Monday, December 28, 2009

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

It is no coincidence that the early church leaders moved the observance of the birth of Jesus from the summer to the winter, and specifically to coincide and compete with the pagan observance of the Winter Solstice. While the motive of the church is suspect (to eradicate the pre-Christian beliefs and ceremonies), they accidentally brought greater power and meaning to the observance of the coming of the Christ.

The gospel of Luke presents a stark and bitter picture of the circumstance surrounding the birth. We have the pregnant mother and attending father traveling a long distance at the order of the government. They are living under the harsh occupation of Roman governors and soldiers. The must take refuge in a barn because the usual doors of convention and tradition are closed to them.

We could compare our circumstance to theirs. Our country is in the midst of the darkest economic recession since the Great Depression. Our leaders are lost in directionless bickering and barking, greedily hoarding the empty comfort found in material strength and money. The neediest of our citizens are also the most neglected, while many of the wealthy and powerful work only to feather their own nest.

It is portentous that much of the country has been blanketed by snow and cold this holiday season; we have deeply felt the darkness, and into that void we experience now the coming of the light; that is the promise of Christmas. To paraphrase: "the light surrounds us, the love enfolds us, the power protects us, the presence watches over us." If we did not have the darkness we could not fully appreciate the light; so now we bless the darkness; now we are thankful for the experiences and circumstances that brought sadness and difficulty to our lives. Kahil Gibran writes that sorrow comes to burrow out a pit in our lives that then becomes a container for joy. The more heartbreak we experience, the more capable we are of holding happiness.

The gospels give us a Jesus who must grow into his Christhood. He is born with the same capability as us all, but he shows us the very real possibility of regaining our true selves. It is my best Christmas wish for you all that you grasp the spark of God within you, and become what you are meant to be.

Bring us a new year clearly
Bring it quickly and dearly
Fly your truth into our eyes
And fill the sky with white.

John Deakyne

(The photo is a picture of Sedona taken this Christmas week.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tara's Babies

Yesterday I finished the last leg of my second dog rescue. It has been a great privilege for me to hook up with the animal rescue group: Tara’s Babies. They were organized to rescue animals from New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Once all those dogs were reunited or adopted out, the organization realized the need for animal rescue was still very great.

Our local group maintains a sanctuary deep in the National Forest outside Payson, Arizona. My first trip to the refuge took me more than an hour over forest roads in a 4-wheel drive pickup, literally over the mountains and through the woods, not to mention fording streams and lumbering through a canyon. I later found out this route was the shorter one that is only accessible in good weather; the other route takes closer to three hours.

At the end of this trek my first view took in a string of prayer flags which were as welcoming a sight as anything I have seen. The sanctuary and rescue operation is managed by a small group of Buddhist monks who live with the animals far from civilization and completely off the grid. They do not even have a satellite signal for a phone or internet connection. They collect dogs from all over the country and even overseas that are scheduled for killing. Many of these dogs have been rescued from severe abuse and life-threatening conditions, so they come in traumatized and sick. In this place, healing occurs. The staff and volunteers are doing God's work.

My first mission took me out of Arizona, through New Mexico and the Texas panhandle to Oklahoma where one woman has created a shelter in a rural small town. Her small operation rescues animals from the countryside to a makeshift collection of kennels behind the small police station. Ironically, the dogs are housed where formally an officer would take an abandoned or stray dog to be shot.

Terri Lynn loaded me up with two Black Lab puppies, a mixed Terrier youngster, and a yappy Papillon who was left for days without food on a chain in a dirt backyard looking forward to a life of neglect and being used over and over to produce litters for the puppy farm / pet store industry. My friends Penny and Carol volunteered their home in Eastern New Mexico for a much-needed stop-over on my way back. The final leg of the journey was a very long drive along Interstate-40 through periodic blizzards and white-out conditions. When we finally arrived at the holding yard outside the Vet Clinic in Star Valley the puppies ran and jumped and played like they had never been confined in travel crates. It does a human heart good to see such care-free joy.

