Archive for the ‘Symbolism’ Category

Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  173                       Cumulative Days Blogging: 158

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1149

Mother with Child

I am composing this posting as I sit in the memorial garden at my church on a beautiful sunny Sunday.  I would like to wish my mother (Rose Ann) a wonderful Mother’s Day; she is half the country away but will be spending it with one of my sisters.  As I have recently dealt with the transition of “letting go” of my eldest son as he enters the US Army I have often thought of my mother and the fact that she went through this six times!  I have such a deeper appreciation for what she must have gone through across a span of ten years. Thanks mom… I love you!

As I sit here wrapped in the beauty and inspiration of Mother Nature, I find myself thinking about the universality of the mother archetype.  She shows up in all cultures across all of recorded history.  Yesterday I came across an appropriate Indian saying: “All women in this world are forms of the Goddess.”

Migrant Mother

According to some belief systems motherhood is not the only or most important archetypical phase a women goes through in her lifetime.  Some authors within the Wiccan/Druid systems speak of three distinct female archetypes.  Not all women will experience all three over the course of their lifetime, some choose to halt the progressive unfolding of this archetypical journey, while others are blocked or forbidden to express them by their culture or society.

These are sometimes called the “Triple Goddesses:” 1) The Maiden or Virgin – an independent women who is enticing and filled with energy and passion; 2) The Mother – a women who embodies fertility and growth while displaying tenacity, protectiveness, and resourcefulness; 3) The Crone – the wise old women who embodies independence, resourcefulness, and life knowledge.

Rose Ann from Maiden to Mother

Some women move graciously from one phase to the next, while others struggle to hold back the future (cronyism), to hold onto the past (taking extreme physical measures to retain the Maidens allure), or try to recapture what was lost.  Clearly the society and culture a woman is embedded in can greatly help or hinder these transitions.  The business and marketing world clearly cherishes the young maiden physique which drive huge markets in cosmetics, diets and plastic surgery.  Some religious and political systems over emphasize the Mother phase and do not allow or support women being educated, taking part in decision making or amassing wealth.  I live in South Carolina.  The state has 50 state senators who draft our laws, how many women are part of this powerful body?   None… zero!  Which archetype is neither recognized or cherished “in these parts?”

Many societies create rituals to signify the transition between phases.  Marriage and weddings represent a transition from Maidenhood to Womanhood traditionally with children following close behind.  Traditionally women would give up their employment (independence) to become a full time mother.  It can be argued that menopause represents a physical transition to the Crone stage; sadly most modern societies do not have social rituals to signify this change. Although my partner Susan recently joined her friends at something called “Menopause the Musical!”  Perhaps as the mass of female Baby Boomers reach this phase we will see the development of some recognized transitions. I believe that we should celebrate and embrace all three archetypes.  We should have a Maiden’s Day and a Crones Day, not just Mother’s Day.

Even Avatars had Mothers

However, on this day we should give thanks for the loving and caring qualities of our mothers. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a living mother, making this day a sometimes difficult celebration.  For others it is the joy of being a mother that gives this day meaning and helps them project their future onward towards coming generations.  For others there is the joy of having a trusted intimate relationship with older women who assumes a “mother like” role in our lives.  I suspect that this form of relationship is a fulfilling manifestation of the Crone archetype.  Let us give thanks for all the biological mothers who raised us and for all the various wise old women who have and continue to help us through life!

As I sat in the church garden studying the memorial monument I recognize a number of names one stood out in my memories and warranted recognition on this special day.  I hope you enjoy this poem/musing:

Fern Evelyn Thompson Moss

I stand on flat smooth

   Stepping stones

      In the church memorial garden

I stand at the base

   Of a granite monument

      Baring names of the departed

I smile at the memory

   Of your small stooped stature

      Of your radiant smile

         Of your heartfelt greetings

From 1918 to 2008

   You walked among us

      Spreading joy and comfort

         Living your wisdom

We miss you Fern

You live on

   In our memories

      In a beautiful garden

         In wildflowers and grasses

You live on

   In our unfolding lives

      In the lives of those we touch

We miss you Fern

Don't forget mother nature!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  172                       Cumulative Days Blogging: 157

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1144

As I climb on the bike today my thoughts are with my family, friends, students and fellow pilgrims who have shared words of encouragement with me as I experienced the mixed emotions associated with sending my eldest son off to his active duty station and most likely war.

