Liminal Gifts: 3

This is the final post in this series.
Part One and the introduction are here.

The Gift-Giver

Each of the first two posts in this series revolves around a strong medicine dream. But where do dreams like “Down Under” (here) and “Harvesting the Moment Points” (here) come from? They’re certainly personal. I’ve already shared visceral associations with the imagery. It’s quite improbable, then, that anyone else could have dreamed either of these dreams, any more than they could have my face, my voice, or my fingerprints.

Yet strong dreams can also be more than personal. Other people’s thoughts, words, and images sometimes come alive within us. That’s why poets, painters, and storytellers ply their trade. That’s what makes conversation and communion possible. That’s why myths and scriptures resonate. They help us approach the threshold between the worlds from one side. But what awaits us on the other side?

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Liminal Gifts: 2

This is the second of three posts in this series.
Part One and the introduction are here.

Discerning Callings

I’m sitting in the Roanoke City Library re-reading portions of Citadel of God, an historical novel about Benedict of Nursia. I’ve lucked upon one of the few armchairs scattered among the stacks. Some newspapers had been laid across it, but I put these aside and become immersed in the life and times of the man who helped birth western monasticism.

A woman in well-worn clothes walks by, glances at me, then sits down briefly on the floor a short distance away. Some of Roanoke’s homeless people take refuge in the library when the weather turns cold. I wonder whether she’s the one who had marked the chair with the newspapers.

Later I lay the book down on my lap and stare into space, thinking about the monastic components of Light Morning. Then my gaze turns to the large bookcase across the aisle from where I’m sitting. The title of one book comes into focus: Callings. I’ve just been reading about how Benedict, a young nobleman living in the waning days of the Roman empire, followed a series of inner callings to leave Rome, live as a hermit, and later become the founding abbot of the Monte Cassino monastery.

I stand up and take the book off the shelf. The author is Gregg Levoy. I open it to the inside front panel of the dust jacket.

“How do we know if we’re following our true callings? How do we sharpen our senses to cut through the distractions of everyday reality and hear the calls that are beckoning us? …How do we distinguish the true calls from the siren song? How do we handle our resistance to a call? What happens when we say no? What happens when we say yes?”1

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Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans: 2

This continues a three-part series of posts which began here.

Shifting Paradigms

Just as the loss of story is essential for children outgrowing shoes or adolescents going through a rite of passage, so may collective upheavals be natural and needful. Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,16 defines paradigms as broadly agreed-upon theories. Examples of current paradigms include the heliocentric theory, the germ theory, the theory of plate tectonics, and the theory of quantum mechanics. Prevailing paradigms get so firmly fixed in the minds of their adherents, however, that they often seem less like theories and more like reality itself.

Thomas Kuhn

Yet everything changes, and the human capacity to conceive the inconceivable is overrated. Anomalies start to appear even in well-established paradigms. Soon they multiply, until the paradigm becomes so riddled with inconsistencies that the map is no longer a reliable guide to the territory.

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Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans: 1

This is the second of three reflection papers I recently wrote for a program offered by The School of the Spirit. My application for this 18-month program, which was called “On Being a Spiritual Nurturer,” can be found here. The first paper I wrote, “Two Roads,” is here.

What follows was submitted in September of 2019. How can that be? Surely far more than a year must have passed since our class gathered at the Franciscan Spiritual Center outside of Philadelphia for our fourth residency.

My sense of time — not to mention my sense of reality — has gone topsy-turvy since the coronavirus pandemic circled the Earth. For most of us, the pre-pandemic normal is no more; and whatever the post-pandemic reality may turn out to be, it has yet to appear. In this tensioning interval, many of our former assumptions and certainties are being deconstructed.

That’s why Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans feels increasingly relevant. As tumultuous and disorienting as these times are, they aren’t unprecedented. Stories are maps of meaning, and we are hardly the first generation to be shorn of our stories.

Map of America by Sebastian Munster. 1561
Continue reading Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans: 1

Two Roads: 2

This is the second and concluding portion of Two Roads, which began here.

Two Insights

Time slides by. It’s December, 1995. Twenty years have passed since Season of Changes was published and Wax Statues was germinating. I have just returned from my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course. And I’m coming apart at the seams.

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What’s In a Name?

Last week’s post (which can be found here) started to explain why we were given the name Associations of the Light Morning. This week’s post continues that exploration.

Names Given and Taken

Early Light Morning
Ron, Marlene, Joyce, Robert

When I was born, my parents named me Robert. My father’s father celebrated the arrival of another grandchild with a cross-country telegram. But he was puzzled by my name. “Robert?” he asked. “Why Robert?”

Grandpa’s confusion was understandable. Children were expected to be given family names. He was Henry Wilder Foote II, named after his father who had died young. My father inherited the name Caleb Foote IV. Genealogy was important to Grandpa. Family names sustained and strengthened a family’s sense of identity.

