Book Review

The Fierce Devotion of Noor Inayat Khan

For nearly a decade I was involved in the local Sufi community. I studied the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan who first brought Sufism to the West in 1910 – directed to do so by his own Sufi teacher in India. I attended zikr, a devotional chanting practice, regularly and, in the late 1990s, went to India with a group led by Pir Shabda Kahn, now spiritual director of the the Sufi Ruhaniat International in San Francisco. In Delhi, we paid our respects at the dargah of Hazrat Inayat Khan and, encircling his grave, raised our voices in zikr. The vibrations of this dogma-free Path of the Heart remain with me.

Noor Inayat KhanYet never did I hear of his daughter Noor Inayat Khan in all that time I was so immersed in Sufi practice and study. Somehow, I came across a reference to her on the Internet. Curious because of her name, I did some research and was baffled by what I found.  The source said this first-born child of Hazrat Inayat Khan had been an agent for the Secret Operations Executive (SOE), an espionage agency known as “Churchill’s Secret Army.” I thought to myself, how could a young woman raised within that sacred lineage become a British spy? I delved more deeply and could clearly see what drove her.

Noor’s father — descendant of Indian nobility, Indian classical musician, Sufi mystic — met her mother Amina Begum né Ora Ray Baker — niece to a US Senator, cousin to Mary Baker Eddy who founded the Christian Science Church — at a public lecture he gave in San Francisco. Their love came quickly, but their courtship and prospective marriage were unacceptable to their families. They left the US and married in London. Four children quickly came along.

The family moved frequently and was largely dependent upon the generosity of followers. Her father traveled widely much of the time introducing Sufism to the West and forming centers. The family finally found a home in 1922 in Suresnes, close to Paris center, purchased for them by a wealthy Dutch devotee. Fazal Manzil, meaning House of Blessings, became their home and, for three months each summer, a Sufi school that overflowed with followers. There Noor grew up surrounded by family and community steeped in Sufi mysticism. She was a musician who played traditional Indian instruments and a singer of ragas, taught by her father. She was a poet and writer of children’s stories. Noor was consistently described as gentle, dreamy and shy even into adulthood. In some ways, it was an idyllic, if insular, upbringing. But her life changed dramatically when her father passed in 1927 while in India. Then in 1940 even more so when the family was forced to flee to London as the Germans advanced.

That was the significant point of departure from her former life. This introverted young woman, a practicing Sufi, was set on doing something to defend France. She volunteered for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and was randomly chosen to train as a wireless operator. Noor was noticed by the SOE and subsequently invited for an interview, then offered a position.

At times she gave her superiors fits for she refused to lie, that necessary tool of a secret agent. They had to reframe the requirements of the job and relanguage things she would need to say in order for it to be palatable for her sensibilities. However, she wasn’t tricked into what she was about to encounter.

Radio operators had about a six-week survival rate in German-occupied territory. Their job of tapping out coded messages back to England made them prime targets by the enemy. Noor was the first woman to be dropped into occupied France, making her way to Paris. She had to move frequently to avoid detection, and faced danger continually. The radio had to be carried in a clunky briefcase, readily noticeable and an instant giveaway if cracked open.

The SOE espionage networks fell apart. One agent after another was caught, interrogated, jailed, executed or, worse, shipped off to concentration camps. Finally, she was the only remaining radio operator. Noor was alone. She was told to evacuate by her superiors back in England. She refused and persisted radioing coded missals on her frequency, Poste Madeleine.

How she remained calm in the middle of terrible danger can only be due to the great spiritual strength she carried. She steadily gave the Gestapo the slip until she didn’t. Enduring lengthy interrogation and torture, she gave away nothing. Dachau was the final stop.

She called out one word in the split second before her execution. Liberté!

Noor is a sacred Sufi word meaning light.

***

There is much to this story not mentioned here. Although posthumously awarded the honors, the George Cross by Britain and the Croix de Guerre by France, Noor’s incredible bravery and all the lives she saved by such fierce devotion went otherwise unsung for years. She was in the company of many equally as courageous but outside mainstream. She wasn’t a white man.

But over the last 15 years she is being given her due. The Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust was founded in London to “promote the message of peace, non-violence and religious and racial harmony, the principles Noor Inayat Khan stood for.” And her memorial was unveiled in 2012 in Gordon Square by Princess Anne.

The 2013 film Enemy of the Reich gives a good overview of her war years. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime.

If you really want to understand how this unlikely young woman was so inspired, risked her life and maintained her unshakeable courage to the very end, read the 2006 book Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu. Available in the public library and wherever books are sold.

Categories: Book Review, Film, Sacred Reciprocity, Sufism | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Personal Universe: Through the Maya Lens

The human condition is such that it’s not uncommon for people to wrestle with one or more aspects of their nature, those they strive to resolve but just can’t seem to get beyond. Something chronic that causes continual grief. Something so strong they feel hijacked from the life they were supposed to have. Or, everything is going well. But then that tendency, thought, behavior, internal voice, physical symptom…raises its unwelcome head. Intervenes. Again. Out of nowhere. Just when they were getting somewhere. Stopped short of the threshold to freedom.

I’ve long described this state as bumping up against a membrane. A diaphanous substance that gives to a point but springs back to regain its integrity, its strength reinstated, the barrier retained.

