Aldon Hynes's blog

Peregrinatio Matryoshka

It is cold, dark, and wet as I begin my journey around the cornfields. I am starting an assignment for my course on English Spirituality and Mysticism. “Spend at least one hour walking silently in nature. Reflect on how you experience (or do not experience) the divine or the transcendent in the natural world around you and in your body.”

I had hoped to do this practice in the Alice Newton Street Memorial Park. It would have been more wooded, and not around a large field. Yet I needed to fit it into a busy schedule that would have minimal conflicts with my work and family obligations which meant I would have to do at least part of the walk in the dark.

It wasn’t completely dark at the cornfields. In the distance were houses and streetlights and my eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light. As I walked, it would become light, hopefully, a fitting metaphor for the exercise.

As I start, I recite fragments of St. Patrick’s Breastplate and other journey-prayers from The Celtic Way of Prayer that we have been reading for the class. I like the idea of journey prayers. I like the idea of journeys. I like the idea of Peregrinatio, a journey with “no specific end or goal such as that of a shrine”, as Esther de Waal describes it. I like the idea of “The longest journey is the journey inward”, a quote from Dag Hammarskjold that de Waal talks about.

I think about my walk around the cornfields as a peregrinatio nested inside the peregrinatio of the class, of my current discernment journey, my journey inward, and my life; a sort of peregrinatio matryoshka.

I try to clear my mind, to walk as contemplatively as possible. It is still dark, and I feel the soft ground covered with pine needles giving way to the gravel path, softened by the rain. In the distance a car drives by. Overhead, I hear a plane. The world beyond the cornfields, even at this early hour is busy, and getting busier. It is the world of Martha. I am trying to walk with Mary and with Christ.

One section of the path around the cornfields is near a road with sodium vapor street lights. They shine through the barren branches of the winter trees creating complicated patterns that make me think of Celtic decorations. The words of William Dix in the hymn, “As with Gladness Men of Old” come to mind.

“In the heavenly country bright
Need they no created light”

The light is reflected off of the wet dead leaves on the ground. Water. Reflection. I see this again, later, in puddles along the path, and I think of the reverence of water in Celtic spirituality.

It is peaceful in the cornfields. I am alone. It does not feel like a “voluntary exile...in imitation of Christ himself” that de Waal talks about. If anything, the busy world of Martha feels more like being exiled. The walk is an intimate time with God.

I pass the community gardens. They make me think of Crofters’ gardens, at least as I imagine them. Yes, this idea of the Crofters’ gardens is probably rooted in Celtic romanticism, grown out of nationalism, but that is part of my upbringing. I think of my own upbringing on a small New England farm and my idyllic memories of my childhood, ora et labora. The labors were those of a child during farm chores and the prayers were my laughter and joy.

My mother is now dead and my father is frail, yet the nature walk brings back those memories. Perhaps that is some of experience of the divine on the nature walk; being connected to the land, to history, to family. I savor the peace, the quiet, the memories, and the joy.

It is beginning to get light now. The sound of water dripping off the leaves after the rain is joined by the sound of creatures stirring. A bird chirps, but there is no sign of a wild goose. In the bushes there are other animals, perhaps more frightened of me, than I am of them. There is a mist over the field, and this too feels like Ireland or Scotland. The ground smells fertile, although lacking a peaty smell. A chill wind blows against my face, not a cold, biting wind, but refreshing. It is a reminder of God being well pleased with creation.

As a child, I often walked in the woods. There was always a sense of something out there. Spirits? Angels? What was it? The same sense is around the cornfields, especially as it becomes lighter and the mist more apparent.

In the distance the sirens of the volunteer fire department sound. It is time to end my walk, my reverie and to head off to work. It will be a busy day, but I head off to my tasks ahead reminded of God’s love during trying times.

I look at the questions of the assignment. “How does this experience help you understand the chthonic and panentheistic nature of pre-Christian Celtic spirituality?” “What new insight(s) into pre-Christian Celtic spirituality do you gain from this experience?”

Perhaps it is best summed up in the words of Esther de Waal in the introduction to her book:

“Here, instead, everyone sees themselves in relation to one another, and that extends beyond human beings to wild creatures, the birds and the animals, the earth itself.”