Yin-Yang: Symbol for the Chinese concepts of harmony and complementary opposites. Acceptance of apparent contradictions as each phenomena is seen as containing some element of it’s opposite.  The universe is seen as moving in cycles that contain underlying harmony, this understanding is essential to understanding life and change.

I realize that any discussion about the military and armed conflict always draws mixed and sometime strongly held reactions from people.  This is even more the case when I consider that I am part of a very liberal and pluralistic faith and have reached out to a wide circle of open caring people who value compassionate relationships.  I realize that questions of the use and existence of the military raise deep concerns for many people.   

I find within myself an ongoing struggle between my positive memories of the military and my knowledge of the destructiveness that military service can visit on soldiers (I have worked with many PTSD survivors from WW2, Korea and Vietnam), and the innocent civilians who get caught up in the conflict (I heard horror stories of collateral damage from Vets).  I have received several strongly negative comments about my recent Facebook and Blog postings.  Many of them expressed the belief that the world would all be better off without a military and conflict/war. 

I whole heartedly agree that humankind and our planet would be better off if we could extinguish this incessant drum beat that has appeared throughout human history, leading our young men (and now young women) off to war.  Ideally I dream of a world where there is no anger, no bullying, no hatred, no racism, no killing, no conflict.  However, I am a realist and while I sometimes let myself dream of idyllic times, where we all coexist in peace, I realize that there are reasons why we need a social institution called the military. 

I believe we sometimes need to grab our shield and spears and man the ramparts in defense of our ideals and of higher good.  I recognize the danger that arm conflict can get wrapped up in ideology, the whole argument about a “just war” troubles me when it is tied to religious principles.  Far too many people have died in the name of God, as each side hurls the label of “heretic” at the other. 

As a Psychologist I ask myself what motivates this apparent “need” for a military.  I believe the military can serve two different but valid functions, one within the individual members (intrapersonal needs) and the other within a culture or society (interpersonal needs).  There  is a great deal of variations in how these needs manifest themselves, also they may differ across time (as evidenced by the fact that the US attack on Iraq represented the first time our nation attacked someone who had not first provoked us… now what was that all about?)

Some of the Intrapersonal needs comes about because of inner conflict, between parts of ourselves, or because we find our “world” under apparent attack (our idea of right and wrong challenged by gay marriage, abortion, growing numbers of minorities).  These frustrations can lead to a “lashing out” at others who are different from ourselves.  I tell my students that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what a “jihad” represents.  It is my understanding that we are to undertake a jihad against those forces within ourselves that block us from achieving a connection with the divine.  As often happens in religious and political undertakings (crusades, liberation movements, cults) the enlightened purpose behind a movement is lost when egotistical and self-serving motives take over. 

We all struggle with conflicting inner forces, we all have a dark side! I believe the critical thing is to find a balance between our inner forces.  Until we can find this balance inside ourselves we will not find it in our exterior world and our relationship with others.  My son struggles, as I have struggled, in a constant yin and yang balance between desires and ideals.  The military with its multitude if new experiences and new views helped me find my balance, I hope that it might do the same for my son.

Another dynamic that comes into play are Interpersonal needs.  I have repeatedly lamented the dichotomous thinking that we see so prevalent in our society.  This form of thinking manifests itself in the “win – lose” and “us versus them” arguments spewed forth by “hot heads” on both sides of the political and religious spectrum.  What is particularly problematic about this form of thinking is that when one group (political party, race, culture or church) chooses to take this perspective, seeing everything as warfare or a win or lose game, it puts great pressure on other groups to assume the same stance.

 Peace and harmony between people only works if both sides decide that this is the overriding goal.  True peace and harmony is not imposed on vanquished by a victor it is a choice made by both sides to compromise and find common ground.  When one side amasses an arsenal the other side has to respond in like.  I do not believe that the response must always be in the direction of a stronger force, if you have leaders with foresight and a greater understanding, the response can be one of compassion and a measured strike at those directly responsible (the actual terrorist or the individual despot leader) you do not have to destroy a whole country.  If you mean to counter a radical ideology you do not need to demonize a whole religion or ethnic group.

Examples of the “Yin and Yang” of life abound all about us.  You see it in nature, in the lives of animals, in our inner self, in our community and our nations. Let us never cease striving for balance for a healthy perspective, for a lessening of conflict and an acceptance of differences.  Let us never cease the struggle to be loving caring compassionate beings!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  128                                              Days Blogged: 110

New Mileage: 5                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 904

A Journey of Discovery!

