Something about America

It’s crazy, like
this country my country
that I am a part of, that is a part of me

I see my small personal dysfunction
in your big wide panic
I see your desperation to live up
to what you say about yourself
in the pages of my own journal
And that fear
of being suddenly without comfort
lives in a closet
I don’t like to open
but I know
is down there

So I can’t help but feel
your wound

Your shadow is my shadow
I carry a scrap of that
disowned dark
here in my own heart

For you after all are nothing
but my heart and theirs and theirs and theirs
You are nothing
but us

Each of us in all our complexity
each of us ourselves and also you
each of us ourselves
and somehow one

And I
with my thimble
of memory
becoming an ocean
as I sip
I can’t
look out
on those waves
and say
I don’t see
the water

American flag over liquor store

God Laughs

The other day I caught myself randomly wondering, “Is there humor in the Bible?” 

And my next question was – “Why have I never wondered that before?”

Because humor is serious to me. I’ve noted before that I take literally 100% of reasonable opportunities to make a joke. Life is freakin hilarious, humans are hilarious, animals are hilarious… Words themselves, spelling, grammar, and of course the times when these go off the rails, are endless entertaining to me. If I go for every jokey comment that crosses my brain, at least I know I’ll be making myself laugh, and if someone else joins in, then #success. And as far as I am concerned, laughter really is one of the very best medicines for this terminal condition known as human incarnation.

I think religion is pretty freaking hilarious, too. The pomp and ego, the ways we get tangled up in our own feet as we try to follow our spiritual path. The sacred songs that sound unintentionally carnal. The silly things we humans believe about God, life, love, ourselves and each other. I can say for myself that when I’m in the midst of a melodrama, I am not always immediately interested in “laughing it off.” I believe sorrow is a beautiful and important aspect of our journey, and even wallowing in one’s less enlightened thoughts has a meaningful place in our development. But I also believe in balance, and in the creative interplay between polarities. Humor balances grief. Administered at the right time, and with the right touch, it’s balm for the deepest wounds of our existence. 

Ok, so humor is part of my spiritual path, for sure. I thought of the many very funny teaching stories I’ve heard in contexts from Sunday church services of all stripes, to Pagan celebrations of the seasons, to Sufi zikr halls, to hanging out in the woods with fellow pilgrims, swapping tales that make one go “hmm.” I am pretty sure most Christians would say their God has a sense of humor; one person argued that God must, since we are made in God’s image, and WE have a sense of humor. (Just look at all the jokes we have about God! And we haven’t been smitten yet, sooooooooo…)  

I crack myself up.


But the Bible itself, when I contemplated it, seemed like a very serious text. Plenty of emotional ups and downs, sure. And I could recall mentions of laughter. But I could not think of a single joke or humorous comment, from any of my Bible classes or my own personal reading – not one. 

Surely this can’t be so, I thought. There have to be jokes in the Bible. There are just SO. MANY. PAGES. I mean, it’s dozens of books by many different authors. It would be impossible to have that much text and NOTHING FUNNY AT ALL. Maybe there were lots of jokes woven through these chapters in their original languages, but they just didn’t hold up through multiple layers of translation. Or maybe they’re there, but for some unknown reason ignored by all the pastors and Sunday school teachers I have ever encountered – as if by conspiracy. Or maybe I just had less intimacy with this book than I thought. 

Well, I poked around on the internet a little just to see what better-prepared Bible scholars than me had to say on this topic. But first let me note that I find it rather telling that when I typed “humor in the Bible” into Google, the results that came back were all some version of the question, “Is there humor in the Bible?” This tells me that it’s not obvious to at least some other people, too. So if the Bible DOES contain humor, it’s not necessarily right on the surface.

Not surprisingly, I quickly found a few resources that told me, yes, there are jokes in the Bible. But I did not get a vibe from any of them that their authors were ROFLing over the Bible’s true hilarity. They were more like “Yes, class, some humorous moments have been identified by scholars and very devoted readers. Allow me to point them out to you.” To which I said over-eagerly, Yes, please!

This is funny, right?


This piece by Robin Gallaher Branch walks us through examples of God’s laughter – generally at those who think they can put one over on God – and notes some social commentary on the part of Jesus and other scribes which she thinks would have gotten a guffaw of recognition from the crowd at the time. A lot of the “one liners” she finds amusing fall into the category of irony, or things that are funny because of the contrast they illuminate. She makes a case for a gently humorous reading of the book of Jonah that makes me say, OK, sure, I can see it. But would any of these actually get a LOL from me as a reader, even being clued in that it’s supposed to be funny?

