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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  81                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 82

Today’s Mileage: 6                                              Total Trip Mileage: 677

I’m not riding my stationary bike as I dictate today’s posting. I will climb on it later. As I noted yesterday, some days I feel the need to walk. Today I felt the need to start a fire to burn off some of the dead branches and trees I thinned out over the summer.  I’m walking in the woods along the river thinking about yesterday and my visit to the High Art Museum in Atlanta. I enjoyed the smorgasbord of artistic images.  We started our visit in the European wing of the building.  The show featured a number of Renaissance era paintings and as might be expected, most of them had religious themes.  The Madonna and Christ child were popular topics.

Contemplating Nothingness!

This got me thinking about the connection between art and spirituality.  Art historians and anthropologists might argue that the two have always gone hand in hand.  The prehistoric cave painting and objects found in early burial sites clearly had spiritual meaning and significance to members of ancient communities and cultures.  These early artists were as much “craftsman” as they were what we would now call artists.  Huston Smith in his book The World’s Religion, notes that in the early primal or earth based tradition such as the American Indians: “there is no word for art, because to Indians everything is art.  Equally, everything is, in its way religious.”  There was no distinction between secular and sacred objects. A cave painting, a weapon, a bowl or spoon; all had spiritual significance for there was no dualistic division of the spiritual world from the mundane world. When the world and its objects all contained the divine and were interconnected, there were no distinctions between object, function and creator. All were intertwined.

Does it Bite?

Prior to the Renaissance in Western Europe, all art was tied to spiritual themes such as the old and new testaments or the ancient myths of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses.  This was to be expected because the church was the primary consumer of art with its need for icons and symbolism to present beliefs and teachings to an uneducated mass of followers.  The church, meaning the Catholic Church, dictated what was defined as art and what was defined as heresy. With the arrival of the rich mercantile and powerful aristocratic classes art work broke free of religious oversight and control.  Art became eventually what we know it to be today, both functional art and art for “art’s sake” (i.e. the artist’s needs and desires). 

Hurry get a Nail!

Turn on the TV or open a magazine and you will see functional art used for the purpose of commerce.  Watch a political rally, like the recent tea bag events, and you will see art used as an emotional “call to arms” (e.g. Obama drawn with a Hitler mustache; or a cartoon of Mohammad as a mad bomber) to inflame emotions or steel a group’s resolve.

Where do you want this?

Art has also come to serve an individual purpose for the artist and/or the viewer.  It becomes a means for the artist to explore their beliefs and attitudes and  to make a statement about their view of reality.  As such, it may convey a sense of connection if that is what the artist “knows,” or a sense of anger and disconnect, if that is what they are experiencing.

The denial of saint Peter

One of the religious paintings I studied for some time, scribbling my thoughts into my pocket notebook was Nicholas Tournier: The Denial of Saint Peter, painted in 1630.  The painting presents the story of Peter’s denial of his relationship to Christ. The size and lighting of the figures makes it an imposing and powerful image. I was struck at how this painting points to a simple fact of human nature. Understanding is always embedded in the current world view!  The painting is populated by Peter, a pair of accusers, and a group of disinterested Roman soldiers playing dice.  I read the description twice to make sure they were noted as Roman soldiers.  I smiled and shook my head because the soldiers bore no Roman style uniforms or weapons!  Several wore armor that was common during the European middle ages.  Obviously the artist used images and items that the viewers of his time could identify with!  However, it was interesting to note that only the figure of Peter wears facial hair and a garment close to what might have been worn in Christ’s time.  Why would the artist make it easy for the viewer to identify with the accusers and uninterested soldiers and not the Apostle Peter?  I’m sure some religious historian would have a lot to say to that question.

It ain't heavy its artwork!

