Book Review

About the Marys

I’ve had an unflagging interest in Mary Magdalene for decades. Not only relating to the truth of her life, but also the potential of this historical, spiritual figure as a role model, what she means for humanity today. Lately, I’ve been delving deeply into research as my next spiritual travel program in southern France, with a particular focus on the Magdalene, is on the horizon. As I’ve been holding her in my consciousness, it suddenly occurred to me that little to nothing has been written about Mary the mother of Jesus after the crucifixion. What happened to her?

First understand, I keep my distance from organized religion. I’m certainly not a Bible scholar and only find that tome interesting as a metaphor, not to be literally interpreted. It’s clear that both Marys have suffered a long line of injustices dealt by the Catholic Church and institutions that came afterward.

Aside from the virgin birth, Mary the mother of Jesus has been perched on such heights of virtue that it’s infinitely unattainable for us mere mortals, and who would want to be that good or long-suffering. The opposite was levied upon Mary M given that dualism prevails in this line of thinking and control — and blasphemy there would be a female teacher or prophet powerful in her own right. No need to go into the details here which are well known. Even though in 1969 the Catholic Church admitted to making a ‘mistake,’ they declined to recognize her true standing alongside Jesus. I think it’s a particular statement that the tiny monastery perched on the side of the mountain abutting Mary’s Grotto, where she lived and taught the last years of her life, is guarded by Dominicans, original instigators and perpetrators of the Inquisition.

Rex DeusI came across a well-researched, readable book called Rex Deus that sets aside what is questionable or incorrect in Holy Blood, Holy Grail and painstakingly pieces together history, practices of the times and logic relating to the bloodline of Mary M and Jesus, and connections to the Knights Templar and Cathars. I find it fascinating. But more so, what it relates rings true.

One area seems singularly plausible and previously unknown to me. The following history was told to Tim Wallace-Murphy, one of the book’s authors, by a man who claimed the Rex Deus bloodline that holds the descendants of Mary M and Jesus.

The Temple in Jerusalem had two boarding schools, one for each gender. Students were drawn from important families, the highborn, those of rabbis. A girl name Anne attended there, as did her daughter Mary—later to be renamed the Virgin Mary. The High Priests of the Temple were the instructors…but also held another responsibility. After young girls began their menses, these same High Priests impregnated them.

If you’re like me, my mouth dropped open at reading this, and I recoiled in horror. How can that be true? But it just might be true, an early strategy for ensuring an Aryan line, telling of Jesus’ origins. Things have been done in the name of religion that are equally horrendous.

Apparently, the pregnant girls were matched with a suitable husband of equal status to the girl’s…with one condition. The High Priests laid claim to the child at the age of seven when they were remanded to the Temple school for education. In this manner, the bloodlines were guaranteed pure and the child’s education controlled. Mary was said to have been impregnated by a High Priest called Gabriel and married off to Joseph of Tyre of Davidic descent, now known as St. Joseph. By this story, Jesus attended the same school his grandmother and mother did, the family returning to Jerusalem when he was age appropriate after some years in Egypt.

You may be wondering where I’m going with this. As things will at the appropriate time, The Testament of Mary, a novel by Colm Tóibin, an incredible Irish writer, fell in my lap. It tells of the years of Mary’s life preceding and after her son’s crucifixion. Before I synopsize the book, let me offer you this.

I did a search on Mary after the crucifixion. I turned up an entry that said the circumstances or place of Mary’s death were unknown. Perhaps it was Jerusalem or Ephesus, where legend says she lived. Then it went on to give great detail on the location of her house outside Ephesus, its exact orientation, how it was made, what surrounded it, who attended her, the lonely nature of her life, and the method of her anointing after death.

Testament of MaryThe Testament of Mary is written in first person. This novella could be volumes in length for the message it bears and, again, so much more plausible than the long-standing tale of the Church. This is the poignant accounting of a mother trying to come to grips with an ultimate tragedy no mother should undergo. Trying to make sense of her son who’d surrounded himself by half-crazed crowds who venerated him, saying he was not mortal when she knew he was. A son who forgot his mother — so taken he was in the growing attention — and impatient with her when she questioned his safety and wisdom of his actions. How he had become strange to her. The anguish of the crucifixion and a guilt she lived with. Finding herself in imminent danger and fleeing in the face of it. Later, a lonely life outside Ephesus, ostracized by neighbors. Her present guardians were more like guards. They showed up periodically wearing a zealous glow on their faces, taking down a story that put words in her mouth — what did not happen, could not have happened — as she kept her distance and politeness.

