into a smug sense of superiority. 

Carl Jung said that the most dangerous thing confronting the modern world is not the splitting of the atom but the splitting of the human psyche. Our human psyches have primitive layers. We are, at our most basic level,  animals with a natural fight-flight response. But unlike other animals, we have imagination with which we can create both inner and outer worlds of meaning. One way we make sense of things is through splitting: we divide things into all good or all bad; into “us” and “not us”. In the rapidly increasing complexity of our world, splitting gives us a certain clarity and simplicity–we know just who the enemy is, and we know ourselves to be on the side of absolute truth. This is the appeal of religious and political fundamentalism: if we divide things up into all good and all bad,  we don’t have to wrestle with the complexity in the world and in our own psyches

Of course, we do have real enemies. At this time in history we suffer from the insanity of terrorists whose twisted thinking leaves us vulnerable at any moment to unspeakable acts of cold-blooded violence. There is no reasoning with such deranged opponents. But in the face of such vindictive splitting by our enemies, it can be tempting to resort to self-righteous splitting of our own in which we are blind to our own shadow. Then we need an enemy on whom we can project all our disowned and unwanted aspects. I think that the great task at this point in our individual and collective history is not to get sucked into retaliatory splitting. 

Recently I was wronged by someone. Their behavior was clearly unfair. I found myself hanging on to my sense of righteous indignation like a dog grabs onto a bone. I nursed my anger. But after much internal wrestling,  I came to realize that my anger was poisoning me. This is the challenge we face today: we are confronted with such evil in the world that it is tempting to cast ourselves as completely innocent victims who are justified in doing whatever it takes to keep our real or perceived enemies at bay. I think the great task ahead of us both individual and collectively is to not get sucked into reactivity while also fights no in a clear–eyed and sustained way for major change.

It is the Enemy Within that is the most dangerous to our individual and national psyche.  The old Pogo cartoon speaks as wisely as ever: ” We have met the enemy and the enemy is us”. Let us move forward together with a discerning understanding of how splitting can divide us. We need to find common cause while also being appropriately shrewd in working our way through the system of politics and power. We have a great flight ahead. The more we can move beyond splitting and reactivitym, the more we will be able to sustain the long and possibly difficult struggle to reclaim a less reactive level of national discourse. Some of the tipping point may come from realizing they are being hurt instead of helped by health care reform and “jobs, jobs, jobs”. We must not underestimate the power of  Trump’s w nIt does not lie and logic but in the sense of being read to. He is a master at inflaming culture wars.

 

Image: Caravagio, “The Taking of Christ”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wounded Crow: Reflections on My Father

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My father had found him flapping wildly in our front yard. Sleek and black, the crow jabbed at my father’s gloved hand as he was taken into the garage. Here my father would nurse him until his wing healed and he was ready to take to the sky again. I named him “Blackie” and would watch him with my five year old eyes of wonder as he perched on the clothes drying rack my father has set up for him as a perch. My father had a love of nature and, as I look back, a particular affinity for wounded creatures. I think that might have been because he himself was a very wounded creature. The son of a mother who had had her wings clipped by a domineering father, and a father who was the least successful of seven brother and had never gotten his life off  the ground, he had grown up in house of angry people who all felt that they couldn’t soar as high as they might have because someone or something was always holding them down. Even apparent success couldn’t sustain flight–everything always came crashing back to earth. My father described a unspoken, unconscious message in his family as “You can excel but you can’t succeed”. Continue reading