The Ascent of the Magna Mater

The love of a grandmother
Will endure forever

Today is the dies natalis (birthday) of my Grandma Carol (Bedola Carol Betts Miles Walter). As I look back to my childhood, I think she was the first person I truly, consciously, deliberately, and freely loved. My intense love for her arose as a natural response to the love she showed me every moment of every day that we ever spent together. She seemed to engage love with an almost absolute freedom — something great saints are known for but which I have not even begun to master.

Perhaps more importantly, Grandma Carol and I laughed — often and loudly. We held in common a joyful playfulness as well as a belief that the world is full of nonsense, contradictions, and shit. Together we chose to face life’s ugliness and meaninglessness with uproarious cries of laughter.

Now, lest you get the impression that my grandmother was some sort of one-dimensional saint, I should mention that as a young mother she failed in some of what we today regard as essential parenting tasks. She also smoked like a chimney and swore like a sailor.

But whenever I was in her presence I knew the tenderness, gentleness, and playfulness that only an old woman who has passed through life’s bitterest trials and emerged morally and spiritually intact can show the world. Only those who choose to dwell as fully as possible in the present moment, casting aside all fixated attachment to the past, can truly begin in earnest a spiritual path and continue along the path with dedicated purpose. My grandmother’s religious faith was private and her spiritual devotion silent, but there was never any doubt that her interior life was rich, powerful, simple, and uncomplicated.

Recall that great spiritual theologians and masters of the spiritual life are almost unanimous in the conviction that a healthy, authentic spiritual life should be marked by kindness-compassion-love and should become ever simpler across the years. In fact, it is sacred tradition to free one’s self of unnecessary worldly possessions in the course of one’s spiritual journey, so that by the time one passes out of this life, one should be unencumbered by possessions, wealth, worries, and selfish attachments.

In a way, Grandma Carol’s love — as I perceived and experienced it in my youth and later as an adult meditated upon it — was a lot like God’s love, as described in the sacred scriptures and in the writings of the early Church Fathers. When I used to preach at Mass as a young priest, my mission was always simple: Show the despised, the rejected, the unwanted, the unloved, and even the wicked that they are lovable and they are loved. Clever exegesis, subtle doctrinal ruminations, useful history lessons, and high moral exhortations were of no use if they did not support or arise from that mission.

Today I when contemplate the realities of despised and rejected peoples who need and want to experience love — such as the Mafia, gangs like the Trinitarios, the North Koreans, and unwanted migrants and refugees — I find myself calling upon my own experiences of love as a young man. When I began my wanderings through the world those aspects of myself became obscured but in recent years they have returned, returned because I needed them in order to understand how to love in a world that is mad and merciless.

In my youth I didn’t realize how the years spent in seminaries, religious houses, monasteries, and church rectories had kept me “safe” from the world. But this protection came with a cost: There was much about love, human beings, life, and myself that I simply didn’t understand. Intimate encounter with elements of the world that previously had been alien to me has transformed my heart, opened my eyes, and illuminated my mind. It may be that I yet wander in a place of darkness and night, but now I know that I am not alone in the darkness. That gives me hope.

The love of my grandmother and the love of Family have emboldened me to embrace the many beautiful and useful aspects of my past life while discovering within myself today — as a man mid-way through his journey in life — marvelous gifts that I never imagined might dwell within me. These same spiritual gifts dwell within you, too.

If we stand together, there is no obstacle in the Universe that can stop us as we carry out the divine mandate to share and protect the life we have been given.

There is no place in the Universe that will remain forever closed and alien to us.

Together we will show each other, as well as every being in the Universe, what love truly is.

Ave mater beata magna
Sicut et amica mea
Tu fortis et alma
Prudens et pulchra
Nunc in caelo Solis sponsa
Imago per saecula cordis divini
Salvatrix mihi et canis fidelis
O magna mater esto nobis
Familiae et genetrix spiritualis

Hail, O Great Mother
You who are likewise my friend
You are the strong and tender one
The wise and beautiful one
Now the bride of Sol in heaven
For all ages, a mirror of divine love
To me, a saving helper and faithful dog
Be unto us also, O Magna Mater,
The Progenitor of this spiritual family

CybeleChariot

 

~BT Waldbillig
October 31, 2017

Dog Dreaming (a poem by WS Merwin)

Dog Dreaming
WS Merwin

The paws twitch in a place of chasing
Where the whimper of this seeming-gentle creature
Rings out terrible, chasing tigers. The fields
Are licking like torches, full of running,
Laced odors, bones stalking, tushed leaps.
So little that is tamed, yet so much
That you would find deeply familiar there.
You are there often, your very eyes,
The unfathomable knowledge behind your face,
The mystery of your will, appraising.
Such carnage and triumph; standing there
Strange even to yourself, and loved, and only
A sleeping beast knows who you are.

