Thursday, August 26, 2010

Spider Moon

One day Anansi the spider picked some very fat and tasty yams from his garden. He baked them with much care and they came out smelling quite delicious. He could not wait to sit down and eat them. Just then there was a knock at his door. It was Turtle, who had been traveling all day and was very tired and hungry.

"Hello, Anansi," said Turtle. "I have been walking for so long, and I smelled the most delicious yams I've ever smelled. Would you be so kind as to share your meal with me?" Anansi could not refuse, as it was the custom in his country to share your meal with visitors at mealtime. But he was not very happy, for Anansi was a little too greedy and wanted the delicious yams all to himself. So Anansi thought to himself and came up with a scheme.

"Please do come in, Turtle. I would be honored to have you as my guest this evening. Sit down, have a chair and help yourself." Turtle came inside and sat down, but just as he reached for a yam, Anansi yelled, "Turtle, don't you know better than to come to the table with dirty hands?"

Turtle looked down at his hands and saw that they were filthy. He had been crawling all day and had not had a chance to clean up. Turtle got up and went to the river to clean his feet. He walked all the way back up to the house and Anansi had already begun to eat.

"I didn't want these tasty yams to get cold, so I had to begin," said Anansi. "But please do join me now, Turtle." Turtle sat down again and reached for a yam, but again Anansi yelled at him. "Turtle, did you not hear me before? It is not polite to come to the table with dirty hands!" He looked down and saw that his clean hands had turned dirty once more, since he had to crawl on them to get back to the house.

So he walked down to the river once more to wash himself off. And when he returned this time, he was careful to walk on the grass so his hands would stay clean. But by the time he sat down at the table, Anansi had finished up the last bit of the tasty yams and not so much as a morsel was left.

Turtle looked at Anansi for a moment and then said, "Thank you for sharing your meal with me. If you ever find yourself near my house, please let me return the favor." And then he slowly walked out the door and continued on his way.
The days went by and Anansi thought more and more of that meal that Turtle had offered. He got more and more interested in a free dinner and finally could not stand it anymore. He set off one day to find Turtle's house. He found Turtle sunning himself on a riverbank just around dinnertime.

Turtle looked up and saw him and said, "Hello, Anansi, have you come to share evening meal with me?" "Oh yes, yes!" said Anansi, who was growing hungrier and hungrier by the minute. Turtle went underwater to his house to set up the dinner table for the two of them. Soon he came back to the bank and said, "Your place is waiting and the food is ready. Please join me, Anansi." And then he dived underwater and began to slowly eat his meal.

Anansi jumped into the water, but could not get down to the bottom of the river. He tried to swim down, but he was so light that he kept popping back up to the surface. He tried diving. He tried belly flops. He tried a running jump, but nothing would help him get down to the river bottom. In the meantime, Turtle was slowly eating his meal.

Anansi was not about to give up a free meal, and was running around wondering what he would do. Finally he had an idea. He started grabbing stones and rocks and stuffed them into his jacket pockets. Now when he jumped into the water he sank right down to the bottom and was able to take his place at the table. The table was so beautiful and full of delicious foods. Anansi could hardly believe how many tasty foods were before him and could not wait to start his meal.

But just as he reached for the first morsel, Turtle stopped eating and spoke. "In my country, we do not wear our jackets to the table." Anansi noticed that Turtle had removed his own jacket before sitting down. Anansi started to remove his jacket, and as soon as it was off of his shoulders, he went zooming back up to the surface and popped out onto the riverbank.