Why bring this up you might ask?  Because what fits for artwork, it’s “rootedness” in a particular time and place, also fits for literature, even for sacred scriptures.  Academic careers can be based on the study of the meaning of a particular symbol, word or phrase, especially if the words have gone through repeated translations or the symbol survives an illiterate “lost” culture. Some individuals and faith communities, recognizing this fact, have abandoned sacred scriptures and ancient myths.  They embrace the revelations of the present, the mystical experience arising moment-to-moment. More traditional approaches embrace the words and symbol of the sacred stories and the idea that the meaning will be revealed through study and contemplation. Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses and both use art in different ways.

Who ordered the large slice?

What did I enjoy most about my visit to the museum?  What I enjoyed most was interacting with the art! The images were thought provoking and I appreciated their beauty. I apologized to the museum guards who looked puzzled, and to the young art history major who looked askew at my irreverent actions and attitude.  I took the art and made it a part of “the moment,” we had a relationship and became a larger work of art!  My partner laughed and the art said nothing.  I carried images of this interaction with me when I left, the images I now share with you.

I didn't do it, nobody saw me, you can't prove anything!

My suggestion to my readers: create art if you are so inclined.  Appreciate and study art when you are given the opportunity.  Find a way to have a relationship with art.  For whether it is inspired by some celestial deity, or a product of some divine creative process which is God, it is always a gift!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 68                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 69

Today’s Mileage: 10                                            Total Trip Mileage: 599

“We should get a tree,” stated my partner as we drove down the road.

“Sounds good to me!”

“No, we can use the money for other things,” she adds.

“Sounds good to me!”

“But I really do want a tree, just a small one.”

“Sounds good to me!”

“No!  I’ve got too many ornaments and I wouldn’t know which ones to hang.”

 As I ride the bike I think about this earlier interaction.  One of the challenges of a new relationship is when you approach your first holiday together. Do you undertake rituals cherished by one, the other, or both?  It is easier if there are similar rituals and traditions that you celebrated prior to the relationship.  But Susan and I had no such luck!  It had been years since I had last possessed a tree.  If I had any ornaments, they were lost in unpacked boxes.

 Rituals and traditions are an important aspect of many of the world religions.  They serve numerous important functions for individuals and religious communities.  They are reminders of sacred stories that highlight our connection with the divine. They connect us with our individual past and the histories of our family These rituals become  important cultural and family relics which we pass on to our children. Not having common rituals and traditions has its drawbacks, but it also carries the possibility of new rituals and traditions, ones that have meaning embedded in a new time, place and relationship.

Possum Hollow Trailer with a dusting of snow.

Years ago I lived in a trailer in the woods.  I moved into it in the summer and  it came with holiday lights included!  Strands of abandoned lights dangled from the eaves.  It came without wheels,  if you’re wondering, and it was elevated on concrete blocks.  The space below it was a homestead for possums, coons, and feral cats.  In the fall of my first year in the trailer, I was hiking in the surrounding hills with my two sons, looking for walking sticks and Indian arrowheads. My youngest son, not yet five, picked up a nondescript branch from the roadside and exclaimed: “Dad, look what I found!”  I received the branch and cradled it like some special cargo.  My older son, four years more advanced, exclaimed: “That’s just a branch!” “It’s special,” I exclaimed.  My young son beamed as I placed it in the van.  I wasn’t sure what to do with it as it was not walking stick material, but it was a gift.

Youthful Joy Personified!

A short time later my sons inquired whether we were going to get a tree for the holidays.  I knew they would have one with their mother, covered with two decades worth of ornaments.  “I don’t think we can have a tree,” I exclaimed.  “We don’t have room in the trailer, I don’t have any ornaments, and the cats would turn it into a plaything!” They nodded their heads in agreement.  “I promise you we will have something!”

Oldest with our Cow Cats!

Several weeks later as we pulled up to the front of the trailer I exclaimed: “We have a Christmas tree of sort!”  Then ran ahead on their youthful legs and waited anxiously for me to open the door. We stepped inside and there on the wall it hung: “Our Christmas branch,” I announced.  “My branch!” exclaimed the youngest.  The oldest stood silent for a long moment then turned toward me: “Nice job Dad!”