– – – – –
~BT Waldbillig
October 27, 2017

To Touch the Past and Know the Future

Behold the great City
That once was but is no more

As a high school student and later as a seminarian I would often take my questions about religion and faith to Monsignor Frank Chiodo, who had been pastor of the local parish when I was a child. I trusted his opinion and he was easy to talk to, and consequently we had many excellent conversations across the years.

One such conversation dealt with an episode from life of the Italian mystic, Padre Pio. A devout person once came to Padre Pio distraught at the possibility that a recently departed loved one did not die a “holy” death. His instinct was to pray for the loved one, but that didn’t seem logical as the event was finished and in the past, and therefore unchangeable. Surely from where we stand in the present moment, we have no power to change or touch the past!

Pondering the situation for a moment, Padre Pio reminded this devout person that while we humans are bound by time and experience it in a progressive, linear manner (my words), God is outside of time. Though we divide our experiences by past and future, everything is simply the present to God, and so a prayer today for someone who died yesterday is not only something one is able to do — it is even something one ought to do.

Life can only be understood backwards;
but it must be lived forwards.
~Soren Kierkegaard

The strange relationship of the past and the future to the present moment that you and I inhabit has been on my mind for the past few years. In fact, my own father and I had a talk not long ago about how short a man’s life really is and how we ought to regard as precious our brief time together. If that is true for a man and his son, surely it is true of our kind and the planet we call home. This world will not last forever — we know that. One day everything that you and I have looked upon and touched and loved will be completely gone.

Some time ago I felt inspired to create a ritual to commemorate the eventual passing away (death) of our planet, even though I do not expect to be around to bear witness when it happens many hundreds of thousands or millions of years from now. The ritual is incomplete — perhaps one day soon I’ll revise and finish it.

– – – – –

Notes for a Ritual to Commemorate the Passing Away of the Earth (unfinished)
[9/29/2015 — for use in the distant future]

The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
~Albert Einstein

Acknowledging that all things end is a central part of practice in almost all spiritual traditions (memento mori for Christians; impermanence for Buddhists). In this unfinished experiment I try to envision a meditation on impermanence in a distant future where it is not a person who dies, but the Earth itself. Perhaps, as with Mars, Earth’s atmosphere will dissipate. How will we respond to such an event? How will we mourn? What will the future mean for us? How will we want our descendants who no longer live on Earth to remember the planet and its inhabitants?

One of the most powerful notions in Christianity, to my estimation at least, is the concept of anamnesis. Past events can be invoked and made present so that even if we are separated by time and space from the original event, we can nonetheless participate in it in a real and meaningful way. This is not a uniquely Christian notion: the Greeks and the Hebrews incorporated this into their sacred rites also.

I have adopted a three-fold symbol for Earth: the Little Man (representing the smallness of humanity that is capable of great things); the Dog (representing the animal kingdom and its essential connection to humans); and the Tree (representing plant life, which man largely takes for granted because its true significance is much greater than he is able to appreciate). Humans who become too detached from the natural world (i.e., plants and animals) will, at some point, cease to be truly human. This will be a central concern when future generations leave the Earth.

In the anamnesis, I take the Easter Vigil from Christianity as inspiration. Here, the night is not a time, however. It is a place, i.e. the infinite expanse of space.

The structure and content should be simple and adaptable.

Four parts are sufficient:
1. An anamnesis, to invoke and make present the original event.
2. An act of sorrow to express the raw emotion of loss.
3. An act of remembrance to honor what was lost.
4. An act of hope, which will allow those who mourn to emerge from their pain changed, stronger.

1. ANAMNESIS
As all present look out to the infinite expanse of space, the Leader begins:

Haec nox est!
This is the night
Where despair becomes hope
Where darkness is filled with light
Let hatred and war give way to compassion
This is the night
Where we pass from death to life.

Leader: No longer are we lost
Assembly: No longer are we lost

Leader: No longer are we alone
Assembly: No longer are we alone

2. ACT OF SORROW
It is said they wept for a thousand years. Some think it was the Little Man, the Dog, and the Tree that wept. Others say it was the human family that wept. But I tell you this: it was the entire universe that wept.