Yesterday my blog was about light, stained glass windows and memories.  It was inspired by the visit to the Morse Museum and the Tiffany stained glass, but also by my interaction with the morning sunlight on my commute to the University.  One of the aspects of my pilgrimage journey that I find so enjoyable is the process of discovery, whether it be searching for pilgrimage sites and discovering places like St. Leo’s Abby, or a Buddhist temple with numerous shrines.  In addition I enjoy the opportunity to meet so many new people from diverse and different places all over the world.  At times I will let myself wander among the faces of my widening friendship circle on Facebook, like I wander a flower garden or museum.  I marvel at what I find around the corner, at my feet or hanging on the wall!

 On numerous occasions I have discovered stunning photographs and inspiring artwork by my Facebook friends.  I see this as one of those gifts that life offers, like taking a walk and listening to beautiful bird songs or seeing an unexpectedly stunning blossom, or being blessed with a sudden insight.

Decision Looms Ahead!

Today I wanted to share the artwork of one of my Facebook friends.  Her name is Jill, she lives in the upstate of South Carolina and among her photos was a “collection” of her recent paintings.  I have never met Jill, but I recognize in her paintings qualities of my own outlook on the world, I recognize the signs of a fellow traveler, a pilgrim on a spiritual journey of discovery.  I found myself spending time simply taking in the colors and the contrast, and finding what was for me profound meaning with respect to life’s journey.  

In one of my earlier postings, (Dec. 2, 2009) I noted the symbolic significance of Bridges, Paths, and Portals.  When I see Jill’s artwork I’m reminded again of analogy of life as a path.  We walk down this path; sometimes we’re alone, sometimes with others.  Sometimes the path is well trodden, like an interstate highway, at other times it’s barely a recognizable trail, like the deer paths I find in the woods on my hikes.  As with any journey there are decision points or places where the path will fork and we have to decide do we turn right or left?  Sometimes the path to the right maybe a steep upward climb, while to the left lays a fast downward track.  Sometimes the path seems to widen, giving one space to roam, other times the path disappears around a bend or behind some trees.

Roads or Rivers... Both are paths!

When I study Jill’s artwork I think of these decisions.  I also think of the fact, as was mentioned in my blog the other day, (Feb. 15 – Looking at Nature Makes You Nicer) that it’s best to stop and smell the roses when you have the opportunity.  It’s best to be aware of nature’s gifts with every step, along the journey.  The decisions, the forks in the road, will greet us but we shouldn’t worry about what’s around the next bend.  As long as we’re prepared to respond, as long as we’re aware of our surroundings and ourselves, when we turn that corner we will face whatever is there.

 I am thankful for artwork like Jill’s I find it to be comforting and familiar.  It captures the “feel good” qualities of nature at the same time it inspires the viewer to look a little closer at their surroundings, to be aware of what’s around us and to take in the big scene at times.  Part of the process of life is finding a balance between looking down, so as to not trip over things, and looking up so we don’t miss the panoramic views.  Life as a journey is not without its dangers (e.g., stumbling stones, potholes, mud on the path) but it is a path lined with a bountiful harvest of gifts (e.g., flowers, artwork, sunlight, and the smiles of friends).  Look up… look down… and enjoy both views!  How many gifts have you found and enjoyed today?

Thank you Jill for letting me share your gifts with our widening circle and keep up the good work!

I vote to follow the flowers around the bend!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  99                                        Days Blogged: 93 

New Mileage: 12                                                         Total Trip Mileage: 763

As I climb on the bike this morning I am I thinking about the pilgrimage site we will be visiting today; The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg Florida.  It represents the first time we have visited what I call an Artistic Site.  You might ask how artwork or an entire art museum can represent a spiritual destination.  One way in which artwork might meet this distinction would be if the art in question was of a religious nature, such as an exhibition of medieval church art or African tribal masks. The second way is that the site might display artwork that represents an artist’s spiritual journey.  It might highlight transitions or changes in the artist’s work as they grappled with spiritual questions.

Dali: A work of Art!