My latest rescue took me to southern Utah were I met Natasha, another driver bringing four dogs from Salt Lake City. This was a very different group of dogs: two Miniature Pincers; one an adorable and proper little girl and the other a chubby and in-your-face boy; an adult Pointer Hound with all his ribs showing rescued from a chain in someone’s backyard, and covered with open sores; the last one was a beautiful white Pointer with red spots who cowered at every sound and motion; who crept close to ground when being walked to avoid the hand or stick of whatever adult was near. Tama was also painfully thin and though she had obviously been starved, still eats very sparingly. I cannot imagine what this dog has endured to make her so afraid.

It has been said that one of the great gifts dogs give us is their ability to show us how to live in the moment; in the “Now”. This is evidenced by the puppies playing in the yard like they had never been kenneled. But, I also see how like humans they are. We may also experience pure joy and forget past difficulty. But, we also cower when we are visited by unwelcome thoughts of hurt and distress. We also bark at things that are not there. We also guard ourselves against the intrusion of the unwanted and the undesirable outstretched hand even when that may be what we most need.

What will save us and Tama from the fear that threatens to overwhelm? The only remedy for fear is its opposite: Love. We are saved by locating the part of us that is eternally lovable; and Tama will be saved by the unconditional love given her by the volunteers and staff at Tara’s Babies.

As humans we are capable of saving ourselves with the loving guidance of the divine. One way we heal ourselves is to be of service to “the least of these” others who may not have our innate capacity for self-love. In this Christmas season it is critical to be mindful of those in need; especially the animals who depend on us for their very lives. I should say that Tama began to open to me and stand a little more erect in the very short amount of time we had together. This is proof to me that she will become healthy and whole, and that is my wish for the rest of us.

Link to Tara’s Babies:

Click on “Adopt a Dog” to see many of the sanctuary’s residents. Three/Fourths of the dogs from my Oklahoma trip have already been adopted.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Let's Talk About Sex

Years ago, when I would come home to visit my family in Indiana, my mother almost always made a point of asking me to say grace before the requisite family dinner, where all my stray sisters, brothers and in laws would gather to see the latest incarnation of “john”. My mother’s preference was to pick a “man”, as in the male gender, to say the prayer because she held to a strictly paternalistic view of God and the Universe. Don’t miss the irony here that it was SHE who did the choosing, and if any of my siblings disagree with me that my mother was the unchallenged head-of-the-house, then, they are either lying or deluded.

I remember the final time she asked me to say grace, because when I started the prayer, instead of using the salutation I was taught as a child: “Dear Heavenly Father”, I used the alternate salutation: “Mother-Father God”. No one said a word to challenge me, and I was very pleased with myself for holding true to my new-found religion of fairness, equality, and pluralism. It would take some time and later visits home to notice I had been dropped from the list of acceptable grace givers.

In my boyhood home and church there was no question about the sex of God. God was a man, so he was naturally strong, fierce, vengeful, and hard. Now, God was also loving and protective, especially in the form of his offspring, Jesus, but his love was like that of a father for his children; not like a mother. The closest thing we had to a feminine deity was Mary, and being Baptist, we necessarily rejected the adoration given her by “papists”.

Hidden somewhere in my early training is the idea that perhaps God is not really a person at all, certainly not a human person. Maybe he’s a force, or some sort of sex-less, ethereal being. God certainly had no use for any genitalia, and neither did the angels who were represented alternately as beautiful women or beautiful male eunuchs, depending on which Sunday school book you opened.

We had no idea that the Hebrew version of the Holy Spirit is necessarily feminine, which also complicates the impregnation of the Virgin Mary by the female spirit of God. Early Christianity became fiercely paternalistic because it was dominated by fiercely paternalistic church leaders, coming from the Judaic tradition that Jesus roundly criticized.

The inclusive and egalitarian Jesus was replaced by men who were raised to view women as property or less, and while Jesus was clearly ahead of his time concerning the treatment and place of women in society and spiritual learning, the male leaders who crafted the early form of the Jesus movement were victims of their time. It is almost miraculous that the truth about what Jesus intended peeps out through the text and the traditions that have been handed down to us by men.

