Sunday, August 28, 2011


For a few years I traversed much of North America researching the mother goddesses of indigenous faiths, which brought me in contact with a number of origin stories. After visiting a sacred site in New Mexico’s Holy Ghost Valley, I took in the rippling light of dusk in the desert and pondered a terse conversation with a Native American woman I’d had earlier in the day who was vehement against evolution.

This woman, who I’d just spent all day with at an environmental activism workshop, insisted her people literally arose from the center of the Earth long ago, when there were no dry lands. They struggled in the stormy seas until they found shelter on the back on a giant turtle, where they stayed until the world solidified and they could find their ancestral home. This was not a folk tale. This was her belief.

Our wide gulf in perceptions concerned me and certainly challenged my assumptions about Native Americans. The long shadows of mesas to the west cast the landscape into early twilight. Low overhanging clouds engulfed the Sun’s golden setting glow, brewing a timeless sepia hue. I looked around at the giant mesas. Many millions of years ago mega-volcanoes coated the land with oceans of magma. Now all that remained after erosion were blocky isolated mesas, with the eroded dust now forming the glittering soil of the valleys between.

In the muted light belonging to neither day nor night, in a landscape as inspirationally epic as the sky above, I realized it all happened exactly as she believed. Turtle-like gigantic landmasses did roam the planet in its formative origins, plate tectonics tearing jagged volcanic lines in the Earth’s mantle where fiery magma escaped. Her world was indeed formed when the inside of the planet came out in fluid waves of magma and solidified into mesas where her people made their home.

I interpret the Genesis story as I do all religious origin stories: archetypally. As someone steeped in ancient Taoist thought, I tend to view things metaphorically. It’s the way my brain works. I allow others their own interpretation and hope that we can meet on the isthmus of acceptance that much of what we want to know for sure will always remain a mystery, that before the universality of the divine all religion will forever be a penultimate solution.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Forgiving Summer Rain

We just watched our farm blow away. There was nothing else we could do. Five acres of cucumbers withered in the heat, unable to blossom. No blooms, no cukes, no money.

It was mid-September and hadn't rained much since June. In the garden, corn stalks crackled in the sparse wind, their kernels puckered, silks mere strands of dust. Peas dried on the vine. Grass lay flat on the ground. Buzzards patrolled the dry creek beds where cattle, weak from the drought, would go to die.

We hid in our houses like hermits, curtains drawn against the sun. When nothing grew there was nothing to do, and by noon it was too hot to do anything anyway. So we were surprised that day by a commotion at the door.

Standing against a sky so spotlessly blue you'd think it was paint, Elbert, our neighbor, insisted that a storm front was headed this way. He'd cut 40 acres for hay and most of it was bailed, unprotected in the fields. Now, he cursed, now the rains had come, threatening to ruin the grass it had almost ruined by not raining.

Off we went in his old flatbed truck. In the hay fields, we'd drive 30 feet, stop, and all fall out to load up, wrap our fingers around the wire bindings and hoist the bales onto the truck. Then we'd drive forward 30 feet and do it again. It was automatic after a few acres; labor machines fighting time and nature. Clouds began to fill the southwestern sky.

We unloaded bale after bale in low-slung, tin roof shacks that had blown down a time or two and been propped back in place. When the rafters started to get full, you couldn't breathe anything but hay dust and pollen, and you couldn't see the spiders and splinters laying in wait. We longed for the Sun that made it so hot and dry in the first place.

Thunder rumbled as the last bales went in. Elbert dropped us off at home. Too exhausted to make it up the steps inside, we lay on the hood of our pick-up truck, our hands frozen claws from hooking fingers under the bale wires.

We watched the storm coming across the fields; to the left, clear open blueness; to the right, the ominous sky. Tall, dark, turbulent clouds sat upon a layer of greyness. The setting sun reflected up through them formed angelic silver-blue edges etched brilliantly against the sky. Beyond these clouds was the white, where the rain was. All else was just a spectacle of weather, a ceremony for the coming of the storm.

Suddenly the wind turned nervous and wild, spinning the debris of dead crops and neglected harvest bags, carrying the whoops and hollars of elated neighbors, their voices like bells of a salvation homecoming. A crack of lightning sent the field animals to their dens; an owl swooped through the mist to catch them.

Then the rain came, first in large splattering drops, little clouds of dirt arising every time they hit the ground. Then it fell in sheets and rinsed out the dust that hung in the sky, turning leaves from grey to green. Water ran in twisting rivulets on top of the parched fields, until broad channels of muddy water flowed between the rows. The corn leaves became turgid, the grass stood erect.

We laid back and let it caress the dust from our faces, our fingers uncurled and we relaxed in the warm wash of the forgiving summer rain.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Art, Spirit & Expression

by Amy Martin

Question posed by Texas Faith: What is the connection between religion and art

What is art? Nature concentrated.” ~ Honore de Balzac

To a Taoist, and to those who consider themselves spiritually unaffiliated, stellar examples of nature are our inspirational architecture, as well as our holy places. There are mountains that inspire with majesty and evergreens forests of reverent contemplation, of course, but for me it is the endless night sky and the awe it imparts, the way it stretches our conception of time and place in the universe.

"Creativity requires faith. Faith requires that we relinquish control." – Julia Cameron

I think a core value of many spiritual not religious people is that to truly embrace the divine one must move beyond words into doing. In my house and yard there are no less than a dozen art-altars of spiritual symbols and statuary, meaningful objects and whatever else it takes to coax the sacred into my life. Many change with the seasons and my own spiritual development. Those outside eventually relinquish themselves to the natural world in graceful decay. This is my art, for at the heart of being human is the need to creatively express.

“Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.” ~ Andre Gide

In the act of creation we mirror the divine manifestation of the world. Facing the blank canvas, page or stage we draw forth from within ourselves ineffable visions that we craft into tangible, audible, viewable things. When I am in the flow of creativity as a writer, it is the same as a spiritual experience. Awe at the forces greater than myself, intimacy in partnership with the unseen, and feeling in touch with the absolute core of what it means to be alive, to be human, bringing home why the word “religion” comes from the Latin “ligare,” or connect, and means to re-connect.

published August 16, 2011 in Texas Faith religion blog of The Dallas Morning News