He stuck his head down into the water and saw Turtle slowly enjoying that wonderful banquet.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
This month has been the Spider Moon around here. Has it been where you are? Early in the summer I accidentally knocked my watering bucket into a just about to hatch spider egg sack and found it completely covered in tiny baby spiders. It was like a cross between that scene in Charlotte’s Web when all the babies hatch and fly away and the scene in Harry Potter where the giant spider Aragog’s children chase Ron and Harry out of the Forbidden Forest. It was equal parts cool and creepy. This month, it seems, all those babies have grown up into adult spiders who are making webs and trying to store up enough energy for the winter ahead. One afternoon I walked into the garage and saw the sunlight glittering through all the spider webs strung up and down the room. It was beautiful, creepy, and sad – all that work and so very little gain. There aren’t many bugs in our garage, and their webs will be destroyed the next time someone uses that room. I’ve seen this month spider webs strung up between cars that have only been parked near each other for a couple hours, between trees and fences dozens of feet apart and across doorways that get used multiple times a day. They seem just so frantic to catch food that they will build a web anywhere.

Spiders are fascinating creatures both in science and mythology. They are generally carnivorous arthropods with 8 legs (as opposed to insects’ 6 legs) and they live in just about every terrestrial habitat imaginable. There are approximately 40,000 spider species (as opposed to about 5,400 mammal species) and spiders has the most centralized nervous system of any arthropod with ganglia fused into a mass, like a primitive brain. One of the more amazing things about spiders is that they produce and use spider silk, a protein fiber spun from a gel they secrete. Spiders use silk to form webs, nests, egg sacks and to wrap food. The sheer miraculousness of spider silk is overwhelming to me, despite how annoying it is to run into it seventeen times a day for three weeks.

Our Latin name for spiders, arachnids, is derived from the Greek story about Arachne, the weaver of Lydia. She was such a fine weaver that she attracted the jealousy of the goddess Athena. Athena challenged Arachne to a weaving contest and though Arachne’s weaving was flawless her choice of subjects, a series of 21 scenes of infidelity among the gods and goddesses of Olympia, enraged the goddess. She sentanced Arachne to live with extreme guilt and Arachne soon killed herself. Athena, remembering the woman’s skill at weaving, brought her back to life as a spider.

Anansi is the trickster spider in West African mythology and stories. As the story above shows, Anansi is a very clever character who often uses his skill and intelligence to try to outwit others. His stories originate with the Ashanti people of what is now Ghana but are popular all over West Africa, the Carribean, South America and the United States – everywhere West African culture has spread and survived. Anansi stories are such an important part of Ghanian culture that the word Anansesem, “spider stories”, has come to mean the entire body of folk stories that are told the way Fairy Tales are told in Western European culture.

Anansi and the Turtle is a perfect story for this month, the Nesting Moon in Annette Hinshaw’s calendar. The Nesting Moon energies are about understanding our resources and using them wisely for the good of our community. It is a time of checking the pantry before the big harvest, of putting up food for the long winter ahead and of checking all the details before setting out on a journey. Anansi follows his people’s custom of inviting Turtle to dinner, but his attempt to trick Turtle out of actually enjoying dinner causes Anansi himself to miss out on the larger community’s offerings. We natives of the Nesting Moon, Virgos most of us, can fall into that trap sometimes. Keeping up appearances is important, but fear of not having enough for ourselves.

How are you feeling the Nesting Moon energies this month? What webs are you making to catch which resources? What are you offering up to your community and what are you withholding? How are the spiders doing in your neighborhood? What is the most amazing spider fact you’ve ever learned?

Friday, August 13, 2010


The other night I saw the new crescent moon. It suprised me, jumped out from behind a tree or a building. It was beautiful. In Annette Hinshaw's calendar it is the month of the Nesting Moon, the first month of Autumn. This year it also happens to be the holy month of Ramadan.

Only Breath

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and is the month in which the first verses of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Observant Muslims fast from sun up until sunset during the month and spend extra time praying, giving alms and working to be close to Allah. The end of the month is celebrated with the festive holiday Eid ul-Fitr. Eid is the social equivalent of Christmas in Christian societies when families gather for meals and gift giving, hospitality to neighbors and friends, giving to charity and more eating and visiting. During the month of Ramadan families break their fast in the evenings with a meal called iftar, which is often a time for people to gather as well. The Islamic calendar is a purely lunar one so the month rotates through the solar year. This year Ramadan falls during the long, hot days of late summer which makes the fasting even more onerous. Many people feel a deep sense of compassion towards the poor during this time because they know what it’s like to be hungry.

