Friday, September 28, 2012

At 10,678' the first signs of Fall

"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." Buddhist Proverb

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"A rose by any other name...

..would smell as sweet." (from Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Pilgrim's Progress

In the early 1990s, a popular billboard seen on Houston freeways advertising the Houston Chronicle classifieds pictured a twenty-something guy, lotus position, and the slogan, FOR SALE—ALL MY EARTHLY POSSESSIONS. As I prepared to leave for a trip to northern New Mexico that summer, this billboard was on my mind, and I thought, “One of these days….” Actually I longed—longed for something I couldn’t define, but the longing felt like the lifting of a heavy, heavy weight from my shoulders. That must have been 20 years ago--long enough for a child to have been born and enter early adulthood; two decades, five presidential elections; lots and lots of changes.

In the barn I call home in Texas is stored a large Rubbermaid tub full of the leftovers of a series of t-shirts I had designed over the few seasons that I gathered with a small group of other like-minded people for a little antiques market in Fayetteville, Texas. This market happened twice annually during the season that is generally known as Round Top, one of the largest and best known antiques markets in the U.S.

FOR SALE—ALL MY EARTHLY POSSESSIONS read those t-shirts. What had begun as a heartfelt and gut-felt response to a billboard some 10 years earlier made its way onto clothing for anyone to take notice of. Frankly, I don’t think many people did notice it. Maybe that’s a merely complicated reflection of the mentality that grips our consumer-oriented world. Some did get it, though, and commented, smiling, “I love your t-shirt”. Some even wanted to buy one—ode to buying something.

At the heart of the billboard advertisement, the t-shirts, the stories reported in the media about the people who sell off everything, by choice, to lighten their load and put things in to some supposedly better perspective—better, at least, it seems for those who make such choices—is a longing to get to our center. We all have at least an inkling of what our center is. It’s where our heart lies, it’s one of the chakras, it is God, the Divine, the Source. During times of natural disaster, people who lose their homes and what many would consider everything important poignantly offer thanks that the lives of family and neighbor have been spared. That’s what matters.

For the better part of six years—since shortly after our mother died in 2007—I have been back and forth with myself over letting go of an accumulation of stuff—hoarding may be the definition of some, but it’s not Post cereal boxes. How do you let go of stuff, regardless of its value? In the meantime, I have actually increased my holdings while letting go of some of the material goods I have that are worth something to someone else of my ilk. One way of changing our landscape is to put our stuff before the public en masse and hope for the very best. And finally, that is what I have done. The auction was September 15, 2012, on the eve of my 69th birthday. As I write, I know only the preliminary results of this auction. Some of the prices fetched were way more than I had anticipated. Other prices were painfully low. But it’s done. Yesterday I felt on edge during the day. I received text messages from friends at the auction, some 900 miles away, saying “things are going great,” asking if I wanted to know what a particular piece brought. I was lulled into a false sense of jingle in my pocket from where I sat in picture book weather at a local park, listening to the New Mexico Philharmonic, smiling at young families and old people—even older than I—and frisky pooches on leashes out for a morning romp.

Last night I went to a play with a friend, a little blue even though I was relieved for the auction to be over. That doesn’t sound like letting go, does it. Of course, my mobile phone was turned off for the 2-1/2 hour performance. When I powered it up later, there was a text message with a photograph from two friends who had been at the auction. Earlier in the day they had sent a picture of the “packed house”. Now, late in the evening, they were telling me, “We found our shirts.” “What a prophet…” FOR SALE—ALL MY EARTHLY POSSESSIONS, indeed. “Thank you for reminding me of that twinkle of hope that planted itself in my dreams seven years ago. Your message and picture of our t-shirt brought a smile to my face.”

So as not to misrepresent my chosen circumstances, yes, most of what I have accumulated and treasured for three or more decades has gone on to others who seek material treasure and choose to own it for awhile and make money from it. By no means, though, am I done with stuff. We all start somewhere, and we are starting and starting and starting. And hopefully, along the way, we are saying, “thank you”. Oh, yes, yes, thank you.

It’s a long journey for some to sit in the lotus position. I haven’t perfected my technique yet. But I’ve said for several years now, “I’m going to start selling my collection. I don’t need to own all these things. And I don’t want to leave the job of dispersing them to someone else.” The advice I heard a few years ago, “Harold, just because you love something doesn’t mean you have to own it,” must be true and right. Or did she say, “…you don’t have to buy it”? As I heard my mother say sometimes to a friend who could also speak a little German, “macht nichts”…translates “makes no difference”. At some point, it doesn’t matter. Instead of a special meal with a healthy price tag, you’d rather just have some cheese and crackers—maybe even a store-bought 4 oz. container of strawberry jello. How forward thinking my mother and her friend were. I am a pilgrim, and my journey continues.

A Pilgrim’s Progress—Albuquerque, NM (September 16, 2012)
R. Harold Hollis

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Father Mother God

Dwell in my heart.

"She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies."