All here are so much more when taken as historical figures — real humans — not icons of the Church. In this way, false barriers are permeated. In this way, we can open to teachings in a whole different manner, acknowledge the elements of being human, and embody those we choose.


Rex Deus is out of print but may be accessed through used books on Amazon or elsewhere. The Testament of Mary is available on Amazon and elsewhere.

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Teresita

In 1889, a young girl was overcome with a mysterious affliction, some say a response brought on by an attack from a rejected suitor. She fell ill to the degree she took no sustenance and descended into a coma-like state. Nothing could be done either by the ranch’s curandera, the local doctor or the ever-present praying women circled around her bed. As her skin grayed and shriveled, her father had to face a reality. She was quickly slipping away. On the twelfth day, he instructed his men to build a coffin. When finally her breath ceased, heart stilled and no pulse could be found, all knew the worst had happened. After the ritual washing of the body, she was clothed in white and laid on a table in a room with candles, the coffin nearby. There she would be placed the next morning. The women began their overnight vigil, praying as they would. Suddenly, about midnight, there was a scream from one of the women who glanced up from her bowed head to notice slight flickering of the girl’s closed eyes and movement in her body. Then more screams from the rest and a rush out the door…for the girl slowly sat up and began looking around the room disoriented.

Over the next three months, she remained in a trance-like state. Her weakened condition returned to normal over that time, but for much of it she had to be cared for and fed. She showed no interest in food and displayed no emotions or interest in anything. Remaining in her room, she withdrew into herself or sometimes gazed into space as though seeing beyond this dimension.

Then one day, the fugue lifted as quickly as it came…and she began to heal the afflicted merely through her presence, gaze of her eyes, vibration of her words, and laying on of hands. And somehow…she correctly foretold futures. None of these capabilities existed previously.

teresitaShe was 17 years old. Her name was Teresa Urrea, affectionately known as Teresita, the illegitimate daughter of Cayetana Chávez and Tomás Urrea. Soon she would become widely known, throughout Mexico, the US and elsewhere, as Santa Teresa of Cabora and, in some circles, the Mexican Joan of Arc and Queen of the Yaquis.

Teresita’s mother was a Tehueco Indian, 14 years old at her daughter’s birth. Her father was a wealthy landholder of Spanish lineage, a patron owning several ranches. At 15, she was taken into Don Tomás’ home where she made the transition to a girl of privilege – for which she cared little – while alternately being schooled in herbalism by Huila, the ranch’s curandera. Her heart rested with those who had the least, and the Mayo and Yaqui Indians of the Sonoran region.

Teresita first began her healing ways with mothers during childbirth, easing pain and moving babies in dangerous birthing positions. But quickly the incidents moved on to other ailments. There was an uncanny similarity to some of the stories of Jesus. A paralyzed man found he walked after her quiet urging and touch. A deaf boy suddenly able to hear. There were countless others. Now, such fantastic tales could easily be dismissed were it not for the fact that they were corroborated by eye witnesses and consistent over time. When she was unable to dispel disease, she instilled peace and readiness for passing.

Word spread like wildfire. It wasn’t long until the sick and their families, in the thousands, made pilgrimage, setting up camp to wait for audiences with Teresita. In all her short lifetime, she accepted nothing from people for her work. Life for Santa Teresita of Cabora – declared so by the people she served (which brought anger from the Catholic Church) – her father or any of those associated with the Urrea ranch would never be the same again.

The Yaqui and Mayo Indians uplifted her as their champion. Word made its way to northern Chihuahua, and the ears of Cruz Chávez, a rebel mestizo religious fanatic in the remote village of Tomochic. Chávez and followers made their own journey to consult Teresita. Thereafter, he kept correspondence with her until his death during the siege and massacre of Tomochic, perpetrated by Porfirio Díaz, president of Mexico, and the federal army.

Although Teresita’s message was always one of peace and tolerance, she was blamed for the Tomochic uprising, a precursor to the Mexican Revolution. Later discovery of letters between Chávez and Teresita proved her innocent of any inciting. However, the Mexican government continued to hold her accountable for subversive activities regarding insurgence of the Yaqui and Tomochi and feared her influence. At the age of 19, this devout young woman – an Innocent in so many ways – was arrested by the federales. Threatened with execution, she opted for exile over the border to the US. Don Tomás left his wife, mistress, many children and properties behind and accompanied her. Over the next years Teresita would be exploited by a “medical company” for their own gain and a political activist-publisher, a longtime family friend, in support of his cause against Porfirio Díaz. She would live in Arizona, Texas, California and New York, and travel across the US.

Santa Teresita of Cabora would finally return to the small town of Clifton in eastern Arizona where she would live out her days. There she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and passed in 1906 at 33 leaving two young children. Having healed so many, she was unable to heal herself. She is buried next to her father.