That branch hung on the wall year round for the next three years.  Each holiday we added ornaments, each night they stayed with me it served as a night light and a reminder of a family’s shared love. On numerous occasions they both exclaimed their appreciation for the branch’s presence.

Deck the Walls with Christmas Branches!

My suggestion for this season is to embrace a ritual or tradition.  If you don’t have one, create one!  If you don’t like yours, change it!  If you cherish and embrace one, then share it with others.  For traditions and rituals only have meaning when they are embraced, shared and passed on to those who will follow us into their own cycles of life.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  57                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 58

Today’s Mileage:   10                                          Total Trip Mileage: 512

Today we are heading up Fort Myers beach and will soon turn inland toward our next pilgrimage site. Tomorrow is a special religious day for the Buddhists and a celebration of an important Christian doctrine, the Immaculate Conception.  The following day will represent our two month anniversary on the Pilgrimage journey!

Fallen Giant with exposed roots

As I ride, a specific image hovers in my mind.  Yesterday we strolled along the beach at Lovers Key celebrating the shoreline and the beauty of nature.  One photo displayed a line of dead trees. I called it “Shoreline Sentinels.”  What I did not post was a photo of a tree that had been uprooted.  This scene got me thinking about trees and their spiritual significance. 

Symbolic for many faiths.

Trees have been used as symbols for individuals, communities, and churches.  The roots are the anchor, embedded deep in whatever substrate (dogma) the church holds as truth (sacred scripture and/or sacred experiences). Trees without strong roots might not thrive being prone to fall over in times of  stress in life.  The trunk of the tree must be strong and sturdy, like the structure of a church (leadership, buildings,mission).  A thin or rotten trunk may give way and split in the face of life’s storms. The branches and leaves provide protection from the heat and rain. They capture the light of the divine, transforming it into life giving sustenance (fruit). A sick or diseased tree will not provide fruit or shade and may become little more than a skeleton.  It is easy to see why some of the early earth based wisdom traditions actually worshiped trees. Trees provided shade, shelter and sustenance and were recognized as central to their lives.  Many faiths see in the tree a symbol for the wisdom needed to survive in challenging times.

Shaped by stone and flexability.

 Once a mighty tree falls over, whether at the hands of nature or of man, we are afforded a rare opportunity to see signs of a monumental struggle which all too often goes unnoticed! I became aware of this struggle years ago as I would hike around the “clear cut” areas of southern rural forest land.  In forming their lumbering roads the large metal monster machines would push aside trees stumps exposing the hidden root structures.  I learned to come back a year or two later, after the rains had done their job and the delicate roots lay exposed, the thin root bark peeling away. 

Bonsai Roots!

Swirl and flow.

When the soil was rocky the roots took on the quality of water!  Like a stream or river, rocks did not stop the roots but instead diverted the root’s “flow.”  Roots would become stunted and twisted, sometimes forming a bulb or a disk.  If you pulled away the loose bark you might find swirls and eddies etched into the wood, like fossilized patterns of flowing water. We tend to take it for granted that the tree’s struggle is with the elements above the ground, the wind, fire, lack of rain, insects like the pine beetle and crowding of neighbors. From the moment the seed sends out its first root, the struggle between life and the inanimate world begins and continues till the inanimate world wins!

Old man with tablet!

Several years ago in a shop featuring items from China, I came upon a piece of artwork.  Into a tree root had been carved the figure of an old Chinese man.  It was one of several different root carvings in the store.  However, this one was special, for embedded deep within the wood protruded a square rock, like a book or tablet.  The natural curve of the wood, like the old man’s arm, cradled this inanimate object like it was a sacred text.  I purchased it on the spot!

Recently when I visited the store they remembered me as the guy “who bought the carving with the stone.” It’s a powerful image and symbol!

It makes a statement about the constant, even if unseen struggles of life.  It speaks to the need for persistence and flexibility in meeting life’s challenges.  Obstacles can strength us, impediments can be incorporated into our structure, even in death we can be a source of wisdom about the process of life. This is the “wisdom of the wood.”

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 58                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 59

Today’s Mileage:  9                                       Total Trip Mileage: 502

The red line marks our path.