It takes very little searching to notice that Jesus was followed and supported by a number of women; that makes them disciples. It is grudgingly admitted that he favored his beloved Mary Magdelene over his male disciples, even appearing to her first after the resurrection, which by Catholic lore makes her the leader of the new Christian church. And many historical sources, including the Gnostic gospels, point to the likelihood that she was not a harlot but a respected and educated woman, with some resources, out of the mystery school tradition in Egypt.

When Jesus said he did not come “to abolish the law” but to fulfill it, he was saying that you have it all wrong because you don’t even understand what the law is for. So he was turning the Judaic law on its head in order to get to the underlying truth, and that is what got him killed. One of the truths he pointed to was the inclusion of women in every part of the body of Christ, and the remembering of the feminine in the nature of God.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Back to the Future

It is humbling to admit that one of the most profound lessons I have been taught since arriving in Sedona is one that still rings in my ears from my earliest spiritual teaching in that small country church in Quincy, Indiana where I first came face to face with my creator. I have said already that my current learning helps to illuminate, to shed light on my childhood training. The lesson is simple and profound, and it is found at the core of every mystery school, every spiritual teaching, from Buddha to Jesus to Lao Tsu.

Rev. Mark drums this lesson into us week after week: "Turn unto me, and I will turn unto thee." That's all it is; and it does not get more profound. It is the cry of the Old Testament prophet, but it runs contrary to nearly everything we have been taught lately: that we can control our world with our thoughts. I have been practicing the latter part of this for decades, only to watch much of the world I created fall into shambles. The key to this lesson is surrender, giving up, throwing in the towel, turning the circumstances of your world over to the invisible, the unseen, God, however we can imagine Him/Her.

It almost sounds like cheating, though it is much easier to say than to do. We have been conditioned away from this truth, even by the health and wealth churches that promise you can change your situation with your attitude. It is the classic leap of faith; keeping in mind that to turn toward God you must take your eyes off the heavens and go inward. It is the divine part of your true self that actually communes, communicates with and observes the Almighty.

Every difficult situation I can think of, would have been served better by surrendering to it: by just letting it be. If I could internalize this one lesson, it would make my quest here complete. I'll let you know how it goes.

Love, John

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Close to Oak Creek, Listening to the Water

My apologies for waiting so long again to get back to you. When I started my journey, I thought I would stop at many spots in the Rocky Mountain West, commune with nature along the way, and then decide where to put down roots. I have to say, that from the time I rolled into Sedona, I have felt at home. People have been friendly and welcoming, though I am careful to say that I am not originally from California. In fact I tell them I have lived in many pristine communities across the West that have fallen plague to swarms of Californians intent on ruining the place. This statement, by way of introduction, lets the local know who I am, and who I amn't.

And so the only times I have left town since arriving, have been for a wonderful time in Santa Fe to visit old friends over the July 4th holiday, and last weekend to go to Healdsburg to pack up my belongings and move back to a real house, near Oak Creek in Sedona. It seems that everyone I have met here is employed as some kind of spiritual counselor, yoga instructor, artist, guide, or various free-lance consultants for this and that. A friend asked me if anyone here had a "real" job. I reply, "NO, that's why I belong here."

My spiritual journey began when I was very young, and though my pace has slowed from time to time, it has been an unbroken string to this time and to this place. Some may say I have turned away from the teachings of my youth. What would my father say, American Baptist pastor; proud of the label: fundamentalist; in the days before it was associated with those who hate and bomb. I cannot say what mystical truths have been revealed to him since he passed into a dimension where he no longer "peers through a glass darkly." My father wrote in my first Bible (given to me upon being baptised at 8 year's old) a piece of scripture, "Study to show thyself approved unto God. . . ."

That could be the title of my life's work; ironic that my study would take me down paths and into strange lands that my father would not have taken or sought. This is as it should be - each generation should be prepared to go further, to dig deeper, to discover what was hidden from Pa and Grandpa. Whatever new thing I learn, I am always returned to my early training. Whatever I have learned, illuminates the past; those lessons are made clear and their value is revealed. So I have moved on from the teachings of the traditional Christian church; I have not moved to a place that is higher or better; it is just further on - further on down the road to find out.

The journey starts, not by hitting the rode in an old Airstream, but by turning back to the source that is most urgently waiting at the core of your being. Okay, too heavy. You access this point by resting, clearing your mind, taking a deep breath, and being easy on yourself and others. It turns out that "the soul"; the piece of God-ness you carry around with you needs to be touched before you open the holy books and try to find God there.

Isn't that handy. Some small piece of enlightenment is available to you at any time without special materials or helpers. Don't think about levitating or suddenly knowing the mind of God. Think . . . lightness . . . you could just be a little lighter.

And remember, all study is spiritual study; all learning is spiritual learning; all knowing is spiritual knowing. The Truth is just another name for the divine, so any pursuit that brings you closer to that end, is holy.

Blessings for the rest of your week,


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Have I waited too long?

It is a common human failing of which I am a master. That is: I have waited too long to write, so now what I have to say is too big and too complicated to relate. Let me try to chip away at the edges and we will see what remains.

Sedona is overwhelming to the senses. I lived in Northern Arizona in the eighties (remember them?), and was happy to leave because I had a sense that the energy of the place was too much for me to manage. Twenty years later, I understand the futility and wrong-mindedness of trying to manage these forces. They are what they are; if I am easy with the place and with myself, the goodness of the energy will find a dwelling in my heart, and all else will fall away.

Last week I attended my first mid-week training at the Unity Church. It was a two hour intensive study of the Sunday lesson having to do with “High Mysticism”. Some of you are thinking: “Oh my God – he’s losing it!” You could not be more wrong, so stop it. My point in telling you this has more to do with the spectacular weather that accompanied the event. At sunset, the wind came up, blowing leaves and branches from their hold on bending limbs. Lightning struck the desert all around with thunder following so close it made you jump. Then the first big drenching rain of the summer; it tore at the windows while we sat inside and pondered the possibility of being even more alive.

The Navajo call these sudden storms a blessing. For me, that goes without saying. I remember the summer storms when I was a boy growing up in rural Indiana. The sky would turn green and my mother would round up the family to run to the basement and find safety from the imminent tornado. I loved the excitement of the drill, and some part of me, I suspect, regretted that the devastation never completely hit our home. But even more, I wanted to be on the porch with my Dad, who quietly watched the storm and did not fear the thunder and the lightning. He was fearless, compared to the rest of us, because he lived closer to God and to death, and so – feared neither.

The Buddha tells us to focus on “the out – breath” during our meditation, because that breath brings us just slightly closer to our source than does the "in – breath". When we no longer fear our dying, we may truly live. I’m not instructing anyone to swim with sharks or to play golf in a thunder storm. I am telling you to breathe deep, and to look for wonder in the smallest event.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Living in Grace

It's hot today, and the Phoenix newscasters have issued the necessary warnings for avoiding heatstroke and death. Of course it's not that hot in Sedona, but it's hot enough that I have retreated to the air conditioned comfort of my diminutive dining room to catch up on my my e-mail and continue my job search. Through my window I see only dog-walkers who have no choice but to give their pets a chance to relieve themselves; there's a lady I've seen before, khaki shorts and a straw hat, lagging behind an elderly spaniel, dutifull scooping its poop. That's love. I could really fall for a woman that followed me around like that. No . . . really.

I'm not looking for love, any more than I am looking for air. But, allowing for my frailties, I sometimes need to remind myself that I still need to open my mouth, and breath. That is to say, I am already immersed in love, if I can only realize the fact. I'm recalling the edict of Kahil Gibran to not say "God is in my heart" but instead, "I am in the heart of God." This brings me to one of the primary reasons for my pilgrimage to Sedona. I have always been conscious of the need to have a vibrant spiritual life, and increasingly conscious over the past few years that for me, a spiritual re-awakening is past due. In this town, there is no excuse to deny the need for spiritual well being.

So, on Sundays, I (literally) drive past the crystal shops, past the psychics and the fortune tellers, and past the animists and the urantia meetings, to get to the Unity church. And on Monday I'm still a little blissed out. It's a remarkable community, and my best wish is that I can bring something real to this group that might match a fraction of what they have given me already.

Still on the road to find out; more later.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Word About the Heat

I’ve got to say a word about the heat. Yes I know, it’s hot everywhere; but from here . . . it’s all about me.

I picked two of the hottest days of the year to move out of my apartment and to load up the Airstream and the pickup: TRIPLE DIGITS in June, in wine country. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but I was also recovering from some elective surgery I had the week before. Nothing serious, but I had some gall stones and a small hernia repaired. Outcome: just a little tender and sore and not supposed to lift more than twenty pounds for two or three weeks. You get the picture: I’m hot and uncomfortable.

So, I got the apartment emptied and cleaned, loaded up the trailer and the truck, emptied out the garage, and moved a bunch of stuff into storage, all in 100 degrees plus. On the day I left, I headed toward the bay, then took I – 5 south toward Bakersfield. When I pulled into the RV Park at sunset it was still hot. I plugged in and turned on the air conditioner. The forty-year-old contraption rattled, and roared into life. I thought, “God is good.”

Next day, I cruised into Bakersfield and proceeded up those long rises heading east into the Mojave Desert; still hotter-n-hell. I kept a close watch on my temperature gage, frequently shutting off the truck’s air conditioner to keep the engine from overheating; snaking up the long climbs, in a slow-motion race with a hundred semi-trailer trucks. I got onto I-40 in Barstow, watching signs for old Route 66 all the way Williams, Arizona. Rising into Ponderosa Pine forest, I rolled down my windows to take in the scent of the monsoon I had just missed. I pulled into the Woody Mountain campground just outside of Flagstaff at sunset, and the air was cool and clean. God is still good.

My destination is Sedona. Yes, I know it’s in the desert, but I’m telling myself, “It’s High Desert.” Sitting at 5000 feet its average high temp in the summer is in the 80’s and 90’s; not so different from Sonoma County. However, if you didn’t know, the whole country (if not the planet) is having a bit of a heat spell. The ice caps are melting, the polar bears are dying, down the road in Phoenix they have 115 degrees with eggs frying on the sidewalk, and in Sedona . . . it’s Hot. No big deal, I planned for this. I pull into my spot, plug into the grid, and crank up the trusty air conditioner; it works.

Then, one morning just before the weekend, the 40-year-old monster has had enough. The fan blows hot air before noon, and every time the condenser tries to kick on it kicks off with a loud bang that makes me think I could damage the thing even more. The “Camping World” west of Flagstaff says they can look at the beast on Monday. I tell the voice on the phone, “It’s Hot down here. Can’t you look at it tomorrow?” The voice doesn’t feel my pain or my heat. I’m reluctant to blame global warming on God, and the Unity pastor here is telling me to live my life in perpetual gratitude. Okay. . . .

I make it through the weekend, and pull the Silver Bullet back up the mountain to Flagstaff. It takes two days to retrofit a new Dometic to replace the old Armstrong. I feel good about giving the old girl a shiny new accessory. We are back in our spot, under the cottonwoods and the awning is back out; I hung up the wind chime and the humming birds are circling the feeder. The new AC is humming, but I’ve got it on low because the heat spell has broken for now and there’s a breeze blowing through the park. Gratitude is easy today, and God is, well you know, she’s good.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


It's hard to know where to begin. It is strange to be starting my life over at 55. And the cause is not the fickle nature of the administrators at Napa High who were not sure they should risk granting tenure to this guy who didn't really act or speak like a teacher, and certainly didn't look like a "new" teacher; and the cause is not the economic downturn nor the failure of the state of California to provide for its schools; and the cause is not the bursting of the real estate bubble that lowered the value of the house in Healdsburg that had soaked up my sweat and blood for the past several years; and the cause is not the ending of a 20-year relationship with a woman I thought I would grow old(older) with.

It is just whining to blame one's situation on circumstances and environmental forces. I have been given a gift: an opportunity to reinvent myself. And I might never have taken this step if the universe had not kicked me in the butt.

So, still early in this journey, I am sitting in the falling light, in a grove of massive cottonwood trees, in spot #51 of the RV park, Bear Wallow Lane, Sedona, Arizona. There will be time to back up and show you how I got here. But for now, the air is still, even the many birds have stopped chirping, and if I can quiet the rest of me, I may have found enlightenment by sunrise.