Columbus Discovers the New World

Today’s site represents this second approach as it highlights aspects of Dali’s unfolding spirituality.  Dali is certainly an intriguing character and first gained fame prior to war II as a representative of the Surrealism movement in art.  Surrealism is defining as a literary and artistic movement influenced by writer and poet Andre Breton and his interpretation of Sigmund Freud’s work on dreams and the unconscious mind. Surrealistic artists, like Dali, attempted to paint the ‘reality’ of their dreams, which they saw as more ‘real’ than the reality of the everyday world.  He is most famous for his works featuring melting time pieces and figures.  A review of a Dali’s biography indicates that his artwork went through a number of shifts and changes.  He started with the Impressionist and Cubist styles then joined the Surrealist movement.  He had a falling out with Breton and other surrealist painters before moving to the United States from Europe to avoid World War II.  It was at this time that he entered what would be called his “classical period.”   He began a series of 19 large canvases, many of them focused on scientific, historical or religious themes. Shortly after returning to Europe in the late 1940s he announced his conversion to Catholicism and promised: “My paintings in the future will be an amalgam of my Surrealist experience and the classicism of the Pre-Raphaelites and Renaissance.” 

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

I was unable to find specific references to the reason for this transformation in his personal life, however,  I suspect that he, like many artists and writers, struggled to “make sense” of the world after World War II. The devastation of Europe and the Holocaust had a profound effect on many people. Questions about the meaning of life lead some people to even question whether God existed or was in fact “dead.”  Others return to their church roots and/or became fascinated with the proliferation of new scientific discoveries. One biographer noted that that Dali showed a particular interest in the area of nuclear physics, perhaps struck by the power of the atom and the nuclear bombs that fell upon Japan. His interest in science is evidenced by his painting honoring Crick and Watson, the founders of DNA.  His shift to religious themes is evidenced by his paintings: “Temptations of St. Anthony,” or “Christ of Saint John of the Cross,” or the “Last Supper.”  There was some evidence of religious conflict as seen in his drawing: “Sometimes I Spit for Pleasure on the Portrait of my Mother,” where he painted the words over an outline of the Christ of the Sacred Heart.

 Like many artists and writers I get questions from people about the creative process, where it comes from and what role it can play in our life.  I see the creative process as a powerful spiritual process.  Our creative efforts can be a representation of what we already believe, where our beliefs guide the process of choosing and creating symbols.  At other times the process of discovery guides the unfolding artwork and the artist can be just as shocked and awed, as any viewer, at the symbolic outcome.  I’ve had people look at my artwork and excitedly proclaim what they see; I often smile and thank them for their observation, because now I see more complexity and more meaning in the work myself.

Christ of St. John of the Cross

 I suspect that Salvador Dali’s work falls into both of these categories.  Some are likely reflections of his conversion to Catholicism, while others reflect his personal process of discovery and may act as a mirror for the viewer to conduct their own personal exploration. I suspect that really good art does both.  You may see what you already know and feel comfortable with, or you may see new things that raise questions and open doors onto a new reality.  The creative process, like any pilgrimage or journey, has the potential to inspire and clarify as well as the potential to raise disquieting questions and undermine our belief system.  If all life is a journey, we have no choice but to live it, to continue our process of discovery!

Sometimes I spit on my MotherPlease click on the pilgrimage site tab to find in webpage information concerning the Salvador Dali Museum webpage.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  82                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 83

Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 681

What to blog on today.  It is not a question of scarcity but of bountifulness.  There are so many potential topics. So many spiritual and religious questions populate my Blog idea folder!  Of course there is the symbolism of reaching the end of a calendar year and out with the old and in with the new. The local newspaper and many local news casts are speaking not only the best and worst of 2009, but the best and worst of a whole decade.  Of course many people are busy preparing their pledges towards the future with resolutions to better their health, living space, work productivity and to renew their religious and spiritual rituals.  Some might start a new journey, while others will resolve to double their efforts on their current path.

Happy New Years!

Cycles in nature and in our lives are but one of the things that give our lives meaning and some predictability.  Cycles give an excuse for a “fresh start.”  They give us a chance to banish mistakes and errors of “the past.”  This blog has become an important part of my life as a source of inspiration, and a testament to my perseverance and progress.  But it is not my whole life.  I am preparing to send one son off to the military and to war.  I am watching as a second son learns the ropes of having a first girlfriend.  I am preparing to once again enter the classroom.  Some classes will be filled with fresh faces, students who have not heard my stories and have not been challenged by my experiences and world view. Other classes will be filled with seniors, who have heard all the stories and are ready to “take off” into the real world.  All I can do is tweak them a bit, add a little polish and send them on their way.