 As I ride the bike today I think about the next three weeks.  They will be busy with three major religious holidays: Christian, Buddhist and Jewish. In just a few days we will pass the two month mark on our journey, we will also visit our twelfth pilgrimage site.  In fact with today’s ride we passed the 500 mile mark!  

I feel good about my meandering progress across South Florida.  I have enjoyed the discovery of some unusual pilgrimage sites, and who could tire of the nature scenes and wildlife photos?  I am most thankful for my family, and the widening network of friends who have provided me with words of encouragement and who stop in to check on my progress and joining me on the journey.

 Today we are going to take an extended photographic stroll around Lovers Key State Park.  Prior to climbing on my bike I picked up one of my numerous books of daily meditations.  I chose 365 Tao by Deng Ming-Dao and turned it to today’s reading. Join me in pondering the author’s words as we “take in the scenery!”

Inner lagoon of lovers key

 Context, Connection, Engagement

If we understand these words,

We do not need esoteric terms.

Ribbon a sand between two worlds!

Context

All things are related to their surroundings and to us. Strictly speaking, something that is one way to us will be another way to someone else.  It might be very subtle, but there will be differences worth considering. What do we do with this understanding?

A soaring symbol!

Connection

First, we have to consider that all things are connected. Although the angles of relationships shift and differ for each of us, we must be aware of the actual connections and take advantage of them.

 Secondly, we must understand that relationships are transitory.  We must have constant awareness to fit ourselves into the changing constellations of life.

Thirdly, we have to understand the value of our own point of view. Out of this mass of changing coordinates, we must pick out the coordinates by which we act at any given moment.

Sentinels at the water's edge.

Engagement

We should take comfort in this situation. As long as we engage fully, we need not fear being separated from the essential current of life.

Not alone on our journey!

This walk along the beach, the beautiful nature scenes, the wildlife, even the term “Lovers Key,”  serve  to remind us of our connection with others. Reading these words, studying the images, scrolling down your monitor screen: all of these actions speak to your engagement in life at this moment.  We can’t be on the beach at all times, but we can be fully engaged, mindful of the images, people, connections, and coordinates of our place in space and time.  We can do this at any moment!

Sharing stories at the end of another day!

 A special thanks to the photographers associated with Panramio for the beautiful scenes from along the roadside. The information on holy days and sacred holidays comes from http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.

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Pilgrimage Statistics
 
 Consecutive Days Riding: 53                             Consecutive Days Blogging: 54

Today’s Mileage:  10                                        Total Trip Mileage: 472

As I ride the bike today we are nearing our next two pilgrimage sites.  One is inland and the other is on an island in the bay south of Fort Myers.  Luckily, there is a boat dock near the first site from which we can “launch off.”  Given my leg speed on the stationary bike, it will be more like a canoe than a Jet Ski ride!

Shoreline:transition between two worlds

Portal to a new world view

We do not have to think of grand plans or read sacred texts to find meaningful life questions.   The places we inhabit, scenes that pass before us and activities we choose to pursue often invoke in us questions about the direction and purpose of life. Yesterday on NPR, a young man noted that camping outside a fast food restaurant for a night in order to win a year’s worth of chicken sandwiches caused him to seriously question what he was doing with his life. I had that experience once as I stood at midnight with my son in a line of “gaming geeks” outside a video game store.

Pathway to new choices

As I surf the web looking for images of our upcoming pilgrimage sites, I came to recognize that certain scenes seem to have particular relevance for me. Immediately I am drawn into them. I ask the question: Where does that lead to? Typically I pause and study the image then decide whether to delve further into the scene.  These scenes are often symbolic of some choice that I am either making or will be faced with making in the future.  These scenes bring about a contemplation of my choices, mundane or life changing.  I call these my contemplative scenes.  They typically involve one or a combination of the following objects: Bridges, pathways or trails, gates or portals, shorelines.