Teresita remains venerated.

I will admit to a fascination with Teresita, her life being well documented. I’m not the only one. William Curry Holden, historian and archaeologist, researched her life for 20 years, speaking to those remaining who had known her and going to the places she had frequented, along with unearthing newspaper articles of the time. His investigation culminated in Teresita, a straightforward biography published in 1978 that reads like a good novel.

Author Luis Urrea discovered he was Teresita’s great-nephew after a colleague suggested it in 1978. He thought back to what he considered interesting but false family stories he’d heard as a boy from an aunt in Tijuana describing an ancestor who could heal and fly. Then he found there were those who had written books about her. His lengthy novels The Hummingbird’s Daughter (2005) and Queen of America (2011) fill in any gaps left by Holden with lyrical language and story.

I’ve read all 3 of these books but left wanting more. This spring I may be making a pilgrimage over to Clifton in search of any lingering presence Teresita may have left.

Categories: Book Review, Contemplative Life, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Borderlands

I’m sitting here waiting for the words to come. Sometimes writing is like that. Not because there’s writer’s block but because it takes a while – sometimes a long while – for the feelings to swim up…and form thought…then phrases…then sentences. At least enough to make a cohesive statement.

IMG_5950

Yaxchilan, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Carla Woody

I’m not sure I’m there yet. I knew it five days ago when, during the final circle of this year’s spiritual travel journey in Maya Lands, I attempted to express myself. By then we’d been in the rainforest for five days. Its soft humidity – really, something about the inherent energy ⎻ tends to open other dimensions for me, even as it retains the Great Mystery. Perhaps it has something to do with the insistent, primal calling of the howler monkeys.

Having heard theirs, I’d offered some last reflections to the group on our experiences then paused. I realized I’d left out a piece I was struggling with emotionally, something well beyond my control. What I was able to say in that moment felt totally inadequate in relation to what I wanted to say. I imagine it came out somewhat flat, even though I could feel the tears in my throat.

linebecomesariverI’d avoided reading The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú for several months. I knew the subject matter would be hard for me to ingest. My feelings about what’s been happening at the US-Mexico border run deep. It rips my heart out. I personally know Rita Cantú, the author’s mother, a retired park ranger and composer-musician. She lives just a few miles from me. Knowing more now through her son’s book, I have enormous respect for the care in which she raised him, to instill the cultural values of his Mexican heritage and respect for nature. That said, I could imagine her challenges when he decided to join the US Border Patrol. Learning so in the book, it seemed unfathomable to me.

I can’t imagine what possessed me. But I decided to take Francisco’s book on my spiritual travel program in southern Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. I guess some part of me decided that reading it from a physical distance at home in northern Arizona, difficult but still easier, wasn’t appropriate. Instead, after our daily immersion with the Maya peoples and sacred traditions of those lands, I spent most nights with Francisco’s recollections. I struggled with them.

Francisco set the stage by writing of his fascination with the borderlands, wanting to know as much as he could. He disclosed that, after obtaining a degree in international relations, he desired more than intellectual knowledge. This is what led to his work as an agent for the US Border Patrol working in the hard deserts of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico between 2008 and 2012.

I doubt he held anything back in the book. Although, he does say some of those in the book are composites of different people he worked with or otherwise encountered. Locations were sometimes changed. Done so to protect privacy and, I imagine, safety in some cases. He relayed his daily life: the range of personalities and approaches of fellow agents, tracking and capturing humans in the bleakest places, witnessing desperation, hopelessness and death, the horrific acts of the drug cartels and opportunism of coyotes.

No matter what you tell yourself and how kind you may be toward asylum seekers, after a while it’s got to take a serious toll on your psyche. I was relieved when I began to pick up Francisco’s internal conflict such that he finally opted for a job removing himself from the field, and then from the Border Patrol completely.

But that brought new awareness. He’d developed a friendship with a Mexican man who, unbeknownst to Francisco, had been brought to the US illegally at age 11, married and had children who were US citizens by birth. His friend went home to Mexico to be with his dying mother but was caught attempting to re-enter and detained. Not able to just stand by, Francisco found himself on the other side. He did all he could to support his friend in navigating a legal system that cares little of personal circumstances, and otherwise helped out the family whose father was deported. At the publication of the book, they remained torn apart.

The Line Becomes a River, named a top ten book for 2018 by NPR and the Washington Post, was a hard read but a necessary one. I was personally glad the author didn’t gloss over the most difficult parts, that he was exposed to wide-ranging aspects of the border issues, and wasn’t afraid to write honestly about it. It’s a book all should read to best inform their thoughts and votes.