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A New Journey

This week, I am setting out on a new journey. I am taking the online class English Spirituality and Mysticism at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. It is part of a larger journey of trying to make sense out of my experience of God at the ISM Poetry Conference: “Love bade me welcome”, which in turn is part of the larger journey of trying to find God’s will and meaning for my life.

One of the texts for this course is The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination by Esther de Waal. I’ve only read the introduction and the first chapter so far, but I’m greatly enjoying it, and thinking about how it, and the course will help shape my journeys. One quote from chapter 1, which is entitled Journeying puts it nicely into context, “The whole of life itself is for them a journey from birth to death”. The chapter spends a bit of time talking about journey prayers and journey blessings, spending a fair amount of time on St. Patrick’s Breastplate which I have always loved.

I write this all in the context of many journeys going on. Donald Trump’s journey to the Presidency. The journey of many friends to protests against things that President Elect Trump has said, the long foot journeys of two friends, one hiking the Appalachian Trail and another setting out to walk the Carmino de Santiago.

I pray for blessings on each journey that we all may act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

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Hero's Journey

I grew up on the Hero’s journey
from the classic Greek tales
to the story on the silver screen
and I wondered about
my own call to adventure
with its road of trials
and where it would turn.

Then
I discovered counter narratives.
What other metaphors are there
besides a journey?
What other genders are there
besides the masculine hero?
What other roads
and other adventures?

When the Ethiopian lioness
tells the story
what will be
glorified?

(Written for a writer's prompt, read at the Wallingford Poetry Group)

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Obama and Racism

Recently, a Facebook friend posted, "Michelle Obama....your husband is the most racist American there is! Elated you are all leaving the White House!". It seemed a particularly odd post. Why is it directed at the First Lady? What does it mean to call President Obama racist? What are your hopes for the coming administration?

Those who understand that racism is "Power + Prejudice" may wonder how a member of a disempowered group is considered to have power. If you are going to talk about racism, please understand what you are talking about. A good starting point is Race and Racism.

13.2% of Americans are African American, but only 8% of members of Congress are African American, and this is a historic high. Yet President Obama is the leader of the most powerful country in the world. He does have considerably more power than the average black person. So, can we consider President Obama racist?

Perhaps we need to look at the source of President Obama's power. As head of the judical branch, he cannot make laws, only enforce them. Essentially, President Obama's power comes his role in making sure that the laws of the land are enforced. Yet those who are often most vocal, calling President Obama racist are white law enforcement officials.

In fact, the person posting this is related to several white law enforcement officials and in the comments goes on to rant about "black lives matter" saying that we should be talking about "all lives matter".

Recently, I went to the funeral of this person's aunt. When I spoke with family members, I didn't say, "I'm so sorry that all people die." I said I was sorry for their loss. Likewise, when a black person dies, I will say, "black lives matter". When a police officer dies, I will say, "Blue Lives Matter". I won't tell my friends grieving the death of a police officer to say "All lives matter" instead of "Blue lives matter."

Yes, all lives do matter. The lives of Mexicans, Muslims, transgendered people, women, black people, and police officers. When I say the pledge of allegiance, I am focusing more and more on the final words, based on a sermon by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, "with liberty and justice FOR ALL".

Instead of calling one another names, let's work together to make sure that we really do have liberty and justice FOR ALL.

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It will be okay

It will be okay
they told her
when the lump,
that lump
turned out
not to be
benign.

Years later
after chemo
after radiation
after therapy
after tears
after unexpected joys
it turned out
to be okay,
not great
not painless
but okay.

It will be okay
they told him
when his mother died
in a car accident
during one of those
freak storms
that seem to be
more and more
common.

Years later
after the funeral
after the grieving
after cleaning out
and selling
the family home
after memories
dredged up
from the deeps
on unknown anniversaries
after tears
after unexpected joys
it turned out
to be okay,
not great
not painless
but okay.

(This is another one of the poems that I wrote in 2016, but never posted. It didn't feel finished. Perhaps I'll come back to it later.)

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