My virtual bike trip has strengthened my legs and deepened my breath.  But my habit of snacking has limited its impact on my girth. I resolve to cut back on my snacking and make my studio and office more of a “clutter free” zone. What about the blog? Structurally I will complete the redesign of the Pilgrimage Site page and redouble my efforts to identify such sites as we return to our virtual map.  These will be only cosmetic changes.  This morning a voice from my past pointed out a philosophical and theological question which I intend to explore in the months to follow.

Martin Marty

I’m always looking for resource books and research projects for my classes and now the blog.  I glanced at the stack of books and one title jumped out at me.  I was Martin E. Marty’s book entitled: When Faiths Collide.  It was a book I picked up this summer before I had started the blog.  The title intrigued me, but the author was someone I had the pleasure to meet years ago. Dr. Marty is a Lutheran pastor, and a Professor Emeritus of Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. I met him when he was a guest speaker at my University, lecturing on the dangers of religious fundamentalism. We sat and talked for close to an hour.  We discovered that we shared a common root.  He was from a small farming community in eastern Nebraska, the same town where my mother had grown up. It turns out that he knew my grandfather and inquired about my uncles.  It is truly a small world!

When Faiths Collide

As I sat at the car dealership this morning, waiting to have some repairs done, I opened his book to the chapter on pluralism.  Barely a page into it I realized I had found another resolution for the New Year: to use the structure he outlined to refine my definitions of diversity and pluralism.  An underlying theme of my blog has been my recognition of an interconnection of all faiths, something Dr. Marty would call a “theological pluralism.” He points out that this is not an “easy sell” as it is likely to raise defenses of more exclusionary faiths.  Whereas “civic pluralism” relates to practical adjustments people make in communities in order to promote orderly relationships and common ground between different faith communities.  Dr. Marty notes that civic pluralism presented us with a less daunting task to implement.  This form of pluralism existed in the small towns Dr. Marty and I grew up in, on the plains where there was a necessity for town matters not to turn into battlegrounds of inter-religious warfare.

I have stated in my blog that I see my efforts as a small ripple, but that when combined with others, these ripples could become a larger wave for positive change.  It will be my goal in the New Year to clarify and explore the distinction between these two forms of pluralism. In doing so, I will hopefully not only further focus my efforts in productive ways but help my readers clarify their positions on this important topic.  Forward into the future!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  78                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 79

Today’s Mileage: 5                                              Total Trip Mileage: 661

Holidays and Holy Days on December 27:

Zarathosht Diso Zoroastrian anniversary of the death of Prophet Zarathustra.

Ashura – An Islamic one day fast. The Shia observance is based on the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad’s Grandson, Husayn ibn Ali,  martyred on this date in 683/684 AD at the battle of Karbala.  Sunni observance is in recognition of Moses fasting in gratitude to Allah/God for liberation from oppression.


It feels good to ride the bike this morning!  The sun is rising on a crisp and clear morning and I have begun to “work off” all the joyful celebration which went straight to my midsection.  I would like to apologize to my Zoroastrian friends, as their holiday is actually celebrated on December 26, but was included today because of an oversight yesterday.

Kwanzaa celebrant lighting the kinara candles.

Today I want to speak about the history and significance of Kwanzaa.  I suspect that it is a greatly misunderstood movement and celebration.  Its creation and purpose raise some intriguing questions about the importance of not always relying solely on “old traditions” but the role and significance that new traditions can play in community building and healing “ a people’s wounds.”  I will have more to say about the issue of creating new traditions in a future posting.

Dr. Karenga

Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966. After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga searched for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community. He founded US, a cultural organization, and started to research African “first fruit” (harvest) celebrations. Dr. Karenga combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and those of the Zulu, to form the basis of Kwanzaa.

The celebration spans seven days with each day focusing on an important principle or virtue that helps to strengthen the community.  The festivities include gift giving and close with a feast.  Each day one candle is ignited on the kinara; the black, red and green candles represent the African colors.

A stylized Kinara!