My parents met and were married on the west coast in 1942. Far from their east coast families and freed from the constraints of family expectations and traditions, they were married on a lonely beach in southern California. It was just the two of them, plus a friend who was a minister, standing before the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Three years later, in San Francisco, they named their firstborn Robert.

What’s in a name? Two friends of mine renamed themselves when they were young adults. Maxine became Naomi; Karen became Olivia. Two other self-chosen names gave America’s cultural stew pot a good stir. Malcolm Little became Malcolm X and Cassius Clay renamed himself Muhammad Ali. The names these four people had been given at birth no longer fit. So they took new names and assumed new identities.

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Who’s Douglas?: 4

This is the final post of a four-part series of posts. Part 1 can be found here.

An Escalating Sense of Urgency

Douglas with large ears, a pipe, and a smile

The ocean waves keep crashing in. They surge up the beach, only to be drawn back down again by gravity. Each set of waves climbs slightly farther or less far up the beach, depending on whether the tide is flowing or ebbing. How high any particular wave will reach is unpredictable. But the trend of the tide is unmistakable.

* * *

In March of 1980, Douglas celebrated his fiftieth birthday. Not long after reaching this milestone, one of his sustaining beliefs — that he was riding an incoming tide and that the story which had led him here was unfolding as it should — took three significant hits. Following these jarring dislocations, Douglas started to wonder whether the tide might have already turned against him and was now beginning to ebb.

Continue reading Who’s Douglas?: 4

Who’s Douglas?: 3

This is the third of a four-part series of posts. Part 1 can be found here.

Seeding Wax Statues

Douglas and I are sitting together on Temple Hill. It’s a warm Indian summer afternoon in 1977. Douglas is 47; I’m 32. Doug and Stan have just moved up from Norfolk and are living in a small camper at Transdyne, the land they bought two years ago. It’s within easy walking distance of ALM (Associations of the Light Morning), where Doug and I are now talking.

Far above us, a raven traces a lazy circle in the sky. Douglas again wants to hear why our guidance in Virginia Beach said that the Essenes were to serve as a model for the community. He’s alluding to a few lines from Season of Changes. It’s the passage that first sent him searching for ALM and for me. By now I know the words by heart.

Continue reading Who’s Douglas?: 3

Who’s Douglas?:2

This is the second of a four-part series of posts. In the prologue to Part 1 (which can be found here), Douglas is described as being “a mentor and interrogator; a reliable source of both irritations and insights; an occasional enemy; and a best friend. He could be effortlessly charming one moment and fiercely adversarial the next. But above all else, Douglas was fully committed to exploring the interplay between his own unique and pricey calling and the founding vision of Light Morning.”

Douglas as the proprietor of The Bookworm

The Bookworm and the Symposium

“I am evidently not intended to die and leave this world,” Douglas said in the biographical cassette tapes that he recorded for us, “because I’ve been unsuccessful in these attempts. As we can see, there are quite a few people who would not be unhappy with my absence. But there is some force that appears to be more adamant than I in keeping me here, for reasons that are still not known to myself, and are totally unknown to others.”

After an attempted suicide in a Washington, D.C. hotel room, “I was unemployed for some time and very rarely left our apartment. I raised orchids, read books about Edgar Cayce, and saw few people. But in a way, this story is a story of destiny; a story unfolding according to the designs of destiny. And this happens to each of us, if we will but look at it. This is not to say that I was aware of looking at it, for only recently have I started to pay attention to what comes before me, instead of fighting what comes before me.”

What was about to come before Douglas was an unexpected twist of destiny: Douglas was about to become a shopkeeper.

Continue reading Who’s Douglas?:2

Who’s Douglas?: 1

Remembering Douglas Dean Todd
Born March 3rd, 1930
Died on Good Friday, 2000

Douglas at Transdyne, 1981

Prologue

One morning over breakfast, in the autumn of 1999, I mentioned to the other members of the Light Morning community that I would be going to Roanoke to see Douglas that day. Following his stroke, Doug had been staying at Salem Health and Rehabilitation, just across the street from the V.A. hospital. Then someone sitting around the breakfast table said, “Who’s Douglas?”

Cecile had become part of the community only recently, and her question stopped a spoonful of applesauce midway between my bowl and my mouth. It seemed inconceivable that someone living at Light Morning could not know who Douglas was. For me, it was a watershed type of experience.

Douglas had played different roles for different ones of us during the 25 years when he and Stanley lived just down the road: mentor and interrogator; a reliable source of both irritations and insights; an occasional enemy; and a best friend. He could be effortlessly charming one moment and fiercely adversarial the next. But above all else, Douglas was fully committed to exploring the interplay between his own unique and pricey calling and the founding vision of Light Morning.

Continue reading Who’s Douglas?: 1