I ask if the aspect has been with them for some amount of time. It’s not unusual for me to hear: For as long as I can remember. Bringing the unconscious to consciousness, I take them through a process where they can identify to me its make-up: how it’s being held internally in the way of sensations, energy, internal dialogue or other auditory manifestations, visual input, even smells.

We use this data as a guide to go back to the first time such things manifested. That’s the pinpoint in time where we center the healing work. That’s where resolution is possible.

It’s not unusual for the person I’m working with to go back to the womb — or even before. And they’re able to identify a number of things. Physical sensations, sound, emotional impressions of their fetus self…and the state of their mother and father, who is there or absent, any number of things. If the person has been transported that far back, then the aspects of their life they’ve been grappling with…got a start in the womb. Or even as they’re hanging out in the ether…a potential awaiting conception…there’s awareness. I can say to them, This is not yours but something you ingested…that you’ve been carrying all these years. There we begin the healing process. Necessarily, we may even work back through the family line reframing, releasing limiting beliefs or traumas, trapped energy, whatever is necessary to bring them to a place of balance and wellbeing.

ApabBookSo, when I read Apab’yan Tew’s book The Birth of a Universe: The Maya Science of Pregnancy, I found myself saying, Yes, yes and yes. Some of the Maya science he documents is well familiar to me through my own work.

His occasional use of a K’iche’ Maya word at crucial points, and its translation, calls in the beauty of metaphor and poetic prose. Thus, it allows the quintessential meaning intended to sink in more deeply and take its rightful place.

Now begins the Maya perspective on the process and elements of pregnancy known by just a few remaining specialists within the ajq’ij — spiritual guide and Day Keeper — discipline. While there are a good number of ajq’ij and midwives still in existence, with this now rare, specialized knowledge the ajq’ij and midwife can work with precision for their client.

In K’iche’ the word uxlab’ means exhalation, steam or breath producing a vital force that becomes a separate entity from its source. Potential parents have their own state of being, and understanding or response to the nature of their relationship, which they carry into the act of procreation, intercourse. If conception occurs, the mother and father transfer their own unique make-up — lineage, underlying beliefs and developmental history, as well as the essence of their relationship in the moment — to the being they are creating. Their “exhalation” intertwines, conveying all the elements mentioned, into its own unique mixture, to the embryo. Now a separate entity, the uxlab’ ingested from the parents the decoction that forms its first tendencies. Creation of an individual universe is set in motion. The uxlab’ is also fully aware and conscious of what occurs outside its cocoon. The membrane being permeable in certain ways, much enters that fully matters.

Hence, the mother’s state of being during the entire pregnancy is paramount. The uxlab’ takes testimony directly from the mother, just as it takes sustenance, and absorbs the communications and resulting emotions, a completely invisible process that takes hold within the womb. Whether the act of conception was pleasant, indifferent or violent matters. Whether the mother is stressed or calm matters. Whether the father is emotionally and physically present or absent matters. Whether the baby is wanted or unwanted matters. It all gets through.

These truths are becoming accepted in some circles of Western healing methods. But Maya science deviates from Western understandings at this point and becomes quite remarkable, even a mystery.  When consulting an ajq’ij for any matter, they will ask for your birthdate according to the Western calendar in order to convert and compare against the Cholq’ij calendar, referring to the one containing 260 days having to do with human life. From a birthdate your nawal is shown. The nawals are divided into the masculine and the feminine, not according to attributes of biological reproduction, but to their substance. Your individual nawal documenting the path of your life can be seen clearly with great detail. If something is generating an issue, the ajq’ij will know exactly how to conduct a healing, through which prayers and ceremony.

But what of a fetus in the womb? The one not yet born? The ajq’ij or midwife with the specialized knowledge asks for the birthdate, which shows the nawals, of the parents so predicting the lifepath and tendencies of the baby. If the mother is stressed or the fetus is positioned in such a way to make a birth difficult, the spiritual guide enters into ceremonial singing using the vibrations of song to move the baby and calm the mother.

I’ve painted broad brushstrokes across a Maya science that is complex and yet straightforward to serve as a brief introduction, and how I could readily relate through particular similarities in my own work.

Apab’yan Tew is one of those few remaining as a Day Keeper, spiritual guide, male midwife, and bone healer who retains the depths and practices of this specialized knowledge, passed on to him by his own teachers, over years of apprenticeship and great hardship in his own life. When a calling comes, the road is rarely one of ease. It is a gift to the world that he has chosen to document a measure of this knowledge so that it doesn’t slip into time and lapses completely.

The Birth of a Universe: The Maya Science of Pregnancy contains wisdom anyone can use. It’s a book to delve into thoughtfully to glean how it relates to your own life.

Available in English, Spanish and K’iche’ Maya through Jade Publishing, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and elsewhere.

*****

Tat Apab’yan will be with us the entire time during our travels in Chiapas, Mexico and southern Guatemala for the Maya Mysteries program in January. Aside from the fire ceremony, he has gladly agreed to share more on Maya midwifery, the Maya Calendar and esoteric practices of the Living Maya.

You are invited to join us for this very precious time⎯a rare opportunity to experience Maya traditions so deeply. For more information and how to register, go here.

 

Categories: Book Review, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

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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.

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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

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