A Kwanzaa celebrant blogged about her experience this way: “We talked about the 7 days that we celebrate for Kwanzaa and what the names of the days mean. The order you wouldlight the candles in are the black one is the first day. It is called Ujamaa which means Cooperative Economics. The second day is the farthest candle on the left called Umoja which means Unity. The next one on the 3rd day is on the farthest one to the right which is called Imani, which means Faith. The next one is the one right next to Umoja which is called Kujichagulia which means Self-determination. Then next is Kuumba the green candle right next to Imani, which stands for Creativity. The next one is the red one right next to Ujamaa it is called Ujima which means Collective Work and Responsibility. The last but not least is the green candle next to Ujamaa and it is Nia which means Purpose.”

Kwanzaa stamp!

At the Dallas Kwanzaa celebration the speaker, Iyamode Sobande, explained the holiday’s history: “Kwanzaa is patterned after the agricultural celebrations at the end of harvest time,” she said. “So we use this as an end-of-the-year gathering time.” After her speech everyone chanted the phrase “Harambee,” which means “Let’s pull together,” before repeating each of the seven Kwanzaa principles. Safisha Hill, another speaker at the Dallas gathering noted that Kwanzaa is often misunderstood: “Most people think that Kwanzaa is black Christmas. It’s not a religious holiday. It is important we celebrate Kwanzaa, as it teaches principles that bring the family and the community together.”

In order to find common ground between the world’s cultures and religions we need to understand and embrace the positive and joyful meaning of celebrations like Kwanzaa!  You don’t have to be African to repeat the Swahili phrase, Habari Gani, which is used by many who celebrate Kwanzaa. Its literal interpretation is “What’s the news?”

Sharing the “news” of joys and sorrows is an important step in seeing the “humanity” of all people and building bridges between individuals, faiths, cultural communities and nations.

For more information on Kwanzaa please visit its official site at: www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org. Thanks to the website www.interfaithcalandar.org for information on the holidays and holy days.

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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: 67                               Consecutive Days Blogging: 68

Today’s Mileage: 10                                            Total Trip Mileage: 589

The red line marks our progress.

 “Now turn off your judging function!” she stated as we sat in the car in front of the church.

“I don’t have a judging function,” I exclaimed with a smile.

“Oh Yes you do!”

First United Methodist

Of course we all have a judging function.  It helps us establish the validity of our experiences and assists us to choose possible courses of action.  I try to turn my judging function on, only when it is needed in decision making.  Even as a psychologist/ therapist I do not walk around judging peoples’ words and behaviors.  I do it when I am paid to assign to a patient a psychiatric label, or when I have to interact with someone towards a common goal.

 With a fidgety eight year old at my side, I sit in the pew prior to the service, watching worshipers file in.  They engage in joyful conversations and laughter.  I smile at the familiarity of the symbols I recognize: the cross, the candles and the tree. I sense memories circling just below the surface of my awareness, like precious fish who surface at times of celebration, reminders of childhood and simpler pleasures. 

I watch as a gentleman walks slowly from candle to candle, bearing a flame.  I smile, reminded of my youth as an “altar boy” and the panic I carried with me when making the same rounds: “What if the flame goes out?”  I knew all too well of the snickers from parishioners and the disapproving glance of the old priest. I breathed a sigh of relief at his success.

Altar with Holiday Trimmings!

I intend to turn off all judging functions and turn up to full volume my experiencing function.  I hum “the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay” as metal and wood pipes fill the sanctuary with joyful sound.

–          Organ pipes tower overhead

–          Stained glass glows

–          Flickering candles

–          Tree topped with an angel

–          Tropical plants, symbol of the season, line the altar

–          Soft pew seats

–          Youthful energy rocks and jitters at my side

–          The choir files in

–          White gowns and purple stoles

–          Low voices to the left, high voices to the right

–          Bells ring then silence fills the hall

–          My partner’s voice calls for the festivities to begin

–          Memories dance and swirl about me as the choir sings:

“It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old. From angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold.”

–          Calls for love, peace and unity

–          Feelings of pride and admiration for a loved one

–          She leads the angelic voices

–          sweeping arms, commanding voices

–          Pulling, coaxing, nurturing

–          Waves of heavenly sound

–          Carried higher and higher

–          Wash over transfixed faces in the pews

–          “rejoice, rejoice”

–          “He shall speak peace!”

–          “Unto the heavens… rejoice”

–          “Rise up and follow the star in the east”

–          “Let us rejoice and sing”

–          “On Christmas day in the morning”

–          Nine lessons shared

–          Congregation: Thanks be to God.

