High-Speed Train

I rode the Eurostar from London to Paris, which I have never done before.  I dragged my suitcases from the Airbnb flat in Kensington to the Gloucester Road Tube station, got on the Piccadily line and thought vicous things about the cows who were sitting right near the door when they could have moved over three seats to the empty ones and let me sit with my big suitcases.

I use “cow” as an insult for all humans who lumber along in life without any awareness of those around them. I am hyper-aware of those around me and apologize profusely when I am selfish or inconsiderate when I should have realized that a simple action could have provided some relief to someone else. It’s not a sacrifice to scoot down a few seats. I hadn’t had any tea or coffee or food and I was cranky. Still, I judge. I most definitely do.  A bit of attentiveness costs nothing.

I got to St. Pancras and stood in line for security and passport control and I found my seat and stowed my luggage and got all settled on the train (window seat) and sat happily contemplating the next leg of my journey. I had a tremendously delicious latte at a stall called Source at St. Pancras, where I also asked for “some bread and cheese” and was sent on my way with an enormous container full of huge slabs of delicious cheddar and something soft and runny and a third kind of slightly tangy frommage and some toasts. A feast! I brought it to my hosts in Paris and we will be eating it all week.

As I sat in comfortable tranquility and watched the landscape whiz by I remembered traveling as a very young woman and becoming aware that my interior monologue was relentlessly frightened and self-critical. These were my first adventures in solitude and I became attuned to myself for the first time in a way that I suppose some adults never actually do. Solitude eventually emerged as my lifestyle, perhaps vocation? — and my internal monologue at this age is mostly concerned with things on the ministerial to-do list, thoughts about life, death and God, a bit of worrying and thinking about friends and loved ones (still a category of more insecurity than most others in my life), dog details and housekeeping. I am not rattled by insecure or self-critical thoughts although I have very little skill in dismantling them, whereas I have developed a fairly high level of skill in interrogating and untangling insecure and other-critical thoughts; particularly in catching myself catastrophizing or projecting.

I am grateful for that. Now, perhaps, I can learn some effective ways to disarm the monster who lives in my head who takes up arms against myself. That monster is so deeply hidden, I only hear rumblings when she is active. She tends not to speak in complete sentences, she just shrieks and throws things and is as irrational as my parents were when they were in their fits of rage or addiction.

But today on the train there was no monster and no anxiety or fear. I am an experienced enough traveler to think a few steps ahead and get where I am going — and by the way, I am not going to Venice as I had planned, because I trust my instincts by now — and I like myself as a traveling companion.

I recognize now that the extreme anxiety I experienced when traveling in my youth actually caused me to dissociate, as happened on the beach in Antigua when I was 18 years old and on a senior trip with three of my girlfriends. The three of them went horseback riding one afternoon and I decided to go to the beach by myself. When I settled myself in the sand, I experienced a jolting sensation of the world rocking and went blind for a few seconds, after which I saw shooting stars everywhere and felt that I no longer existed. It was one of the earliest memories I have of literally losing my mind and it scared me badly. I decided to patiently wait where I was until my senses returned, so there I sat on a beautiful tropical beach, a young, pretty teenager trying to stay sane.

I was probably dehydrated and God knows if we had been eating enough food. We were drinking like fishes, far away from home and on our own. I remember the trip very fondly in general but I have not forgotten the tilting earth and my momentary blindness. Stress, anxiety, a fragile psyche, I was a kid whose father had recently died and who was living alone at home with an actively alcoholic living parent and a kid brother, sitting thousands of miles away under a too-hot sun with only three peers to rely on if my brain didn’t start functioning right again. We got through it. I am still close friends with two of those three peers and I feel protected by their good cheer, their confidence in and love for me now as I did then.

This morning: navigate the Tube. Use the Oyster Card. Find the platform. Get the coffee, bread and cheese. Load the luggage. Take the journey.  Disembark, find the toilet. Learn the toilet cost .70 Euros. Locate the bank machine, obtain the euros. Return to the toilet with the help of a friendly nun. Protect the bags, the passport, the phone from pickpockets. Call an Uber.  Find the Uber, who is parked a block away. Find the apartment code. Load the self and the luggage into the tiny lift. Be received in warm, welcoming arms of friends. Eat dinner, have some wine, load the laundry. Plan tomorrow.

Write. Remember. Thank God for the sound mind and body, for the accumulation of experiences, of years, of journeys.