I have been feeling a growing concern lately over the public image of Islam in my country. It's a hard feeling to put into words - I want to know more about Islam and the people of the world who are Muslim. I want to share my findings and highlight the fact that Muslims are people with similar needs and aspirations as people we know more intimately and that Islam is a varied and vast religion. I want to show that Muslim people have all the good sides and bad sides as Christian and Jewish and secular people. In short, I want to find examples that break apart our stereotypes of Muslims and share those with everyone I come in contact with.

It's actually really frightening how scared and ignorant Americans seem to be about Islam. Islam is the second largest religion in the world with close to 1.6 billion people who follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad all over the world. The country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia, a moderate republic with elections and friendly relations with the global community. There are an estimated 6-8 million Muslims in the United States and about a quarter of those are African-American. This is not a religion or a group that can be painted with broad strokes or reduced to a two dimensional stereotype.

The story about the mosque in Lower Manhattan has the country in a tizzy. I have actually heard news people and politicians insist that Islam is a religion of violence, that all Muslims are terrorists and even call Islam a cult. This is absurd. Can 1.6 billion people or even 7 million Americans be terrorists? Thats like calling all Catholics child molesters because of the issues with Priests or all Protestants hate mongers because of Nazi violence. There are real issues of tolerance that need to be dealt with both within Islam and by non-Muslims, but it is not just not true that every Muslim is a terrorist.

The North Pacific Yearly Meeting has a query in it's Faith and Practices that asks "Do we avoid being drawn into violent reactions against those who are destructive of human dignity? Do we reach out to the violator as well as the violated with courage and love?" I think this is such an important question for everyone who cares about peace, justice and religious tolerance today. We need help when dealing with people we see as enemies or as violent to be sure that we don't come to embody what we are fighting against. There is a true and real strain within Islam of intolerance and violence. How do we confront that part of Islam with compassion and integrity? How do we keep conscious of the difference between extremists and their co-religionists who are moderate? How do we remember that all people, no matter their religion, ethnic background, socio-economic status or even their actions deserve compassion and love? I haven’t a clue where to start with this except to ask the questions.

A Community of the Spirit

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
and being the noise.
Drink all your passion,
and be a disgrace.
Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.
Open your hands,
if you want to be held.
Sit down in the circle.

Quit acting like a wolf, and feel
the shepherd's love filling you.
At night, your beloved wanders
Don't accept consolations.
Close your mouth against food
Taste the lover's mouth in yours.
You moan, "She left me." "He left me
Twenty more will come.
Be empty of worrying
Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?
Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking
Live in silence.
Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being.

From Rumi – Selected Poems (Penguin Classics)
Translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne

As the month continues I will be using Facebook as my main form of ministry and share statistics, quotes, anecdotes and facts about Islam and Muslims from around the world. I’ll be sure to post some of my status updates here later. What do you know about Islam or Muslims? Do you have any personal experience with Islam? What do you wonder about Islam? Know any blogs by Muslim men or women worth reading? When have you ever been challenged by an interaction with someone who is intolerant or violent? How will you be working to get close to god this month

Photos courtesty of manitoon and birdfarm. They are of mosque decorations in Iran and Pakistan. Check out their flickr streams by clicking on the photos or their names. Thanks!

Friday, August 6, 2010

August Eve, The Subtle Turning

When I first started celebrating the seasonal holidays of the Wheel of the Year some were easy and comfortable while I found some others harder to get a handle on. Winter Solstice and Halloween were two that seemed easiest because I use variations on childhood celebrations as my current celebrations. February First and August Eve have been two of the hardest for me to find resonance with. These are subtle holidays. They don’t have the glitzy trappings or big star appeal. They aren’t at major, even-the-muggles-notice-them seasonal markers. They are the gateways into the transitional seasons. Like I said, they’re subtle.

