Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of Peacocks, Pride and Park Rangers

Full Fasting Moon
**** **** **** **** **** **** ****
The Peacock and the Mallard Princess
a Jataka Tale adapted from the
Nacca-Jataka, retold by Alyss Broderick 
Once upon a time, when the world was young, the animals of the three kingdoms chose kings for themselves. The beasts of the land chose the majestic Lion to rule them while the fish chose the giant Whale as their king. The birds of the air chose the Golden Mallard as their leader. The Mallard King had a beautiful daughter and he offered her any wish she might have. She asked to be able to choose her own husband.

Mallard King called all the birds from all of India to come show themselves to the Princess. Parrots and finches came from the jungles of Bengal and gulls and doves came from the southern Tamil coast. Larks and hawks came from the western deserts and cranes and eagles came from the Himalayan mountains. All the birds gathered near the Mallard King’s home on the edge of the sacred Ganges river. The Mallard Princess moved slowly through the assembled crowd, her eyes bright and searching for her husband. Finally she caught sight of a handsome bird with emerald green and sapphire blue feathers. Oh, how handsome he was!  
"There he is,” she told her father. “The peacock will be my husband.”

When he heard this the prideful peacock cried out, “Oh, Princess, you have not even seen the best I have to o
ffer yet!” With that he unfurled his tail feathers and began dancing and singing his praises in a high, clear voice. With each note and each step the Princess and her father were more disappointed. Finally the King called him to stop.
“My daughter deserves a husband as modest and selfless as he is handsome. You will not wed my daughter. Instead, she will marry my nephew the Mallard Prince.”

The peacock, enraged, f
lew off with an indignant squawk and scream. To this day, you will find the Mallard Prince and Princess raising their family on the humble edges of lakes and streams dressed in their modest yet handsome plumage. Peacock still has his extravagant feathers, but his clear, sweet voice has turned into screech of fallen pride.

**** *** **** ***
This month is the Fasting Moon in Annette Hinshaw's calendar. Last month I wrote about the relationship between the Milk Moon and the Fasting moon, how the first asks us to examine how we can be community that supports and individual, while the second asks us to examine how removing support can also help the individual. In addition to asking about how our refusal of resources can help others, the Fasting Moon also asks us to look at what sacrifices we must make for our own future good. Sometimes that sacrifice is physical, as in dieting for weight loss or pinching our pennies for a future expense, but sometimes it is emotional or metaphysical.
When an image or story or refrain keeps popping up in your life it means it is time to examine that lesson. My attention has been called to the idea of sacrificing the paramount position of my own ego multiple times over the last month or so. Peacock, in the story of the Mallard Princess, learns the hard way that being the best and most brilliant is not always the way to win the prize. This rings true in interpersonal relationships and teaching relationships, two ideas I have been exploring lately. It is even true in the kind of relationship I envision having with God.

My first class in my Masters o
f Arts in Teaching program at George Fox University was called the Professional Educator. We spent 5 weeks looking at historical and philosophical perspectives on public education and capped the class with a paper outlining our definition of a teacher. My definition explicitly states that a teacher does not see themselves as having learned everything there is to know about a subject or being infallible in their knowledge, the world is too complex for that. The time for enthroned professors in marble halls is over. I envision a teacher more as a guide, like a good park ranger. They have walked the path before, maybe many times before, and have background information to help interpret what the group sees along the path. They know, however, that each day brings new things to see and each set of eyes sees different parts of the whole. When I was a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park I painstakingly researched a presentation on the founders of the park and the building of the beautiful lodge. One day I gave my presentation only to find out that one of the men in the audience had been on the Civilian Conservation Corps crew that actually built the lodge. No, a huge ego does neither a park ranger nor a school teacher much good.

Like a park ranger faced with the immensity and complexity of the park they work in, a follower of the divine light is too small to see the whole story. God, in h
er vastness, knows the plan for your life and everyone else's life better than you can even conceive of. It is not easy to release the importance of your own rightness or knowledge. In the Tao De Ching the sage reminds us that to bend is to stay whole and that the bending takes courage just as the firmness does. Only an empty cup can be filled, but laying low requires sacrificing the ego. In the book of Mark, Jesus says to the disciples that ask to sit at the right hand of the master, "And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all." (Mark 10:44) I don't believe Jesus' death was required for me to be in communion with god, but his ultimate sacrifice to the larger plan is a potent symbol of the sacrifice the Fasting Moon asks us to consider.
A refrain that has been going through my head recently is "Be not afraid." Sacrificing our ego in relationships can be very scary and lowering ourselves, or being lowered against our will can be painful. Many of us, myself most certainly included, have a lot of identity and pride wrapped up in being good and right and knowledgeable. We are not, however, all knowing. The world is much, much too big for that. Laying low, bending and sacrificing to the relationship, to the dao, to god herself is the only way to be lifted high as the wheel turns around again.