This one, an “Oxford Biblical Studies Online” essay by Leonard Greenspoon, similarly explores several anecdotes which, the author argues, were MEANT to be read as funny, “back in the day” (you know, two to four thousand years ago). I have no grounds for disagreement. He knows his shit way better than I do, and if he says people were laughing then I believe they were, or might just as well have been. But if I were a lay Christian looking for evidence here that my religion really knew how to laugh at itself – I don’t know that I’d be sold. 

So, it’s really been a barely a quest at all. I just looked at a couple of internet articles and indulged myself in pondering the implications of a Bible that is, I think it is fair to say, pretty sparse in the comedy department. The humor that is there is subtle, easily missed. 

And I do – I miss it. 

Oh, I love comedies. I just love a big-hearted joke-fest that’s full of compassion for us imperfect SOB’s. My favorite books of all time are both funny and serious (Catch-22, for example, or Candide). I think it’s so important for our spiritual nourishment that we laugh. 

I wonder if there really used to be more funny stuff in the Bible, if some of its humor was deliberately amputated as the texts were revised to suit various purposes. That’s pure speculation, but it wouldn’t be out of character. I wonder how much personal flavor has simply been lost to the millennia. 

I wonder if Jesus really was a funny guy. I wouldn’t be surprised; lots of wise and loving folks are crack-ups. And I guess if you are filled with the certain knowing of the divine grace permeating every atom of creation – well, surely you can appreciate that this human gig is – pretty freakin hilarious. 

The Bible may not be what I would call a side splitter. But I know plenty of Christians who can split sides with the best of them. I’ve seen how powerful faith can give a person the stamina to laugh right in the teeth of the roaringest of storms. I’ve noticed that a lot of people I respect as spiritual seekers walk around with a twinkle never far from their eye. 

And I aspire to be like that. I aspire to be someone who uses humor to make the path a little easier for someone else. I do hope to follow in the footsteps of the holy Fool, the one who gets us to see things from a different perspective and teases us into taking steps we might otherwise be too nervous to take – and who maybe offers a medicine that helps the heart to soften, to open, to trust, to heal, and to find the courage to come closer to Spirit. 

Can jokes really do all that? I think they can. In fact, I’d swear it on a Bible. 

Mural detail, Wesley Fellowship, Boulder, CO. Spiritual leaders, feelin groovy.

Sad in Spring?

Sad in Spring?

This is a message for anyone who feels out of sync with the season, whose inner world seems to be clashing with what’s happening outside. Because grief and sadness can arise in springtime, same as in winter. And when the heart full of sorrow meets a shimmering mountainside covered in late snow, the effect may be to dispel the clouds within – or to drive a sharp stone point into the tender center of being. And when our eyes are still welling with tears even when we’re looking at a field of vibrant new wildflower blossoms –

It can be so easy to think we must be doing something wrong. 

How could we still cling to this pain when every insect and dewdrop and neighbor around us is singing “Happy Happy Joy Joy” in 16 part harmony? We must surely be a stubborn fool, says the critical mind (or at least mine does). We must be in love with our sadness, to hold so fast while all creation conspires and strives to wrest it from our grasp. 

Well, this is simply to say that ours is a universe of cycles within cycles. And while the seasons are powerful teachers, we have our own inner seasons, as well – the timing of which is not obligated to line up with the solar calendar that regulates changes in the weather at our particular spot on the globe. 

So if you’re experiencing a deep emotional process that seems to be at odds with what nature is doing all around you; if turning your attention to the flourishing of springtime doesn’t instantly erase your grief, your distress, your heartache; if the phenomena that are currently making all your friends giddy are actually sharpening your pain and leaving you feeling lost, confused, or alienated –

Please, please, please, above all, PLEASE do not beat yourself up any further. We don’t all go through our periods of profound inner challenge at the culturally appropriate time. It’s ok to be sad in springtime. You are NOT doing it wrong. 

Try to stay open, as much as you can, even when the temptation is strong to implode. 