 

 

Madness

A thing that I most despise in modern American culture is the total separation of madness and “sanity,” with so-called sanity as the norm and the goal of all mental health modalities. Sanity, like gender, is a construct. What passes for “sanity” in my context seems like half-life to me. That is not to romanticize states of mental distress that cause suffering  – but there’s much more territory to be accepted and explored.

This may be why I continue to defend non-violent religious enthusiasms even while I deplore their ridiculous and harmful theologies: I appreciate a bit of madness! Last night as I walked through Leicester Square I heard an evangelical idiot with a megaphone blathering on and on about Jesus and salvation and I felt the oppression of words, words, words, thank you very much Martin Luther, thank you John Calvin, for this obnoxious verbosity. I would rather the man put down his megaphone and dance his Christian message for us, act out the threat of Hell, become Jesus on the cross dying for our sins — I’d respect him more. It would be more impressive an expression of faith than his loud lecturing and exorting.

(I’m working it out — writing without inner editor and critic that is so tightly uniformed and On The Job in my usual work and especially my sermons.  Don’t expect these sabbatical posts to be terribly linear, consistent or coherent)

More opera tonight! “Orphee” by Philip Glass. “The Mask of Orpheus” the other night was, in the words of one patron I overheard in the lobby, “TOTALLY mental” and it went on for four hours of avante garde bizarrity that I loved and found irritating for the usual reasons of sexism and cliched design. Make it new! Make it new!

Here now at the Wellcome Collection Library, a wonderful resource of medical history that is one of my favorite cultural centers in London. I’ve joined the library and am happily nestled among the stacks of loads of books on the plague. Just now taking notes on Death, Reburial and Rebirth in the Religions of Antiquity by Jon Davies and Ritual Texts For The Afterlife : Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets by Fritz Graf and Sarah Iles Johnston.

There is so much water imagery in the Orpheus art I’m seeing, I want to know what is in the original Greek material. I always thought Orpheus was a poet, musician, lyre-playing guy. I associate his story with the earth, and perhaps the element of air (Apollo, stringed instrument, etc). Whence all this water?

Off to find some dinner and then to the theatre. I need to figure out how to upload photos to this little Chromebook.

Cheers.

Leaving American For A Bit

I posted this earlier today on my Facebook page:

Hi, friends. Today is the first day of my sabbatical. I am tying up loose ends and packing for my flight to London this evening. I am going to jump into Europe in full soul mode, holding nothing back from myself that might interfere with my ability to be in the right faithful place as a minister, as is my usual discipline. This means that I can go down, down, down into the places that are too intense, bloody, disturbing to share from the pulpit but that my psyche and my God beckon me to explore. I have always been an Underworld Girl – that’s why I did my master’s thesis on Persephone. I love my resurrected Jesus but I don’t live in the resurrection so much as I live in the laughing underbelly of irreverence, dirt and honesty. I need to be able to express both utter contempt and worshipful devotion and I intend to seek out beauty all the way. Most of all, I have to shake American flat-earth self-improvement, achievement and happiness off of me like the cheap garments they are. I’m going forth in some kind of pelt loaned to me by a creature that lived fully alive and often frightened, that ran wild and mated and ate and killed and then was killed by another animal, or the weather, or some other great force that it knew in its bones and respected.

So there it is. I almost feel like exploding, I need so much to be able to shriek with my hair on fire, Medusa Christ an old boyfriend once called me, and I can see it.

I want to talk about evil, disgust, the degradation of bodies that we can hardly tolerate imagining when they’re evoked by the headlines. The raping, marauding men at the top levels of power, the corrupt killers with badges, the monsters with guns who murder their wives and schoolmates, the vile boys who drive cars into protesters, the beasts who mock the dead — who wants to enter fully into their reality? I do not. I do, however, feel called to speak to the utter failure of our soft contemporary Protestantism, Humanism and New Age spiritualities to speak to the filthy perversions of human nature.

I’m leaving America for a bit. Going to Europe, where the reality of war and genocide and battles and displacement and blood feuds and cultural theft and slavery and racial hatred is integrated with the general understanding of history. Going places where depravity, immorality and corruption is recognized as part of the story of the city, the town, the opera house, the art work. Free from the tyranny of American denial, American smiley faces, American avoidance, American “I don’t see color” and “that was a long time ago” and “have you tried essential oils” and “happiness is a CHOICE.”

I removed my stole at the end of the church service on Sunday, folded it carefully and placed it on the altar table.

I am so grateful to be relieved of the burden and the honor of having to have something to say to the congregation for six months. What I have to say in the meantime is for me, because I have to get it out, and perhaps for you, if it speaks also to your soul.