(George Gordon Noel Byron, Lord Byron, 1814)

Monday, September 10, 2012

For awhile after moving to New Mexico I took part in a weekly gathering of similar-minded pilgrims for what is called morning prayer in that mainstream Christian tradition. The ritual followed prescribed prayers and readings from the scriptures. It was a quiet, formal experience in a beautiful setting behind the altar rail of the church sanctuary that afforded a view through a large glass expanse east to the mountains. At times it felt what I then understood to be holy.

In time I found myself in a very different setting with a group of similar-minded pilgrims. We met in an essentially functional room off the small kitchen of that place devoted to one’s spiritual journey. For someone who had for many years become accustomed to kneeling and bowing and processing and recessing, it was a distinct change—at least on the surface.

What comes to mind at this very moment is something from the scriptures—“heal thyself”. I had to look it up. “Then he said, ‘You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’” (from the Gospel of Luke, 4:23). The source goes on to explain that the “moral of the proverb is counsel to attend to one's own defects rather than criticizing defects in others”. (from Wikipedia)

Now what this has to do with contemplation and prayer, I am not sure. It’s just where Richard Rohr’s meditation has taken me today. He says, “Unfortunately, in the West prayer became something functional; something you did to achieve a desired effect—which puts you back in charge. As soon as you make prayer a way to get something, you’re not moving into a new state of consciousness. It's the same old consciousness. “How can I get God to do what I want God to do?” It's the egocentric self still deciding what it needs, but now often trying to manipulate God too.”

As part of the weekly gathering in the functional room off the kitchen that became my habit for the better part of a year, we had an opportunity to say intentions for ourselves—68 seconds, a mighty long time. Some people, any one of us on any given day, were effectively lost for words. The advice of our spiritual guide—simply say “God is my source”. Say it over and over and over until something else comes to mind. If nothing else comes to mind, what more is there to say. God is my source.

Years ago I said to the minister (lay vicar by definition) of the mission church I attended in rural east Texas that my praying was kind of atypical. I don’t recall my exact words, but maybe the word “weird” was even part of what I said to him. I do recall his comment—”that doesn’t surprise me”. I didn’t ask him what he meant, but I did go on to think about my prayer habits. What I thought at the time now seems silly and naive. Some say that every thought is a prayer. Some prayers are elaborate, some simple—at least in terms of the words that make up the prayer. What seems especially real and true on this day is what Richard Rohr points out in his meditation: it’s not about getting God to do what I want God to do.

God is my source.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

On this day in 1917

Tena Elizabeth Fuchs Hollis (L) and Mary Hollis Todd (R), celebrating their September birthdays in 2004.

“I can wade grief,
Whole pools of it, --
I'm used to that.
But the least push of joy
Breaks up my feet,
And I tip -- drunken.
Let no pebble smile,
'Twas the new liquor, --
That was all!”

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Today is the anniversary of our mother’s birth, September 9, 1917. Ninety-five years—how long ago and how very different a time, 1917. From a glance at Wikipedia, that wealth of information on the internet, nothing of great importance happened on September 9th. No one of celebrity status was either born or died on that date. Something of consequence did happen on that date, however—in our great grandmother Louisa Benfer Fuchs’s homestead in rural Harris County, Texas, her daughter Lizzie gave birth to Tena Elizabeth, our mother. Louisa is buried in the historic Perry Cemetery just across the road from where that house stood—a Fuchs family homestead and vast acres of land lost to progress many years ago. Mother loved family, and she gave me a sense of family and of our family’s history in Texas, which makes its way deeper into my heart as I grow older. I am old, hah—only a year from passing my seventh decade. Mother also taught me compassion and a sense of fairness. She taught me this by living her own life with compassion and fairness. For this too, I give thanks. Happy Birthday, Tena Elizabeth Fuchs Hollis (September 9, 1917 - February 1, 2007).

Friday, September 7, 2012

Wish I'd said that

When we least expect it, something wonderful is waiting to delight us. On a trip to the bank in downtown Albuquerque this afternoon, I noticed this bumper sticker. If the shoe fits, and all the rest.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

“He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.

For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.

Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.”

(from The Lark Ascending, George Meredith, 1828-1909)

Chama River, near Monastery of Christ in the Desert

On Sunday mornings folks in these parts have a special and perhaps even somewhat uncommon opportunity to hear very special music in live performance. The venue is known as Chatter, and it happens in a warehouse-type space on the north side of downtown Albuquerque. Although I’ve been only a few times, I’m always happy to be there, regardless of how much I am drawn to the music on a given Sunday. The performance today of Ralph Vaughn Williams’ composition for piano and violin left me—and I think perhaps everyone—joy filled.

These days I’m more than a little sad and disturbed by the ugliness of this political year. Fear, and sadly hate, are virtually palpable. All one has to do is turn on the television, pick up a newspaper or news magazine, go out onto the internet, sometimes just head down the block to a neighborhood fast food restaurant, and now to the local theater. How have we come to this?

Today, I say thank you for Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Meredith, the glorious playing of violin and piano, and for a place like Chatter, where on any Sunday morning I can be reminded that something good and beautiful connects us all.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), state bird of New Mexico
I don’t know why I get excited every time I see a roadrunner. Maybe it’s because the roadrunner is a member of the cuckoo family, and I’m cuckoo. Meep meep.