***

I’ve spent many years developing relationships with Indigenous spiritual leaders and healers who serve their own people in the lands where I sponsor programs. Travelers’ tuitions help support the families of those involved and, through special projects, for the well-being of their communities. A range of service people are also involved and the local economy benefits. I don’t frequent areas considered unsafe. So it’s unlikely those I work with encounter the drug cartel. However, for many of them, behind the scenes of our time with them, they endure the results of acute poverty with little to no opportunity to change that state.

That hurts my soul, and extends globally to anyone seeking relief from violence, scarcity of any kind and inner demons they carry as a result. I cannot harden my heart as many can and turn away. Through a slight accident of birth and the times I was born into, I have not personally experienced these levels of hardship but a good number did down my family line.

IMG_5674

Altar at the Cofradia House (Brotherhood), Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. Photo: Carla Woody.

So I am yet sitting here waiting for the words to arise to adequately express the sorrow I hold for a world where everyone isn’t invited to the table, and the helplessness I feel to do anything about it except my very small part to make it so.

***

The Metaphor: Borderlands

During opening circles for any of my spiritual travel programs, I invite participants to note any personal themes that run through our time together. Mine are not tourist trips but first to help preserve Indigenous traditions, and also an invitation for travelers to undertake deep inner work. What better way than spiritual journeys against the backdrop of sacred lifeways of foreign lands where we’re not within our usual comfort zone? The purpose, of course, is to carry the learnings home to create re-alignment and best live through personal values.

I invite them to note any metaphors that arise from their themes, providing a rich foundation and potential in-roads. Only this morning, as I finish writing this article, have I discovered my own coming from these travels: Borderlands.

There are the literal borderlands fraught with political issues that create great distress and tragedies. But also there are metaphysical borderlands. In this moment, what comes to me is the forbidden ground we’re told we must not cross in order to reinforce the status quo. But if we did and navigated those lands wisely, with great courage and heart, there’s the opportunity to integrate any wounded or unintegrated aspects of the self, and move through the threshold to enter an elevated life.

This is an area of personal depth and further unearthing. The Line Becomes a River  delivered it to me, gratefully while being immersed in the Maya lands and in relationship with peoples I’ve come to love.

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Book Review – The Monk of Mokha

monkofmokha

The Monk of Mokha is a modern-day Hero’s Journey – a monumental quest – and, amazingly, it’s completely true. Mokhtar Alkhanshali, was raised in the US in poor circumstances by attentive Yemeni parents. But like a lot of young people, he couldn’t get his act together. He also distanced himself from his Yemeni culture. While other friends and family members found their place, Mokhtar wandered aimlessly through life and changed jobs frequently. That is…until one day in 2015…prompted by a friend…he looked across the street from his workplace and noticed a statue of a Yemeni man drinking coffee, an artifact left over from the long abandoned Hills Brothers coffee plant. Suddenly, 27-year-old Mokhtar received his calling, and his hair was on fire.

With some research, he discovered that Sufi monks in the isolated mountains of Yemen were the first to cultivate and brew coffee beginning in the 15th century. Over the next 200 years, Yemen owned the trade, exporting high quality coffee to Europe, starting the coffee craze. He also found that the quality of Yemeni coffee drastically declined throughout the 20th century due to limited rainfall and the growing popularity of chewing qat, a mild narcotic that had overtaken coffee fields and eroded the soil.

Mokhtar decided that he was going to revolutionize the coffee of his family’s homeland, bring it back to its former grandeur, and return to Yemeni coffee farmers the dignity and prosperity they deserve. Here are just some of the challenges: Mokhtar knew nothing about coffee and must become a top certified expert, a stringent and costly venture. He had absolutely no money. He desperately needed a mentor, someone who could show him the ropes and guide him in such a journey.  Few farmers in Yemen even attempted to cultivate the poor quality coffee the land produced, and he knew none of those who did. Maybe the worst: Just saying Yemen immediately brings to mind tragic civil war, staggering humanitarian crisis and extreme danger. Who would even invest in such a venture? Could the necessary infrastructure be put in place? How would travel even be possible? How would he dodge bullets and escape terrorists?

The Monk of Moha is the inspiring story, a very wild ride, of exactly how – in just 2 short years – Mokhtar Alkhanshali accomplished exactly what he set out to do. In 2017, his fledgling company Port of Mokha offered East Hayma Single Farmer Lot. It was given the highest score ever awarded by the Coffee Review’s grading program since its inception over 25 years ago. Best of all, Mokhtar has revived communities where only devastation lived. Port of Mokha coffee is now selling for $42 per 4 ounces.