The people of Earth might have been left behind, abandoned. They were a people of hate and violence known throughout the Universe as the People of War. They had nothing to give the universe until the breath of their planet began to fade. In the moment of trial they did not despair, but like Mithras in the cave they endured the ordeal with resolute hope. They passed from darkness to light, from death to life. And they taught the many peoples of the Universe to mourn as no people had ever mourned.

The human heart that loves is also a heart that mourns. This is why even in our time the people of Earth are known as the People of the Great Heart, for they gave the Universe the gift of tears.

3. ACT OF REMEMBRANCE
Now, it is a supreme honor to remain behind at the passing away of a planet. At the passing away of Earth, the Little Man, the Dog, and the Tree were chosen. (…)

4. ACT HOPE
(…)

– – – – –
~BT Waldbillig
October 27, 2017

 

Dreams of Dogs and Sparrows

Let me share with you a dream I had not long ago:

Beset by woes, I made to escape the travails of the world. As I crept from my dwelling in the dead of night, a sparrow set himself in my path and asked, “Would you abandon us?”

I turned away, only to find a dog who asked, “Am I an orphan now?”

Understanding the mystery before me, I returned to my dwelling and took rest in the silence that lingers between dream and dawn.

[Regarding dreams: I’ve found that the meaning I extract from my dreams changes and evolves, especially in the case of recurring dreams. Sometimes the benefit of experience or reflection sheds light on aspects that were obscured previously. His dictis, dreams are just dreams. They are entirely and only what we make of them.]

~BT Waldbillig
October 23, 2017

Collected Sayings

1.
The way forward
Is the path of return

2.
In the place of the empty heart
The light of Sol Invictus will shine
[vel: An unfailing light will arise]

3.
Some say the end of the world is near
Others think the world will never end
But I tell you this:
Our world is already passing away

4.
This is the day of which it will be written:
The People of the Great Heart survived that day

5.
When the moment of trial arrives
The Family will not lose courage

6.
To the mighty God of War
The Boy of the Forest says Nothing

7.
E’ arrivato il momento
Di varcare la soglia

8.
The infinite expanse of the human heart
Will endure forever

9.
Even the gods
Have need of heroes

10.
Qui signa invenimus
Sicut et signa offerimus

11.
Haec dies, spes nostra
Nunc nobis salus et vita

12.
On that day a single tree
Will sanctify the entire grove

13.
Stat arbor
Dum volvitur orbis

14.
Our Tree is a tree of suffering
It is a tree of life and hope

15.
An ever-widening circle
The Family grows

16.
By means of the Family
Life arises and endures

17.
When the question ‘What if?’ becomes ‘What now?’
Be assured that the moment of grace has arrived

18.
In the shedding of blood
All things are born

19.
A family of flesh and blood may perish
But the Family of spirit will endure

20.
For the sake of the Tree
May our tree endure

21.
He made himself like unto the wicked
That we might not perish in our wickedness

22.
The Father is also Mother
The Son is also Brother

23.
When you are old
The Father will be a boy

24.
He wept for us
That we might rejoice in him

25.
In this very moment
Our world is passing away

26.
The moment of despair
Is our greatest hope

27.
The forgotten town
Is the place of favor

28.
Today the tree is verdant
Tomorrow the tree is dead

29.
Our roots are watered with tears
Our roots are nourished by blood

30.
At first watch a torch burns bright
But by dawn the flame is gone

31.
Dopo la pioggia
Viene il silenzio

32.
In the silence of the Tree
Hidden wisdom is revealed

33.
The moment of sadness
Is the time of great joy

34.
Behold the great City
That once was but is no more

35.
The highest honor
Is the greatest burden

36.
Brother will be as Father
And Father as Friend

37.
Sister will be as Mother
And Mother as Friend

38.
Some say work will make us free
Others say truth will set us free
But I say this to you:
Only love will make us truly free

~BT Waldbillig​
October 22, 2017

Beyond Palace Walls

Bear ye one another’s burdens
~Galatians 6:2

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It’s the sort of throwaway line we use when we’re confronted with the suffering of another human being and think they need us to show them some purpose behind their misfortune or else reassure them that everything will somehow be well in the end.

Naturally, it’s nonsense. And the truth is, we usually say things like this to make ourselves feel better when the ugliness of reality imposes itself on the carefully curated and altogether fragile charade that we mistake for a happy life. Whereas compassion draws us close to the person who suffers, pity separates us and creates distance between us and the person who suffers.

