Saturday, July 23, 2011

Forest and Flutes

Have you grown too old for fairy tales? I hope not, for here’s one just for you…

Long, long ago in a land beyond the mountains and across the salty sea, there lived a young family in a cottage at the edge of the Great Forest. The Forest was an eerie place, woven through with magic. It was also averse to human contact. Whenever someone drew near, the outer branches would clasp one another, forming tight knots that prevented entry. Sword and ax were useless against the Forest’s decision to be left alone.

Still, parents kept their children close, since one could never be too careful with woods such as these. Children, though, are curious and active creatures, and little Lucia was no different. One day as her parents worked the garden, the child vanished. They found the book she’d been reading on the ground near the tall trees and tangled bushes, and their frantic efforts to follow their daughter were for naught. It seemed that the Forest, having claimed their child, now returned to its former ways, binding branch to branch, impenetrable.

Lucia’s parents rushed to the wise woman of the village, and after much boiling of tea leaves, reading of cards, and crystal ball gazing, she told them what they must do.

“Cut a branch, each of you, from the best loved tree in your yard,” she instructed. “Hollow it to form a simple flute. And play.”

“But neither of us knows a thing about flutes!” cried one. “We can’t waste time on such nonsense!” howled the other.

“This you must do,” replied the ancient woman gravely. “Allow the wood to teach you, and play the notes that come. Hollow and play, and play and hollow. Perfect your flute and your song, and await what unfolds.” She returned to her chair by the fire and would say no more.

Desperate and with no other option, the parents did as they were told. Each chose a branch from the dear old maple that Lucia loved to climb. Sitting at the Forest’s edge, they began removing the inner wood to form a clear channel and guessed at the placement of holes for fingers and mouth. The first few notes weren’t notes at all. Yet, the two continued to hollow and to play for, truly, what choice did they have?

Occasionally, one or the other of them would produce a sound rich and soulful. As these pleasing notes became more plentiful, the air around them softened and began to shimmer, though neither noticed, so intent were they on their task. They hollowed and played through that long night.

“Look!” whispered one, pointing to the woods as darkness gave way to morning light. Clenched branches had relaxed ever so slightly, creating tiny spaces that had not been there the day before. “Keep playing,” murmured the other, and so they did, their music sweetening by the minute. As morning ripened into afternoon, the trees eased further, and their trunks stepped slightly apart.

Suddenly, Lucia’s bright voice rang out. And there she was, skipping down a narrow footpath and into her parents’ welcoming arms. They breathed deeply of their daughter’s special scent, mixed now with the wild, clean smell of the Great Forest.

And so, my tale comes to a close. May you fashion glorious flutes from the wood of your own life and may your song be sweet and strong. And may the frightening and eerie places in your world yield to this lovely music and bring you precious treasures, shot through with wildness and mystery.

Blessed be,

Loanne Marie

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I and Thou

The way in which humans relate to one another and to the world around them has always been of prime importance in spiritual tradition. The early 20th century philosopher Martin Buber ventured deeply into this issue in his theological classic, I and Thou.

According to Buber, human nature allows for two basic approaches to the world: I~Thou and I~It. In these terms, our relational nature is highlighted as subject and object merge to form a greater whole.

“There is no I taken in itself,” Buber writes, “but only the I of the primary word I~Thou and the I of the primary word I~It.” The I in each case is substantively different, as is the relationship that results.

When we approach life from an I~It mentality, we step into a world consisting of separate parts, each isolated from the others and from us. Setting aside a deeper connection, we travel over the surface of life, reducing the dazzling totality to a mechanism for fulfilling our own needs and desires.

However, when we begin from I~Thou, we stand on entirely different ground. “The relation to (a) Thou is direct,” Buber writes. “No system of ideas, no foreknowledge, and no fancy intervene between I and Thou.”

As an example, he suggests we look at a tree. I might classify it as a species, notice its structure, recognize the biological laws that govern its growth. All these are concepts that relegate the tree to an object separate from me.

I can, though, enter into relationship with the tree. Without losing or ignoring any of the attributes listed above, I can perceive this tree directly and wholly. In so doing, I am no longer looking at something outside myself. The tree has become Thou, and my I has been changed in the process.

The same, of course, occurs with our fellow humans. We can remain in the world of I~It, weaving a storyline from our previous contacts with them, or others like them, in which they have pleased or displeased us, met or not met our needs. Or we can approach our companions as Thou, and watch as something profound changes. When we enact I~Thou, time stops. We step out of our customary way of being and perceive what is, without bias or judgment. True relationship is achieved.

And something else occurs as well. “Every particular Thou,” Buber continues, “is a glimpse through to the eternal Thou…the Thou that by its nature cannot become It.” According to Buber, all efforts to define or explain the essential nature of God, as well as techniques to achieve particular spiritual states, arise from the realm of I~It. For a direct experience of God, it’s I~Thou we want.

“The world, lit by eternity, becomes fully present to him who approaches the Face,” Buber writes, “and to the Being of beings he can in a single response say Thou.”

When we live in I~Thou, we move toward what comes our way, openly and without preconception. We experience it wholly, within an authentic relationship.

So, I wake this morning with the intention to meet the day without bias. Despite my to~do lists and wishes, I will greet what comes my way as it is, with openness and welcome. And when I become distressed because life is not conforming to my expectations or I find myself grasping after an experience that pleases me, I will recognize that I have fallen once more into I~It thinking.

And with Thou on my lips, I will return to relationship with a world shot through with the light of eternity.

And to every one of you reading these words, I bow and utter a heart~felt "Thou".

Loanne Marie