The author Dave Eggers is to be commended for his social responsibility, having undertaken this unlikely, heroic tale. He successfully produced an insightful book that also offers an appreciation for Yemen, its people and culture against tragic circumstances the country is currently suffering. I also learned a lot about coffee.

Here’s an engaging bit of the story in video, told by Mokhtar himself on the Port of Mokha website, to entice you to read the book. Available in print, ebook and audiobook at Amazon and elsewhere. Highly recommend.

 

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Sacred Reciprocity | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review: The Meaning of Mary Magdalene

magdalenebookIt took me some months to read Cynthia Bourgeault’s book on Mary Magdalene. Not because I was slogging through mud, just the opposite. It contains such richness that I read just a few pages in each sitting to give passages time to digest. There are many books out there giving evidence, laying down arguments for and against, as well as historical references on the identity of Mary Magdalene and her role relative to Jesus and the apostles. This book goes deeper and harvests the fruit in a down-to-earth, often humorous, way. No stuffiness here.

The points for us today rest in the title of the book – The Meaning of Mary Magdalene – where we can understand the true significance of who she was, the effect she had then and what her spirit carries through time. Consider that, in 2017, the Dalai Lama said women playing a key role in this century would ensure peace and “promote basic human values of compassion and love.” Truly this is what we need.

Central here is the Gospel of Mary Magdalene discovered in an antiquities market by a German collector in the late 1800s. It essentially languished until it was published in German in 1955, then in English in the mid 1970s. It is but 19 pages, essentially of dialogue, with pages 1-6 and 11-14 missing. Bourgeault also draws heavily on the Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Philip from the Nag Hammadi findings, which she says are of the same “spiritual stream” as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. These three gnostic gospels were not controlled by the politics of the time, as the sanctioned New Testament. The author does make reference to statements in the New Testament, but this is more to get beneath the surface of what was stated or inferred and how it balances out with the the gnostic writings.

However Mary and Jesus met, whether or not they were married in the everyday sense, it is clear they were joined in a holy, sacred marriage as part of a conscious path. Each was equally important to the other in the process of deepening, equality, love and integrity in service of wholeness and purity of heart. They entrusted each other – created the safe haven – to do the shadow work necessary to deliver them. Reading here we sense the intensity in which it all took place, an alchemical process of transmutation to something greater than either could be on their own. This in the midst and mess of humanness, but not all. There is also the imaginal realm, another dimension where chaos is swept aside and the light gets in.

I also appreciated the attention given to kenosis in so many paragraphs. Twenty years ago I used that word to name the work I do and still abide by it.

Kenosis comes from the Greek verb kenosein, which means to empty oneself…

self-emptying is the touchstone, the core reality underlying every moment…

The letting go of kenosis is actually closer to letting be…

first and foremost a visionary tool…its primary focus is to cleanse the lens of perception…

the direct gateway into a divine reality that can be immediately experienced as both compassionate and infinitely generous…

I originally began reading The Meaning of Mary Magdalene as a deepening for my [now recent] spiritual travel program in Provence where Mary figured prominently. By preparing in this way, it took me to places I hadn’t previously been in meaning and depth when I actually walked the land once more where she also put her feet.

This is an important book for our times.

Available in print, e-book and audiobook on Amazon and widely elsewhere.

Categories: Book Review, Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Books of Athabaskan Native Velma Wallis

Velma Wallis was born of the Athabaskan people in a small village in remote Alaska. She grew up in the traditional way and heard the oral history of her tribe and others in the region through her mother. She’s documented two of those through Two Old Women and Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun.

TwoOldWomenTwo Old Women tells of two elders who had lost their usefulness, often falling into complaining in the face of decline. As tradition holds, the duty of providing for them fell to their extended family and others of the tribe, which they did. But the tribe fell upon hard times. Food was almost nonexistent and some successive winters brutal. Finally, the chief made a decision, when the tribe departed in search for a more hospitable home, the two old women were left behind in favor of tribal survival. This meant they were leaving the elders to a certain death. Two Old Women discloses the internal conflict many of the tribe experienced and the process of the women as they faced a fate they did not choose, and the unexpected outcomes.

BirdGirlBird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun is about a girl and boy, living in separate camps of the Gwich’in people. Neither fit in. At a young age, Bird Girl’s father had taught her to hunt and roam along with her brothers. Having tasted that freedom, she took no interest in the never-ending burden of women’s work or taking a husband. Finally pushed to fall in line, she chose to leave home to make her way on her own.