Perhaps you recall that the Buddha was a prince and his father carefully shielded him from anything that might cause him sadness or suffering or discomfort. The young prince lived his life behind physical and spiritual walls until, against his father’s wishes, he ventured forth into the world and encountered the reality of life when he observed pain, illness, old age, and death. Instead of retreating from the trauma and returning to the delusion he had known at his father’s palace, he began a spiritual path that even today inspires many of us. The Buddha found a way to transform suffering through compassion.

Some time ago as I chatted with a Buddhist friend, he observed that the primary symbol of Christianity — a dead man on a dead tree — seemed brutal and vulgar next to the image cherished by Buddhists — a man at peace resting in the shade of a verdant tree. Now, there is something disturbing and even fucked up about the tortured image of Christ on the Cross. But what my friend failed to understand is that the Buddha sitting self-contentedly all alone under a shade tree is likewise an obscene and offensive image, as the world is filled with suffering and misery and people who need help. In truth, the primary images of both Christianity and Buddhism are easily misunderstood and both fail to communicate the full story of the men in whose names these religions were founded. To my mind, the point is this: Both Jesus and the Buddha were transformed by their encounter with the Tree; once transformed, both of them arose and went forth from the Tree. As I wrote somewhere, their transformative spiritual experience was not meant to end with them — it was meant to transform the Universe.

Congressman John Lewis, one of the great Americans of our time, speaks of redemptive suffering, using language that he and I both learned in seminary when we were young men. This expression doesn’t mean that suffering necessarily brings us positive transformation. Like any human experience, suffering can be a help or a hindrance. Though we cannot control much of what happens to us in life — those things that we suffer — each of us has the capacity to choose our response. We can anchor ourselves in anger, bitterness, hatred, selfishness, or resentment. In Biblical language, this is called hardening our hearts, and when we harden our hearts we end up progressively alone and alienated from others. Some theologians describe Hell as the state of absolute, unending alienation and loneliness, while the Buddhist teacher Sangharakshita notes that suffering is compounded by isolation and loneliness.

On the other hand, since all of us suffer, suffering can be a place of encounter with other beings who seem different, unconnected, even unintelligible to us. We become aware of our shared experience of life that is precarious, difficult, confusing, fearful, uncertain, unjust, and all too short. We may not actually feel each other’s pain (ahem!) but we understand something of each other’s pain because we have experienced pain in our own lives.

For example, I don’t know what it’s like for you to lose your grandmother, but I lost my grandmother and losing her brought me sadness and pain that I feel still today, decades later. And while I can’t take away your suffering, I can help ease the loneliness and alienation that accompany your suffering. I think that’s something of what John Lewis is getting at when he talks about redemptive suffering. His own traumatic experiences during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s might have made him a bitter, nasty, resentful man. But they didn’t. Instead, they inspired him to help those who need help and to love those who need love. His commitment to compassionate nonviolence has inspired millions of people — myself included.

~BT Waldbillig
October 19, 2017

 

Beholding Him, He Loved Him

Then Jesus beholding him, loved him.
~Mark 10:21

In our time of protest and counterprotest, in which we lionize those who “speak truth to power” and idolize those who defend the authority of public institutions, we forget entirely the lesson of great spiritual teachers like Jesus and the Buddha. We mistakenly believe that people followed them and listened to their teachings because they were wise.

Indeed, they were wise. But countless wise spiritual teachers have walked the Earth. What set Jesus and the Buddha apart is that they truly loved the men and women they taught. Most importantly, they loved the people no one else would.

So I ask myself, if Jesus or the Buddha were walking among us today, who would they “behold and love”? Who is it that no one loves, that no one dedicates their life to, that no one would die for the sake of?

To my mind, it’s the men and women of the Mafia, gangs like the Trinitarios (who operate in my neighborhood), and the people of North Korea. Were Jesus or the Buddha walking among us today, they would look upon these people and love them. And motivated by that love, they would endeavor to teach them a beneficial, transformative spiritual path. Their purpose wouldn’t be to damn and condemn, but to heal and save — and their words, full of love and truth, would show that.

Today, our social and political protests are so useless and our preaching and spiritual teaching so ineffective for a simple reason. We lack the compassionate love of great spiritual teachers like Jesus and the Buddha.

Cardinal James Harvey cut to the heart of the matter when he observed, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

You and I know a great many things. But knowledge and wisdom alone will not transform the world.

Only love will.

~BT Waldbillig
October 18, 2017