Category Archives: Religion
There is a woman preaching to the river. Standing on the sidewalk, next to the new blue Toyota, gospel music blaring from the car speakers and open doors, she holds her Bible high in the air yelling to the dolphins, the cranes, the pelicans, and any tree that may hear. Any flower that may be blooming. Anyone.
She is a revival of none with a tent of clouds, looking to redeem the river, an evangelist for the fish, witnessing to the water, which, already holy, laps at the shore, listening, leaving, returning, receding, in no need of being saved.
No one listens. A few look, perhaps wondering from where comes the music so disrupting the call of the gulls, susurration of trees, the sounds of creation.
In white sneakers, dungarees and T-shirt of bright red, she holds a meeting to the open space. On her shirt, bright white letters front and back tell anyone who looks she is a Christian Soldier. Her short afro bounces as she jumps up and down. She is buxom and not slight, waving her arms in the air – the bible, flashing back and forth, thrust now and then toward the waves, black and shiny, as though it is sweating, like her, is held at the bottom, upright, so tightly, or so often, one can see the wear at the edge. The curling. The discoloration. And the cross on the cover has begun to wear faint.
A drive. Arlene next to me, my hand on her knee. On the radio, I have playing the overture from Jesus Christ Superstar. It has stopped raining.
We are driving south on US1, between Rockledge and Eau Gallie. One would think, from the names, these places would be much more interesting, more exotic than they are. Rock Ledge to Rocky Waters. US1 here is all a limestone ridge along the Indian River, a one hundred and twenty-one mile brackish sound, much of it shallow enough to walk across, separate from the ocean by a spit of land in some places as narrow as a quarter mile. It is a beautiful river though, with very little in the way of buildings to break the view, and often this is a beautiful drive.
Today it is gray. The wipers take the mist off the windshield. We talk about seeing plays, about Hair and Godspell, ideas for the future, and all the while, the river to the left.
A faint rainbow was in the sky when we left her house. Now, it is a bright bridge in the sky, and arc of refraction that spans the river. We look. Arlene loves rainbows. And clouds. And simple things and never tires of natural beauty, never taking the world for granted, and she looks at the rainbow from clear end to clear end and smiles. She smiles. She smiles and nearly I forget the rainbow.
How rare to see the rainbow’s end, and how rare to see both, and so solid, so bright, so manifest I am sure we could start at one side and walk over it to the other, look down upon the river from atop the rainbow bridge, through the light, see the world and the water in the full prismatic array of the visible light spectrum, sit, sit, and watch the clouds drift through as we lie upon the light.
The perfect arc. Then, as we watch, a vine of lightning appears, spreads, grows, center to sides, seemingly slowly, filling the color encased space with bright branches.
Who else saw this? Arlene. I. Anyone else? Probably. Maybe not. But it was not, then was, then was not again. There is no proof. Just memory. And beauty. An engram deep and quiet and I, I fortunate to have it. I need no photograph. I was there. It was perfect. It was glorious. It was beyond what can be beauty and it was shared.
Once, on a morning walk, I saw a meteorite. The memory lies next to the rainbow.
A brief, bright exclamation burned above the earth.
Below, predawn sirens,
My own padding feet.
William James wrote, in his 1902 collection of his lectures at the University of Edinburgh, Varieties of Religious Experience, that there are four hallmarks of religious experiences. They are ineffable, in that they are too great for words and cannot be described even though we may try. We may do our best in prose, poetry, paint, but we know we have not come close. They are noetic, in that they bring us to insight and contain truth, though we may be unable to speak what that truth is, we can feel it present. They are transient, in that they come and are gone. They do not last and cannot be captured. They are passive. We cannot control them. We cannot bring them on or replicate them. They seem a gift and we are powerless in the presence of them.
And, as such, this rainbow, and the sharing of it. This rainbow and lightning and the experience of it, is, in essence, an experience religious. I cannot do it justice in words, I feel the truth therein—it exists in my memory and in the memory of a shared moment and, in its time and space, I was powerless. I could experience it only and neither bring it, hold it, describe it nor own it in any way other than as a feeling, a memory and a truth.
But the religious experience need not be brought by only the extra-ordinary. There is spirit and beauty in the ordinary if we only pay attention. There is the mystical in the mundane.
Out of the freezer
Saved for iced coffee
Poured from a glass mug
Into a blender,
Add milk, sugar, cocoa
Put on the top and
Press the button.
Top off and vessel lifted
Above the mug
Poised to pour,
Stop, cease, stunned,
Circumference to center
Fill the mug.
Pick up the mug
In awe of the
Frozen pitcher raised.
Place the mug
On the counter
Into the coffee film below,
I must write this.
How many miracles
How much beauty
It takes little convincing most people that coffee can be a religious experience.
Especially if it makes Arlene smile.
My First book, Tellstones: Runic Divination in the Welsh Tradition, is an Amazon bestseller. Of course, it took a fan writing me before I knew it. So thanks!
And thanks to all of you who have bought it. And thanks to all of you who have not bought it yet, but are about to.
Now, let’s work on making my other books hit the top as well. It takes all of us, and, if you are a writer, let’s support each other. Buy, review, and blog each others’ books!
My work, poetry, essay, creative nonfiction and more, can be found in various anthologies as well as my books, The Phoenix and the Dragon: Poems from the Alchemical Transformation (Smithcraft Press), Tellstones: Runic Divination in the Welsh Tradition, and Bud the Spud, which may be found at your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and elsewhere, for you reading needs, whether you like to hold books in your hands or read them on tablets or phones or Kindles or Nooks or, goodness gracious – so many options. You can find my author profile on Amazon and please find me as well at GoodReads.)