–          “Joy to the world”

–          The voices of the choir and the action of the director

–           an auditory and visual feast

 “Peace on earth good will to all from heav’n’s all gracious king.  The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.”

–          Rising to our feet

–          Handshakes, smiles and greetings abound in parting

–          Some rush out filled with joy

–          Others linger to savor the moment

–          I smile at the youthful slumber of my eight year old ward

–          I am thankful for this community for their sharing and joy

–          I am hopeful for their words

–          For the possibility of bridges

–          between peoples, churches, and nations

–          “Peace on Earth good will to all men”

–          Joyful hugs among the choir

–          Off stage as they drop their clerical garb

–          Emotional high fives all around

–          Spreading the infectious joy of the season

The Team


The teacher


       Facing forward    

       Leads us skyward

       With fifteen voices

       And waving arms

       Always with the beat



The student


       Single pure voice

       Climbing ever higher

       Soaring above the clouds

       Took us over the top

       Didn’t want it to stop

I sit in the car, warming up the interior, jotting down notes of fresh memories.

Gifts for all... rejoice!

What about my judging function? It was largely non-existent as the experience unfolded, weaving memories with fresh images, childhood emotions with the joy of the present.  There were moments, when scripture quotes began to triggered intellectual questions, but like a mindful meditation exercise, I  brought my awareness back to the moment.

This day was about community and sharing the human emotions of joy and celebration.  My approach would have been the same if the church had been a temple, a mosque, or a fire circle in sacred woods!

Peace on Earth Good will to All!

Thanks to the Easley First United Methodist Church, their choir, minister and welcoming congregation.  Have a wonderful holiday season!

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Consecutive Days Riding: 63                               Consecutive Days Blogging: 64

Today’s Mileage: 7                                             Total Trip Mileage: 552

The red line marks our progress!

Holidays and Holy Days on December 12:

HanukkahJewish Festival of Lights. It commemorates the Maccabean recapture and      rededication of the Jerusalem Temple in 165-164 b.c.e. Special readings and praise songs focus on liberty and freedom. The eight candle Menorah is lighted



A Blazing Menorah.

As I climb on the bike this morning I would like to wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah! Today marks the first of eight days in this sacred Jewish Festival of Lights. We will for the next several days be following the coast north towards the Tampa/Saint Petersburg area.  As cold winter weather sweeps over much of the nation, the idea of riding along sunny warm beaches is a comforting thought.

I’ve been thinking about Hanukkah celebrations and my discussion yesterday concerning whether to take a buffet or a single entrée approach to defining individual spiritual beliefs.  Years ago, in my youth, this was not a question one wrestled with! If my memory serves me correctly, I believe it was actually a sin to visit a worship service of another denomination.  Visits to Native American ceremonies (Pow Wows) were seen as a “quaint and strange” other world, that apparently posed no threat to your monotheistic beliefs. The message was that comingling with other faiths whose churches dotted the community streets, could only lead to conflict and negative results.  Apparently these results included a contamination of the true message or an undermining of one’s foundation beliefs.  In some ways this approach made life easier. You didn’t have to consider different beliefs.  You just followed the prescribed path.  However, as I got older and travelled more, I wanted to make more sense of the diversity of cultures and spiritual beliefs I was encountering. I found it necessary to explore, encounter and sample these beliefs.


Dreides with letters that proclaim: "A great miracle happened there."

 I understand now the old saying: “How do you keep them down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paris?” In my case it would read: “How do you keep them believing in the farm, after they’ve experienced Bangkok?”

I found that while sampling other belief systems often points to many surface differences, to continue with the buffet analogy, these would be the use of different colors, textures and spices. There is a strong similarity between the emotions experienced and shared among the diners of these feasts. It is my experience, that whether one is attending a Jewish Hanukkah celebration, a Christian Christmas service, or a Wiccan Solstice gathering, the passions, the deep commitment, the sense of love and connectedness between family, friends, and the divine is more similar than different! The venues are decorated differently and the feast buffet offers some unique dishes, however the emotions are all uplifting and lead to a connectedness with others.

I know the story of Hanukkah, of the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem, of the miracle of “one day’s worth” of oil lasting eight days. I understand the meaning of the menorah, like I understand the meaning of the Advent wreath in a Christian service, but understanding the meaning does not bring me closer to the celebrants.  It is the sharing of the emotions and the symbolism of the light that bring me closer to these strangers. Light that attests to our coming together with others in community…. Light that attests to an offering of thanks and gratitude…  Light that attests to the guidance and meaning we find in our beliefs.


