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

 

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The Summoning

 

When the Maiden ceased her laughter
And the Wolf Pup sat at his feet

The Forest Boy held high his rod
And silence fell upon the meadow

Where the tall grass and yellow flowers
Keep watch with the sparrows

And a single tear dropped from his cheek
As stars sometimes fall from the heavens

Only then could the Forest Boy
Lay down the rod and put aside all sadness

Yet faster than a mighty stag the Pup
Seized the rod and swiftly made his way

Through the meadow, beyond the tall grass
To the place where no yellow flowers should grow

Though the sparrows know better
And the Pup looked up to the heavens

In that time between dream and dawn
In that moment they began to appear

The first from under a fallen tree
Another from behind the barren rocks

Some seemed to rise from the earth itself
While others emerged from the Lake of Many Faces

Then finally the last one came forth
From the Wolf itself, no more a pup

But mother and protector of her every litter
And through the darkness and quiet of night

They gathered around her
And fed until each was sated

And warm beneath her body
Even as sleep took each one

They left the place of awakening
For the land beyond

Knowing the perfect love of a mother
That love beyond all dreaming

Then one by one the stars appeared
Like sentries protecting their Master

Beyond numbering they appeared
Each more beautiful than the last

When at last the Boy opened his eyes
To the first light of dawn

The Maiden was gone
And the Pup nowhere to be found

Therefore he looked to Sol and rejoiced
While the sparrows returned to mark his way

Back through the meadow
Beyond the tall grass and yellow flowers

And when at last he arrived home
He was no more a boy, but a Father

Returning to many sons and daughters
Who gathered around him like pups

Eager to see the Father
Who is also Mother

So they sat around the hearth
And silence fell upon the house

As he told them stories
More beautiful than any dream

Stories only a Mother can tell
Though he had become a Father

Beyond fathers
Beyond mothers

He was the Friend
Who walks among us even now

And if you watch carefully
You will see Him yet

Running among the trees
Swiftly following his faithful Dog

Together they hunt the mighty Stag
To offer as sacrifice in the hidden place

Where the memory still abides
Though few remember

That place of empty lands
And undiscovered woods

Let us go there together
For I have much to show you there

In that place where once
I was a boy with a pup like no other

There he rests
There I wept

There I offered sacrifice as to a god
And refreshed myself in cool waters

There you, too, will travel
When you are no longer children

There you will offer sacrifice on my behalf
And you will know that you are loved

So long as your love endures
That place will endure

Your Father, too, will endure
Just as the Master endures

Just as your children will endure
And take refuge under the sacred tree

The one that grew from a boy’s staff
The one that gives refuge from all sorrow

Where children and pups and sparrows
Fish and insects and serpents

And creatures of darkest night
Gather no more in silence

They gather together
To sing wondrous songs

To tell stories as fantastical as fables
In the place where all discover

That they waited for no god or titan
For no father or mother or lost son

They waited for each other
For they were always

The People of the Great Heart

~BT Waldbillig
September 12, 2017

At the Return of a Father

(vel Expectation of the Beloved)

ACT I
Scene 1

Love in the midst of suffering
Is both teacher and lesson

It is the nature of life, as we experience it, that we must, at times, take life in order to preserve life. While it easy to perceive the suffering of the being whose life is taken, we forget that every being who participates in aggression, violence, and the taking of life — whether perpetrator, victim, or witness; whether directly or indirectly; whether voluntarily, by accident, or against one’s will — is harmed and, therefore, suffers. While each participates in the act from a different place of experience, all are united by the mystery of suffering, mortality, and impermanence. As the Buddha and Jesus taught by the example of their own lives, the experience of suffering and impermanence is the starting place for positive spiritual transformation.