Remember that “beauty” is not synonymous  with “elation.” While the onslaught of color and light can feel overwhelming during a period of depression, if we can stay present,  we may find ourselves stunned and indescribably moved by the perfect symmetry of a richly purple rose unfolding beside our door. A wild thunderstorm can jolt us for a moment out of our small-s self and bring us into direct communion with the Divine. 

And, if spring is bringing a difficult emotional landscape into stark relief, remember the most important lesson of the seasons: All things pass. 

All things pass. 

ALL things pass. 

You can feel free to be fully present with what is in your inner world, knowing, with the part of you that simply knows, that the pain you feel now will, like the clouds, inevitably shift, change, transform, and finally, pass. 

Who or What

Who or what is this thing called God?
God is the one who directs my studies,
who nods and smiles approvingly
and pats me on the back and says
Job well done
while another of God’s countless hands
is pulling the rug out from under my feet.
And as I go down,
hitting my head on every sharp corner,
and somehow finding with my heart,
exposed and open in my moment of accomplishment,
the one long slender thorn, hard as steel,
growing up from below,
and managing, as though destined, to run myself through,
I look up, bleeding, and see God
smiling and nodding, and saying
with infinite kindness,
Very well done.

More art from the Althea Center for Engaged Spirituality.

Window

Idk, this morning I wanted to share how this body was feeling. This body was feeling like it’s fine as it is. These eyes caught this body in the mirror and this mind thought, This body has its own loveliness for those who can see it… Most days, this body’s strength is far more apparent to me than its beauty. So in a moment of celebration, I’m sharing what struck me as lovable. ❤️

Sound-maker’s Prayer

Oh Great One
You Only know the highest potential of each heart
and You Only know what will call it forth,
but Oh
if you can tell us
just the word or sound
that will cause the first leaf
to unfurl from its seed-shell,
the sound that is like sunlight to each soul
and that whispers to each destiny
Awaken Now …
I do not need to know
what each soul’s mission will be;
I do not even need to know
the name of the town
at the end of these directions
that I blindly follow.
Just give me that tone
that will set each heart awakening,
and Beloved, I will sound it
with all my breath
till no seed remains
unshattered.

Operating Instructions 

I found this intriguing question today in my notes from I don’t know what. It said, “What is MY instruction manual? If not the standard extrovert directive?”

I have no idea what context gave rise to this question. I guess the second part refers to the belief I had found myself holding, that the main point of life was to have as many friends as possible and surround oneself with them at all times, a cause at which I’ve always felt like a failure, since I am so often overwhelmed by interaction and fleeing toward solitude. I guess I was asking, what if I’m measuring myself against the wrong standard? Could each person have their own secret orders? Implanted like a scroll in the heart, a set of instructions, a challenge to try to live up to, a direction to aim in? Those things that maybe don’t always come so easy, but which nevertheless I’m to strive for?

I wondered who would ever write such a thing… and what mine might say. So I asked. And here, in case you are curious, is what I heard…

OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS
for one lifetime
assigned to: Angela Galik

  1. Open your heart to love – though you fear other people – learn to trust them. Have courage and keep trying.
  2. Have courage and keep trying, in every other situation too.
  3. Notice others and their tender spots. Try to remember that their behavior toward you is often not about you. Try to see their struggles with compassion. Find ways to help.
  4. Keep in touch with the earth. Touch it with your hands and feet and body and breath. This will help you remember your unity with all things.
  5. Strive always to uncover your light and to remove, one by one, the many veils with which it is hidden. Reveal yourself to the world. Encourage and support others in revealing themselves. This helps to dispel fear.
  6. Listen to the yearnings of your heart. They will give you guidance in the moment. The guidance they give is true.
  7. Honor your creative process and give it space to take root and to bloom. There are things that the world needs to draw out of you for its nourishment, so learn to share that which you create. When obstacles appear, don’t stop; absorb them and transform them into your art, even if it takes a long time.
  8. Learn all you can. Strive to understand ever more deeply. Teach others what you have discovered.
  9. Keep faith. Remember always that you are part of something greater. Communicate often with your Source. Surrender your life to its calling.
  10. Be gentle with yourself, dear. Beating yourself up won’t help you to do better. Take care of yourself when you feel low. Build trust with yourself. Love yourself into growth.
  11. Shine.

So that’s what came… as my instructions, my orders from the universe.

Ok then. Getting to it. Off I go. 

The path ahead…