The boy Dagoo was told about The Land of the Sun somewhere to the south where the sun shone all the time, and it was warm, unlike the frozen ground where he lived. His elders said that some of their people had gone in search for this place but turned back, while others went on and never returned. Dagoo was compelled to wander, to explore what potentials may be had beyond the small confines of tribal expectations and limited grounds. After being given an ultimatum to conform, he left in search of The Land of the Sun.

Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun is about the need to belong, and the choices and consequences of rejecting what doesn’t fit.

Both books are about the meaning and pressures of tribal community and historical, territorial violence between tribes as well as first experiences with European intruders. Told in a straightforward manner, they are impactful eye openers that caused me to consider the choices I have taken in my own life.

Available on Amazon and some public libraries.

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Mariette in Ecstasy

Mariette-in-EcstasyMost books reach a logical conclusion. After I finished Mariette in Ecstasy, I just sat there attempting to sort through what I even felt. Stunned in some ways, I suppose. Mystified to say the least. But then, the subject matter of this book deals with the interface between religious mysticism and human nature. A pat answer rarely rests in either.

Since early adolescence Mariette Baptiste feels a draw, the need for direct connection with her savior. By the time she enters the convent at seventeen as a postulate, her practices toward that end are well grounded. Many hours of meditation, prayer or other types of spiritual cultivation can make the veil quite thin. She soon goes into trance regularly, professes to speak directly to Jesus and bleeds from great holes in the hands, feet and side.  At the same time, she seems to be stalked by demons.

The author offers quite believable elements in the life of a stigmatic, not only the passion, and suffering but also – surprisingly – eroticism.

Beyond this are other complications. Mariette comes from privilege, and she’s quite pretty. She enters a modest convent in upstate New York in 1906 and severely disrupts its placid life. This is where human nature comes in. The full range of reaction comes out in spades. There are the suspicions, jealousies, hidden agendas, intrigue, attraction, sexual fantasies and worship…wrapped around religious life.

All of this interspersed against the backdrop of the daily tasks, masses and foreshadowing of Mariette’s interrogation.

Rather than a novel, it could just as well be a narrative nonfiction account of religious fervor and typical convent life. Well researched, sometimes graphic, it was provocative and held all the necessary components of a good mystery.

I find it remarkable that the same author who wrote Desperadoes and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford would also write Mariette in Ecstasy.

I found my copy at the public library. It’s also available at Amazon.

Categories: Book Review, Contemplative Life | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Muralist

muralistI read B. A. Shapiro’s bestseller The Art Forger when it came out and enjoyed it immensely. When art is the backdrop against a true-life story, and I can learn something along the way, I’m automatically drawn. So when I stumbled upon her next novel, it was a shoo-in that did not disappoint. Plus, I became aware of shameful things in US history that certainly have been downplayed, but absolutely relevant today. A horrendous part of French history is also enlarged upon beyond what I’d known. These two areas are largely why I’m reviewing this historical novel here.

The storyline is introduced in present-day when art historian Danielle Abrams, working for Christie’s auction house, received boxes of paintings to research and authenticate. Knowledge and gut feeling told her they were likely Abstract Expressionist pieces, potentially pre-WWII. She felt the stirrings of excitement, a possibility arising. Could they be early works of renowned Abstract Expressionists? With that, her thoughts turned toward her great-aunt Alizée Benoit, the family legend and mystery surrounding her. In the first stirrings of WWII, Alizée had moved to New York for the sake of her art, leaving her Jewish family in France. Family stories had it that she somehow became connected with Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and others, little known at the time, and played a significant influence on these giants in the Abstract Expressionism movement and their styles.  But suddenly in 1940 she disappeared. No one knew where or why. Attempts led nowhere and there were whispers of mental illness. Only two of her paintings remained, given to her US family by a patron.

An unexpected find that she believes was somehow connected to her missing great-aunt causes Danielle to undertake her own search to resolve the mystery. We are ushered back to the late 1930s, a couple of years after Alizée’s arrival in New York, as she is making her way in a country critically affected by the Depression. By this time, she is working for Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Program (FAP) on murals, destined for public sites like government buildings, train stations and the like. She rubs elbows with serious artists of the time, and becomes part of the close-knit group that include those mentioned. The narrative follows Alizée as they work and practically live on top of each other, arguing about art and loving in the midst of uncertain times.

In the meantime, the threat of Hitler becomes more and more real. Alizée’s close and extended Jewish family in Europe enlist her to help them apply for US visas to escape the tyranny as it becomes increasingly dangerous and communications diminish. The one bright point in her life is art and the unforeseen patronage of Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of the FAP.