Bring a community together!

As I mentioned yesterday, taking a “buffet approach” to spiritual beliefs carries some dangers, not the least of which is a superficiality that may substitute for deep rooted beliefs. However, I believe that one of the strengths of sampling the buffet is that you may come to realize that regardless of the culture of the dish, the spices enliven the  tongue, brings a smile to the face and points to a connect that we all share: a need for nourishment.

The information on holy days and sacred holidays comes from http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.


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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 59                               Consecutive Days Blogging: 60

Today’s Mileage: 10                                           Total Trip Mileage: 522

Red line marks our progress.

Holidays and Holy Days on December 8:

Bodhi Day – Buddhist celebration of the time when Prince Gautama took his place under the Bodhi tree, vowing to remain there until he attained supreme enlightenment. Once this state was attained he became the Buddha (the enlightened one).  

Immaculate ConceptionCatholic Christian day of celebrating the belief that Mary, mother of Jesus, was preserved from original sin all of her life.


As I ride this morning I want to wish a Happy Bodhi Day to all my family, friends, and fellow pilgrims. All of the world wisdom traditions (religions) have their major holidays.  Today represent one of the two most sacred days for followers of the Buddhist faith. 

Bodhi day is celebrated by the majority of Buddhists around the world to commemorate the day that Prince Gautama became The Buddha, “the enlightened one.”

Buddha at the moment of enlightenment surrounded by temptations, desires and demons

the "earth witness" hand jester

The sacred story states that Siddartha Gautama was a prince from a small kingdom in northern India.  After fleeing his palace in search of the true meaning of life, he spent seven years seeking answers with various Hindu holy men (Yogis). Having tried some of the most austere and demanding techniques of the Hindu faith, he is reported to have seated himself under a Bodi tree and committed to stay there until he found his answers.  It was here that he was confronted with all of the desires and temptations the world had to offer.  At one point while being tempted by the demon Mara, he reached his hand down to touch the earth as a means of grounding himself. At that moment he attained enlightenment.

He recognized the true nature of reality as summarized in the Four Noble Truths: Life is suffering; Desire leads to suffering; Cease desire and you cease suffering; the way to do this is through the Eight Fold Path.  He then spent the remainder of his life, close to fifty years, wandering India preaching his wisdom and teaching his followers. Some would go on to attain enlightenment (Buddha hood) themselves.

Buddha displaying the "transmission of teachings" hand jester

His was a radical message within the Hindu world, enlightenment (salvation) within a single lifetime, for everyone regardless of your caste, gender, race or place of origin.  Buddha did not speak of God or the afterlife, he did not see himself as divine, he focused his teaching on the present condition (suffering) and it’s causes (desire and ignorance). His followers turned his teachings into sacred scriptures (the Sutras) and spread his words to the far reaches of the ancient world, becoming the first of the great missionary wisdom traditions.  

How should we in the west approach such teachings which seem so inherently different, using symbolism and faces that appear so foreign? Huston Smith, the well known Comparative Religion scholar, in his book The World’s Religions, argues that it is critically important that we listen to the faith of others.  In our crowded modern world, which technology continues to shrink on a daily basis, he argues that “understanding is the only place where peace can find a home!”

Smith notes that understanding can lead to love, but the reverse is also true. Love brings understanding; the two are reciprocal. It is impossible to love and be compassionate toward another human being, something all of the wisdom traditions espouse, without listening to them! Furthermore: “We must have the graciousness to receive as well as to give, for there is no greater way to de-personalize another than to speak without listening.”  Many people would say that such “de-personalizing of others” is a core pathology of our current culture (e.g. angry talk show hosts, screaming mobs at town hall meetings).

“Where do we find the divine?” asked Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, interfaith pilgrim and author.  God speaks to us in three places he noted: in scriptures, in our deepest selves, and in the voice of the stranger.

When I listen to “the truths” of other faiths and peoples I remind myself that they hear the voice of the divine in their sacred scriptures, that they feel the presence of the divine in their deepest selves, and that they are a mirror for me to see and hear the divine in myself!

Buddha Sunset over Southern California

 The information on holy days and sacred holidays comes from http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.

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