There was a time in my life where I asked everyone I knew what their most and least favorite months were. My theory is that people liked the months they were born in most but the evidence did not support the theory though the subject certainly merits more research. I found that people disproportionately dislike February and liked the summer months. Summer is fun, they would say. Swimming and sunny days and no school! February is dreary and cold and you just want spring to come. I never had much of a beef with February but have always disliked August.

Celebrating February First as a holiday has transformed my indifference about February into full blown excitement. February is when spring starts! It is when trees start budding and the green parts of crocuses and daffodils start showing up. The days start getting longer! Yes, these are subtle signs of spring that come well before the showy signs in April. I think celebrating August Eve is doing the same thing with August. In the past I’ve always felt worn down by August. It’s hot, the days are getting shorter, the grass is getting browner. It’s the time right before my birthday and it has been pretty awful some years. But last year to some extent, and this year even more so, it’s much better. It’s the sublte turning into autumn, my favorite season. Awesome!

To celebrate August Eve I try to do something physical or competetive to commemorate the manly and physical energies of the God at this season. One story associated with the holiday is that of Lugh Lamfada and his foster mother Tailtiu which clearly illustrates the connection between games and this seasonal festival.

Tailtiu was the royal Lady of the Fir Bolg. After the defeat of her people by the Tuatha De Dannan, she was obliged by them to clear a vast forest for the purpose of planting grain. She died of exhaustion in the attempt. The legend states that she was buried beneath a great mound named for her, at the spot where the first feast of Lughnasadh was held in Ireland, the hill of Tailte. At this gathering were held games and contests of skill as well as a great feast made up of the first fruits of the summer harvest.... (For the rest of the story and commentary see this page by Kathleen Dupree)

This year my physical activity celebration was a rafting trip on the North Umpqua, a beautiful river in Southern Oregon. The river is a popular rafting river and the section we rafted was difficult enough that I was glad I was with friends who have worked as river guides. There was one memorable moment when I screamed “We’re all going to die!” and five seconds later we were on flat water. “Oh, I might have over reacted.”

Feeling the river working it’s way through the mountains under my paddle was such an amazing experience. Setting up the raft, carrying it, paddling and putting all the gear away was hard work. We cooked hot dogs and veggie kabobs over the open fire and I slept soundly under the fir trees and summer stars that night. One of the highlights of the trip happened just as we were pulling the raft into our take out. We had been watching an osprey overhead for a minute or two when it folded its wings and dropped into the river only to emerge with a good sized trout in it’s talons.

Maybe it was the cool early summer, or maybe it’s the grand adventure to ring in the month or maybe it’s just a maturity as I reach my 30th birthday next month but I’m actually looking forward to August this year. I’ll look for the subtle signs of autumn’s approach in shortening days, turning leaves and changing sunlight. I'll enjoy the harvests as they come, one after a nother. The hay harvest was already well underway as I drove down to Roseburg and back. The first tomato should come out of my garden any day!

What did you do to celebrate your physicality this summer? What seasonal holidays or celebrations have changed your outlook on a particular time of year? When was the last time you spent a day on the river?

AUGUST, thou monarch of the mellow noon,
That with thy sceptre smit'st the teeming plain
And gladd'nest all the world with golden grain,
How oft have I, beneath thy harvest moon,
Harkened the cushat's soft insistent croon,
As to the night she told her soul in pain,
Or heard the corn-crake to his mate complain,
When all things slept, beneath the sun aswoon!
The world with sun and sheen is overfed
And the faint heart, its need once done away,
Soon waxes weary of the summer-day
And the sun blazing in the blue o'erhead,
"Would God that it were night!" is apt to say
And "Would the summer-heats were oversped!"
-John Payne

The beautiful photos are by Kenneth Moyle and heritagefutures. Thank you so much! Please go check out their Flickr streams.