Alizée bumps up against block after bureaucratic block in rescuing her family. She learns that Breckinridge Long, the Assistant Secretary of State in President Roosevelt’s administration and an anti-Semite, was actively withholding granting of visas to Jews seeking to escape Nazi Germany, stating they may be criminals and spies. President Roosevelt, for his part, turned his head away from this matter as too politically sensitive.

Rumors of the Vichy government’s collaboration with the Gestapo, police raids in Paris, where her family lived, and transfers to a “holding camp” an hour away by train trickled through. Becoming more and more desperate, Alizée found no recourse but to join a dissident group and take drastic measures.

Danielle’s painstaking search for the fate of Alizée Benoit uncovers answers, piece by perturbing piece, that bring resolution from the past to the present.

B.A. Shapiro was faithful to documentation of the bohemian and sometimes tragic lives of the Abstract Expressionists, WPA/FAP and Eleanor Roosevelt’s support of the arts, which I found quite interesting. More so, she built a poignant story against the terrible landscape of politics, war and genocide of those times…some of which sound all too familiar today.

Here are the facts.

Ultimately, the effect of the immigration policies set by Long’s department was that, during American involvement in the war, ninety percent of the quota places available to immigrants from countries under German and Italian control were never filled. If they had been, an additional 190,000 people could have escaped the atrocities being committed by the Nazis.

Source: Wikipedia.

The Drancy camp was designed to hold 700 people, but at its peak held more than 7,000. There is documented evidence and testimony recounting the brutality of the French guards in Drancy and the harsh conditions imposed on the inmates…upon their arrival, small children were immediately separated from their parents for deportation to the death camps…

Of the 75,000 Jews whom French and German authorities deported from France, more than 67,000 were sent directly from Drancy to Auschwitz… As the Allies were approaching Paris in August 1944, the German officers fled, and the camp was liberated on 17 August when control of the camp was given over to the French Resistance and Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling…

Source: Wikipedia.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s son James told historian Doris Kearns Goodwin that the greatest regret of his mother’s life was her failure to convince her husband to admit more European refugees to the United States before World War II. Her lament is a warning to all of us.

Source: Salon.com.

The Muralist is available in print, audio and ebook through Amazon and wherever books are sold.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Neither Wolf Nor Dog…Or When a Calling Comes

This is less of a review and more of a story about how I came to learn of the book Neither Wolf Nor Dog, and then my process through attempts to understand its full, often uncomfortable meaning.

WolfNorDog

About this time a year ago I received an invitation, really it was delivered as a demand, from a Lakota elder that I come to South Dakota to receive teachings. It came at a time I was continually traveling, barely home but longing to be. When I thanked him and attempted to arrange a time that made it easier for me, he became insistent. We finally settled on a time. For me, it meant giving up the only travel-free week I’d had in some time. I wasn’t sure what this was all about, and didn’t know the elder. The prior contact we’d had was relatively brief, a long phone call. I finally decided it was something I was being called to do.

I would like to say it was a meaningful journey and a great sharing passed between us. Instead, our time ended abruptly. I left with even more confusion than I’d periodically felt over those days and a high level of frustration, angry at myself that I’d been talked into coming. Clearly, there was much he kept tightly wrapped. Although, it sometimes emerged in ways I wasn’t used to dealing with, much less how to respond adequately. But I was going directly to another commitment, one that mattered a lot to me. So I tucked the strong emotions away and chalked the whole thing up to a mystery of the Universe.

Before I made that trip to South Dakota, I’d mentioned it to a friend. She said there was a book she thought would be good for me to read. I dutifully ordered Neither Wolf Nor Dog but didn’t have time to read it before I left. It found its place on my bookshelf where it languished. I hadn’t known it was made into a movie. Some months later it was being shown where I live, and I followed the strong urge to see it.

The film hadn’t progressed very far when I began to get the eerie feeling of dejá vu. An author from Minnesota, Kent Nerburn, received a cryptic phone call out of the blue from a woman saying her Lakota grandfather wanted to see him. No reason given but delivered with a sense of urgency. Some months later, Nerburn—as he came to be called—finally was able to free up some time to make the long trip to the isolated place the elder Dan called home.  There were few explanations given to Nerburn, punctuated with a lot of silences. Quickly, Dan’s younger Lakota friend Grover was introduced into the story, a caustic individual with barely contained anger frequently directed toward Nerburn in clipped tones and looks. Frankly, I wondered why Nerburn stayed around. I think he did, too. He wrestled with his own responses and ultimately decided to let things play out. Plus, he had the nice guy syndrome going.