Contemplation on a mountain top

The symbolic significance of these objects is fairly obvious if you view a lifetime as an ongoing journey during which we are presented with a series of choices.  Sometimes we choose to make a life altering change (i.e. getting married, quitting a job), other times we choose a response to a life altering event (i.e. spouse leaving a marriage, losing your job). Viewing the choice as a bridge we have to cross, a fork in the road, a portal to a new life, a transition between worlds helps us take a deep breath and “think about it” before we “just do it.” Viewing our choices this way may keep us from being flippant about them and help us see them in the bigger picture of life. 

Bridge to someplace new

Another important image for me is the contemplation or meditation sites.  These are scenes like: a bench in the shade of a tree, an mountain overlook, a long stretch of shoreline, that invite us to sit for a moment and absorb the peace and beauty of nature before we strike off on our path.

Sometimes we choose to make the best of where we are at, other times we may choose to step through a portal into a new world. Tomorrow’s pilgrimage site visit will highlight our human need to find meaning and to establish paradise as we envision it.  This dream is all the more powerful when it is part of a movement or community effort. More on that tomorrow!

Cross the bridge and follow the stream.

Special thanks to Fran Smyth for the use of a selection of her beautiful nature photographs. 

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 49                             Consecutive Days Blogging: 50

Today’s Mileage:  10                                        Total Trip Mileage: 429

Holidays and Holy Days on November 28:

Ascension of Abdu’l-BahaBaha’i celebration of the rising of the spirit of Abdu’l-Baha to the heavenly dwelling. 

_________________________________________ 

As I peddle my bike this morning the words of my partner Susan ring in my ears: “Keep the blog short today!”  Yesterday’s posting was longer than usual by necessity as I wanted to give a detailed explanation of my Pilgrim Symbol. This morning before climbing on the bike I spent time on the internet, reviewing comments to my blog and face book page. In addition, I looked for scenes along our virtual path as we near next pilgrimage site visit which we will visit tomorrow.

Fasting Buddha

A friend who frequently comments on my blog sent me an intriguing photo image of a rarely seen rendition of the Buddha.  It is entitled: The Fasting Buddha.  The image was accompanied with the following text:  Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without,” said Siddhartha, and they listened motionless as words flowed from his mouth, “believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”  It was followed by a thread leading to a gallery of photos by the photographer: Umair Ghani. I spent the next half hour enthralled and lost in the beauty, color, and “otherworldliness” of his images of southwest Asia, the people, their mosques and the dancing dervishes.

Smile of a dervish

Soft Beauties

I pulled myself back from this distant world, with the clock ticking overhead and the sun rising on a new day.  I navigated quickly to my face book page to check for any crucial messages or postings, concerning friends, students or family in need.  I stopped abruptly at a series of small images.  A friend, former student and colleague in the school of life, had posted some of her beautiful photography!  Without hesitating I joined her on this path, got lost in the soft hues of flowers and crossed a remarkable stone bridge. After thanking her for the wonderful artistic display, I replenished my coffee cup and mounted the bike.

The images I viewed, creations of a stranger and a friend, reminded me that often on our daily journey we catch glimpses and hints of other realities. If we take a moment to stop and follow this thin spider thread crossing our path, we may discover beautiful details of life we had never imaged.  These glimpses of the divine and its gifts are just a head turn, a step or a mouse click away.  Sadly most often we just push by, not even noticing that we have passed a brief but powerful pilgrimage journey.

Path to some where new!

Hints of Another

It was there a moment ago.

   A thin hair of spider filament.

I know I saw it! 

Was it torn away by some flying insect,

   did a gust of wind create too much tension,

       leave it fluttering like a flag?

It’s a lot like life,

    thin, fragile, fleeting.

You catch glimpses of it

    in a child’s face,

        in the passion of youth,

            in the wisdom of old age. 

You glance away and it is gone…

       but wait…

            just a step down the path…

                 is another.

I hope you enjoyed my poem, a product of a nature walk. A special thanks to Umair Ghani and Fran Smyth for the beautiful photographs.  More of Umair’s work can be seen at Photo.net. 

 

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