Some short time ago, I became interested in gins. Not just interested, but fascinated. I am not a tippler. I barely drink. A bottle of Plymouth gin I have is still more than half full and it is more than eight years old.
Gin, and gin and tonics, are nothing new to me. My Aunt Esther and Uncle Dave used to give them to me when I was four. Maybe even younger than that. But I could go years without one. I liked them, but no big deal.
But now I became preoccupied with gin. The differences in tastes, textures, bouquets. And, so I, with my friend Craig, looked for a place that had gins to taste and came up woefully short.
One place I called used to be a favorite more than a year ago. It was one of the last places I took my wife to eat before she died, before she was no longer able to leave the house, before hospice, before her death. Even toward the end, hard as it was for her to be out, to enjoy her days, they had great patience for her, for her needs, and for mine. I called with trepidation, but Matt’s Casbah, I thought, was a good bet for gin and, I had hoped, I could reclaim this place as a favorite happy haunt instead of only associating it with radiation therapy.
No, they did not have any different gins, the manager, Justin, told me. But rarely had he heard of anyone else interested in gin, and he happened to have a bottle of Smalls, a “boutique” distillery that produced, what he felt was a superior and different gin. And he remembered me, and my Lee, and asked if I would come in to have a drink with him, on the house.
I was delighted. Elated, really, and I did go there, to have a drink with Justin. I took Craig with me and we sat, happy, sharing a bottle of small-batch gin, fragrant, strong, viscous, with Justin. With our first sip, we toasted Lee. It was a small thing, but a great kindness, and it allowed me to reclaim something I had lost, and in that, I knew I could reclaim other places, other things, I had lost. Other things associated with pain could be brought back to joy.
Some days later, Jazmin handed me a National Geographic. In it was an article about dying languages she knew I would be interested in. It discussed languages and how they formed, and were formed by, a culture’s way of thinking. In one section it discussed Kazakhstan, and the word for juniper, which, of course, is the main flavoring for gin, coming from the word genièvre, French for juniper. It stated that the Kazahks burned juniper berries to allow those who have passed to move on, and those who were still alive, to live on. It cleared the souls who lingered for the rest of their journey. Kazakhstan is the part of the world from which Lee, the doctor, the shaman, and her family comes and she but one generation removed.
And here I was, at the one year anniversary of my wife’s passing, fascinated, preoccupied, with gin, with genièvre, with juniper as distilled in spirits.
When the soul reaches, listen and lend it your hands. And gin is what I was reaching for.
Since then, I have tried many gins. Many awful, many wonderful. I found a bar in San Diego while there for a book signing that had over forty gins, Aero Club, and the barmistress set me up with a tasting. I described what I liked, and she set it up. All for a Jackson and a tip. Junipero, one of the first small distillery gins, made by Anchor Steam, the first microbrewery to make it big. Farmers Botanical Organic Gin. Smalls. Hendricks, well-known but under-appreciated. Others. Many wonderful. All different.
I feel much better. And, I know, so does she.
Have a Shamanic Gin and Tonic
When a friend or loved one’s passed
(we know the body doesn’t last),
but the spirit’s not moved on
of those whose time has come and gone,
or those alive are still bereft
over one who long has left,
there is a cure one can employ,
a special drink one can enjoy,
to clear the space and tears away
and free a soul who mustn’t stay.
Have a shamanic gin and tonic
served tall in a glass that’s cold and conic,
prepared by a shaman with a twist of citrus:
cinchona bark and a gin that’s viscous,
and cubes of stone that fizz when you drop ’em
(better than pills that appall when you pop ’em,
or capsules or tinctures or some New Age option
is tonic and gin, the shamanic concoction)
or cubes of ice—they’re even freezier
(they dissolve in the drink, and that is much easier).
Then sniff the bouquet of the herbs and the roots
or the leaves or the stems or the barks or the fruits
or the spirits of plants that the gin spirit suits!
Have one or two
with a friend or a few,
and beat a skin drum
or rattle bones some—
then slip with a buzz down a hole or a drain
to discover your lack or the source of your pain
or maybe the unattached bits of your soul
that keep you from feeling as though you are whole
that fled long ago and now can be found
safe in the keeping of leopard or hound
or in a small cave or hole in a tree,
and finding them now, you set yourself free.
Then bring them back home as you drum with your drink
(it’s really quite easy, just try not to think)
with the cubes made of stone
as you journey alone
in the land underground (or is it within?)
assisted most ably by tonic and gin.
And what herbs or roots or fruits should we add
that would be good—or by virtue of excess or vacuity of some constituent or actions or combinations thereof—would be bad?
Cucumber’s a wonder in high summer heat
but in juniper, gin should be more than replete,
and filled with the spirits that cleanse and abide
for clearing the home (or office or what-have-you) and sending them outside,
so inside and happy now people can live
without items disappearing or dishes crashing or things going bump in the night, and they can be happy and productive and get a good night’s sleep without antidepressants or therapy or a sedative.
So toast those now gone, or gone but still here,
and raise them a glass in celebration and cheer!
And don’t take to drugs or psychiatry or colonics—
just drink some shamanic ice-cold gin and tonics.
(All life, every encounter, each moment, pleasant, unpleasant, “pure” or “impure,” may be transformed into a spiritual event. All life is tantra.)
I hear nothing
but the smooth separation
of snow pea from stem,
knife rolling against board
and the low hum of the refrigerator.
Among the small piles of vegetables,
onions, mushrooms, garlic,
and a small hill of fish,
I discern origin from end.
All to become a meal
designed for how it will feel on the fork,
attract the eye,
appeal to the soul,
sustain the body.
Another day, another meal,
I am grateful
for the destruction and death
which precedes creation.