I experienced repeated slaps in the face watching all this. It was visceral. When Dan and Grover threw Nerburn in the car and took off on a little explained, exhaustive trip across the Dakotas, my forearms puckered into chicken skin that didn’t go away until the film ended. There were just too many parallels. The places they went, the flavor of the discourse. Showing rather than telling. When Dan broke silences to hold forth on what he wanted Nerburn to learn of the Lakota people…what he wanted Nerburn to put out there in writing… Well, I don’t have words for what I felt.

Clearly, I was not going to be allowed to tuck away my still strong emotions and bewilderment about the journey I took to the Dakotas. I can only believe unseen forces were taking me by the hand to engage with all of it.

So I started to read the book. It was not easy going for me. I could only read a few pages at a time. Then I’d have to digest the contents. Most of the things covered in Neither Wolf Nor Dog I knew about in some form: the atrocities done to Native peoples by whites, cultural differences in beliefs and values…and then there’s appropriation of Native traditions by white people searching to find spiritual grounding…or those who seek to do good but hold a hidden agenda. But I hadn’t found anything to the depth or in the frame presented by Dan, and even Grover, in this writing. The book naturally goes much deeper than the movie ever could.

It took me over two months to read Neither Wolf Nor Dog. I stepped back numerous times to examine the level of my own assumptions and awareness, as well as my motivations behind the work I’ve devoted twenty years of my life. It was a necessary, intensive process. I can’t say it’s over. Instead, it’s all percolating some place inside. I don’t know what will finally emerge.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog is book one of a trilogy that recounts the story of an Indian elder, the surrounding Lakota community, and the white man who somehow has been called to be part of the Truth-naming. The Wolf at Twilight is about Dan’s search for his long-lost sister Yellow Bird who, kidnapped from her home some eighty years before, never returned from the Indian boarding school. The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo brings back the things many have forgotten: the meaning of dreams, the abilities to engage with nature and speak with animals. Sadly, it uncovers the existence of a secret asylum and events that took place there.

Kent Nerburn says these books are fictional accounts of actual events. The truths are in each sentence and have global application. This isn’t merely history. It’s today.

The books are available on Amazon or elsewhere. The movie may still be making the rounds in theaters. Hopefully, it will be offered streaming soon.

***

With many thanks to Karen Marchetti who turned me on to Neither Wolf Nor Dog. Without this guidebook I may never integrate the odyssey I was strangely called to undertake.

Categories: Book Review, Film, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: The Mythic Writings of Tom Hirons

I cannot tell you how I came across the poetry and prose of Tom Hirons. Perhaps the Wild God he writes of led me there those years ago. But once I laid eyes on the words that came through him — because he himself thought they were a remembrance from elsewhere — I’ve been held captive, wanting more. This writer knows how to reach in and shake any dormant aspect of us from sleep. He writes not to the archetype, but the actual Hero we all carry at the core. This isn’t a fairy tale, and Hirons doesn’t deny the messy doings in bringing the Wild God-Hero to full light. In the process, he ushers us into the Dark Unknown where fear raises its hackles in all kinds of unimagined ways. Still, the Wild God will not deny us.

I dare you to listen to Sometimes a Wild God narrated by the poet himself.  Then read the words. How can you not be shaken to the core?

Now Tom Hirons has just released Nettle-Eater in which he speaks to us directly, garnering our attention in the first several lines.

You know the call.

All your books speak of it.

If I differ from you, it is only in this: When the call came, I heeded it. What the call commanded, I fulfilled.

The call said:

Go to the moor.

Live wild there.

Eat only nettles for one year.

 

This is what I did.

Then he proceeds to disclose the Dark Night, the footfalls and not-of-mind ramblings of the initiatory journey, and emergence of the soul. As a prophet once said, this is for those with ears to hear, eyes to see. Spend time with the nettle-eater. You’ll find all the unknowable secrets revealed. At the end, he presents The Invitation.

And you, sitting there?

Do you know these things?

Look at that world beyond your door.

Your life is on fire.

Run!

Dive in, though it surely means death. Taste the streams, the heather and the gorse and the broom. Hold the river stones. Sleep with the waterfall as your pillow. Braid yourself to the horse’s mane. Sing the great lament of your own lost life.

In time, scar yourself with fire and stone. Immerse yourself in such immovable darkness that the lightning cracks you in two.

You were never more lost than you are now, if you cannot reach out, touch the wild earth and weep.

Run!

It is not yet too late, but soon it will be.

Run!

Do not sit there, wondering.

I have told you the truth.

The author generously offers Nettle-Eater for you to freely read in its entirety. You can also go to the Hedgespoken Shop to purchase a signed, limited edition chapbook to hold in your hands. Sometimes a Wild God is available there in illustrated book and poster forms as well.

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: