Muddy Footnotes: The Conspiracy of Spring
by Ruby Sara
Greetings, friends and beloveds, from the silver, charcoal and spring-wet streets of the fiercely-wild urban midwest! Things are looking up. A new wind is blowing, and there is snow melt everywhere, seeping into the ground, seeking seeds and telling them stories about light. The empty lots are heavy with flooding. I have crocuses and rich earth and rain on my mind. The conspiracy of spring is afoot.
Inevitably, in this fragile time between winter and spring, when we are treated to precious days of wind and water followed by brief bouts of freeze, my heart too seems to do this sweet and awful dance with the earth, freezing and thawing, sighing and singing. And these tremulous, shattering and mystifying days where that promise on the tongue is capped with silver skies, creating some sacred marriage of brilliant hope and sorrowful stillness, a kind of breathlessness, some holding of secrets…they do bemuse, and whatever good thoughts I may have are quickly lost. In his new book Becoming Animal (which I have almost finished [too many books, too little time] and which has thrown open my heart-mind like a great wide door carved with shadows and crows, and has thoroughly wrenched me into thrilling knots…more on this incredible book later), David Abram talks about these moods of earth, and on days like this one it is easy to see what a bedrock truth that is. I am consumed with the moods of the Mama – the sack of my heart driven to some strange emotion by the flooding of the skin of earth.
So it is that the threads of meaningful discourse pinging around my head as I slosh happily through huge pots of wet earth seem all wound into a tangled ball at the moment, and all I have to report are muddy footnotes…
1. I attended a lecture on honeybees last night. The journey was fraught with human experience – train, sidewalk, grocery, up to the lecture room crowded with bee-friendly folks and jars of honey. The fierce joy of winter’s relenting seemed to rock through people, and I was filled with affection for our complicated, weird selves. We human animals and our relationships – the negotiations with honeybees, our potato harvests, our bread. I thought about the vivid, critical importance of the Real – how the smell of mud rising up through the city makes us all quit our inner turmoil and turn, even for a moment, into the wind, lifting our faces…embodied creatures after all – skin and muscle and feeling. I thought of a sermon I heard once – our blood, full of salt; the sea, full of salt…how this is makes us “the salt of the earth,” – a people connected to each other and to the earth by these miraculous materials from which we are made. Solidarity, honey, and salt.
2. I ran across word of a recent kerfuffle involving Goshen College, a Mennonite liberal arts college in Ohio, and their recent decision involving the national anthem. From what I’ve gathered, for many years Goshen didn’t play the national anthem at sports and other events due to an Anabaptist conviction regarding giving allegiance to God before human rule. However, they have recently changed their policy, and the anthem is now played instrumentally before sporting events. As a result, there have been a number of faculty, staff, alumni and students of Goshen who have protested this decision, and some of their thoughts on the matter can be read here.
I am not a Mennonite, and I’m not going to comment on Goshen College’s decision. But the continuing conversation has sparked some questions for me about allegiance and ritual; the nature of pagan allegiance and my own relationship to nation. As an anarchist I am against kyriarchy, top-down systems, and nation-states. I don’t have all the answers, but I believe in what I see, and I believe in the power of small groups committed to diverse community-based governmental systems, and in the difficult but noble pursuit of consensus decision making. I also believe in ritual, and I believe that ritual is powerful. Ritual, as I’ve said before, is embodied storytelling. That’s what makes it not only important on an aesthetic and celebratory level, but also a matter of survival. So I ask myself what my allegiance to the Mama, and to the creatures that comprise her sacred being, demands of me. What do art and storytelling and community demand of me? And how do the rituals I/we participate in express and communicate those allegiances?
3. I have also been reading On Liturgical Theology by Aidan Kavanaugh – considered a fundamental text in the study of liturgy and a book I highly recommend (for its graceful, impeccably gorgeous prose as well as its deeply thought-provoking ideas). Being focused on the nature of liturgy squarely from a Catholic perspective, certainly I disagree with plenty of the book’s theology, but I am fascinated by his assertion of liturgy as prima theologia, which is a concept I think is worth exploring from a pagan perspective when it comes to public ritual. From my understanding (and this is my interpretation and may be wildly off base), Kavanaugh is asserting that theology, in this case the act of considering/negotiating/analyzing and engaging in authentic relationship with god, happens first and foremost in the act of worship, in my opinion both on a personal individual level and on a communal collective level (I am personally more focused lately on the latter, as, in my opinion (*dance dance*) the pagan cultural gestalt/milieu/egregore tends to focus rather a lot on the individual spiritual journey). The notion that theology is something that all worshiping people do, not just academics and philosophers, and that theology is engaged in worship, where the people come before their god… initiating contact, giving praise and thanks, pondering difficulties, making contracts, receiving grace, feeling awe, wrestling with angels, etc. Any analysis after this critical and seminal experience then is secondary theology – the commentary that springs out of experience. And therefore it is critical that we look at liturgics, worship and ritual deeply as we construct our theologies. It is very possible that this is a severely limited and half-baked understanding, but I am fascinated nonetheless. I plan to explore this more at length in a later post, including thoughts on a slightly different but related assertion of Johnny’s, which springs from our experiences writing and performing rituals over the past couple of years.
4. The intrepid spouse and I have joined a local food share in our neighborhood, and this weekend was our first pickup. We’ve done this in many places, so this is not our first foray into the world of food co-ops and CSAs, but I am continually amazed still every time by the bounty of earth and the ingenuity of human beings in the tumble of food that rolls out onto our kitchen counter, humble and covered with dirt, perhaps on the skinny and wrinkled side (it is still winter, after all), but full of promise. Carrots and onions and apples. An artichoke (the intrepid spouse and I eyeballed the artichoke with apprehension, seeing as how we love artichokes but have never prepared one ourselves, but we are a brave people). Avocados. Ginger root. Yes.
Take. Eat. This is Her body. All this. All this.
Muddy footnotes with no text – seeds in the dirt. The spring will come rolling and rocking over the fields and the plains and into the city. The Mama will laugh and you will not be able to keep from laughing. The birds are making ready. Rhizomes and roots and the veins of trees all whispering with the grass. The wind. They all know something. These delicious secrets.
The conspiracy of spring.
Grok Earth, best beloveds. Pray without ceasing.
p.s. For those in Chicago, don’t forget that I will be teaching a workshop on Spirit & Poetry at Life Force Arts Center starting March 1st!! For more details, and to register, please see this page.