That’s not to say that positive spiritual transformation necessarily arises from the experience of suffering and mortality. In fact, often we deny the reality of our experience, we doubt ourselves, and we think ourselves beyond hope. But you have heard it said: The time of despair is our greatest hope. Whether saint or benevolent being, wicked being or servant of darkness, all share in the same experience and therefore in same possibility for abiding, positive spiritual transformation. But this teaching is difficult to accept — difficult for the righteous person and difficult for the wicked person. You will recall the story of a father who, in welcoming the return of a wayward son, caused his faithful son pain. But surely the formerly wayward son, having returned, felt sadness and pain at his brother’s rejection. Let us look not to the faithful son, nor to the son who turns away from evil. Rather, let us look to the father who loves them both.

The truth is this: The possibility for profound spiritual transformation can arise in any circumstance whatsoever — no matter how unlikely or impossible it seems. Even now, in this very moment, from whichever place we inhabit in the mystery of suffering, we have the power to become new again, to make of ourselves something greater than our dreaming, like unto to some ancient, fabled hero. But the hero who walks among us is no fable: he is brother and son, sister and daughter, father and mother. He is the Friend who looks back at us from behind eyes we have always seen but never beheld. The Friend we thought we might never find was with each of us all along. The Friend was within each of us from the moment of our arising into this world.

However, in this very moment, which is the moment of truth and time of ultimate crisis, those whom the world regards as righteous, respectable, upright, honest, powerful, and important show themselves slaves to their own fear, wickedness, and vanity. For it is written: The wisdom of the world is foolishness.

Those whom the world regards as “superior” — though my own mongrel dog more closely resembles Hyperion and these men mere satyrs — gladly command others to sacrifice their lives, offend the dignity of their station, shame their families, and forsake their future spiritual well-being. These “superiors” think themselves mighty Gods of War. They lust for the blood of the innocent, all the while tightly grasping to their own fleeting lives like a miser to gold or a monkey to a fig. But like the miser and the monkey they will make of their good fortune an unending curse, for so it always is with those who seek to save only themselves, just as it is written: For whosoever will save his life shall lose it.

You have heard it said: For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But do you not recall that the one who gave this teaching was himself a poor man, free from earthly attachments, who knew only one thing in abundance: Love. Any being whose life arises from within a community and whose life is protected and defended by a community, any being whose life is the continuation of another being and who seeks the continuation of that life — such a being understands love, such a being understands family, such a being loves family and loves life.

There are, in this world, many who command others to shed blood. They have little respect for blood that is shed at their demand and they regard the tears of those who suffer as inferior to their own piss. They long for blood to flow and tears to dry up.

But there also those, always few in number, who value the tears of those who suffer as more precious than gems. They readily offer their own blood with a vow that others may be saved. They make themselves protectors of the weak, vindicators of the innocent, mere men become spiritual priests of a spiritual family. Consecrated by love to an impossible mission, in the moment of truth they show themselves mightier than kings and presidents, greater than generals and admirals. They are men of no single nation or race or polity — they are men of every nation and race and polity who fight not for crown and homeland but on behalf the entire world. They bless the believer and the unbeliever alike; they embrace the innocent and the wicked at the same time; they seek the liberation of all beings burdened by suffering; they forsake the common path in order to embrace everyone they meet as son and daughter, brother and sister. They have no swords, no guns, no missiles, no nuclear codes; they have not a single division and not even one warship; they stand alone on the field of war and yet they tremble not. With a word summon an infinite multitude of faithful followers from ever corner of the world, warriors standing side-by-side as far as eye can see, each line of warriors followed by another beyond counting, the young together with the elder, the rich and powerful together with the poor and forgotten, from every tribe and nation.

Before such men clothed in the honor of their own blood offered on behalf of others, the Gods of War reveal themselves weak and pathetic. Like the Superhero or Time Lord that the child sitting before a television watches with attention and admiration, the world looks to the few who gladly offer their lives and their blood to protect not just this world, but even the entire Universe.  And like the Athenian Heroine and the lonely Hero who is continually reborn, all the armies in the world stand no chance against the unarmed Friend of humanity. Yet comic books, Hollywood films, and flashy television programs could never compare to the Heroic Friends who walk the world even today.

– – – – –

Scene 2

You have heard it said: Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.

But I say this to you: Strike the shepherd and another will arise … and another and another, for the love of a shepherd is as invincible as the bright shining Sun in the sky. The love of a spiritual shepherd is stronger than the mighty oak tree whose roots render it immovable, whose seeds are small in size but almost infinite in number. And like the tree, the shepherd offers himself to the ax and to the fire without hesitation; with sure knowledge that death is no match for him; never doubting that he dies for the sake of those who are his spiritual seed; confident that from the very same family another, even greater shepherd will immediately rise up.

Qui potest capere capiat.

– – – – – –

Scene 3
TO THE GOD OF WAR

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

He laughs, he sings,
He dances, he weeps

For at last the fearsome warriors
Bow no longer to that Dead God

Mars Ultor, whose name inspired
Not love but fear, despair not hope

Behold! Mighty Sol, hidden in lowly form,
Pisses on the offering of Ares

Like a wandering mongrel cur
Or some mischievous boy

Who smiles while he offends
Not fearing, though others bow

Nor turning to look behind
As he walks away laughing

Like a faun or a satyr, he disappears
Lost among the trees, his friends

A Friend among Friends
Like a god among gods

And even to this day
His Friends offer sacrifice

On behalf of Silvanus, the Forest Boy
It is a sacrifice of praise

Deathless and bloodless
Joyful and fearless

Those who once were strangers
Gather as a great Family

Bowing not to a dead god
Bowing instead to each other

Thus honoring the One
Who first brought them together

A Father and a Master
Blessed from the very beginning

From the mouth of the Sybil:
Beyond understanding!

– – – – –
– – – – –

~BT Waldbillig
July 31, 2017

From Friend to Family

The life of every great spiritual hero is a story of struggle and discovery that transforms for the better not only the individual in question but also countless others. It is the story of a human being who becomes a Friend to those in need of friendship and a Father (or Mother) to those in need of family.

Such a Friend and Father dedicates his life completely to those he loves, so that they, in turn, might dedicate themselves to one another like fearless warriors who never abandon one of their own. Those who once were strangers come together as a spiritual family and meaningless lives give way to purpose and mission.

Before such a family enemies flee. Before such a family mountains bow and oceans cower. Before such a family the heavens themselves offer homage.

Canticle of the Family
Our Tree is a tree of suffering
It is a tree of life and hope

Under the shade of its kind boughs
We take refuge

From the scorching sun
And from the torrents of rain

Whether alone in silence
Or surrounded by the many peoples

Its roots are watered with tears
Its roots are nourished by blood

Though we are tired and weak
Its noble trunk holds us aright

And its many mighty branches
Reach out to the infinite multitude of stars

To proclaim: WE ARE HERE

~BT Waldbillig
June 6, 2017

Life (and Death) Lessons

I must have been six or seven years old when our family dog, Buff (named for the yellow-brown color of his coat), was hit by a truck on the busy street to the side of our house. He died immediately. This was my very first encounter with death and my parents taught me two important, and complementary, lessons.

My mother, who I’m quite sure didn’t care much for the dog, broke the news to my little sister and me. My sister began to cry uncontrollably. The three of us sat on the couch in our home’s solarium embracing each other, and pretty soon all three of us were weeping. There was no shame, no injunctions to stifle our emotions, no lectures that tears are a sign of weakness. My mother let me grieve.

But soon my father called me outside and took me to the back yard. He told me that now we needed to give the dog a proper burial, so he and I — mostly him, actually — began to dig a grave for our family dog. We buried him directly in front of the yellow dog house, yellow just like the family house, where Buff used to sit and watch the world. My father taught me that no matter what happens, life has to go on and we have to take care of tasks at hand, whatever they may be.

So this morning as I fed my dog breakfast, I was mindful that one day, hopefully many years from now, I’ll repeat that same cycle just as my parents so skillfully instructed me when I was a boy.

Today after breakfast Dante and I took an extra-long walk in the park. We played in the snow and watched the birds — both of us happy just to be together.

~BT Waldbillig
January 9, 2017