Photos by jans canon and hypergenesb, please click on the links or photos to see more of their work on Flickr. Thanks!

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****
Full Fasting Moon 2009: Full Moon in the Fasting Moon
Full Fasting Moon 2010: The Old Man Who Made the Trees Blossom
I also discuss the Fasting moon energies The Fasting Moon is New post and in the The Positive Feedback Loop of Love post.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Nian

New Fasting Moon

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

Gung Hay Fat Choy! This week is the start of the Chinese New Year celebrated by millions of people around the world. There are many wonderful stories about this time of year and the traditions that mark the festivities. I wanted to tell you the funny story about the rat, the cat and the race to name the animals of the Chinese zodiac but this story seems more fitting for the moon that Annette Hinshaw calls the Fasting Moon. Maybe at the full moon I'll speak more about the energies of this month. Today, though, I present my retelling of the Chinese folktale about Nian The Dragon.

**** **** ****

A long, long time ago, when the world was still new and people were still learning how to live together there was a village that was tormented by a terrible dragon. Every month at the new moon and the full moon the dragon Nian came down out of the sky at sunset and ate everything it could find. Pigs and dogs were eaten, crops were burned or trampled, even people who were foolish enough to stay outside were swallowed up by the monster. The people learned that they simply had to lock everything they wanted to keep up in their own houses.

One day in late winter a wandering monk came into the village. The people were very friendly and invited him in, fed him and let him sleep by their fires. A couple days after he arrived was the full moon night when the monster dragon was due to descend upon the village. As night fell came the people he had been staying with changed drastically. They rushed around the village, collecting their belongings and herding up their animals. He watched one man knock a little boy down as he dragged his sheep into his shed. People rushed passed the crying boy, carrying their tools or chickens or bags of rice quickly into their own homes. The monk picked the boy up to comfort him but his mother snatched him away, a look of sheer terror on her face. He watched in wonder as these people, who had previously been so friendly and kind to each other, panicked and selfishly protected their own things.

As the first stars appeared in the clear winter sky the old man spotted a glow on the northern horizon. The family he had been staying with dragged him into their house and slammed the door. He peeked out the shuttered window and saw the dragon, gleaming gold and green and blue, as it tore through the town. It made a terrible noise and had terrible teeth that snatched up a wayward chicken leaving nothing behind but a loud ba-gwaaak and a whirlwind of feathers. The old man sat down on a bench across the hearth from the rest of the terrified, huddling family, a puzzled frown on his face.

The next morning the women and young men set out to survey the damages and glean what they could from the fields while the old man met with the leaders of the village. He asked them to tell him everything they knew about the monster. He learned that the only thing that had been successful at scaring the Nian were fire crackers and red lanterns, but that no one had been able to stay outside long enough to scare it off completely. The old man sat on a bench under a tree for the rest of the day, his puzzled frown still on his face.

Life went on in the village over the next two weeks. The chickens and children and dogs ran free in the yards and the young men took the sheep out to graze and the women went out to work in the fields as they always had. The day of the new moon, when the Nian was next due, the monk gathered the people of the village together.

"To scare the Nian away we must work together. All of us must stay outside in the evening waving red lanterns and setting off firecrackers. Together, all the noise and light will scare him away and he will never come back," said the monk.

"It won't work", said one man. "We aren't powerful enough."

"I am too afraid of the dragon," said another. "I don't think I could stay out long enough to be helpful."

"We've tried before and it didn't work," said a third. "What makes you think this time will be different?"

"Because we will all work together," replied the monk. "In the past only had one person with a lantern or firecrackers tried to scare the Nian. This time we will all stand at the edge of the village, together. Where one is weak, many together are strong. And we don't have to be afraid because we will all be there, together. Let us ready the firecrackers and make as many red lanterns as we can."

They spent the rest of the afternoon building lanterns and stringing paper packets of firecrackers together on long strings. The children helped paint lettering on the lantern papers, and a few older boys made a scene by setting off firecrackers before sunset. Everyone worked together cheerfully as the sun started to sink.

"Oh, no!" one man cried as he realized how late it was getting. "I haven't collected my sheep or my chickens. The Nian is sure to eat them."

"There is no time for you to collect your animals now," said the monk, pointing to the glow on the northern horizon. "Your only chance to save your animals is to stand together with all the rest of us, waving a lantern or setting off firecrackers."

Sure enough, just then the dragon came over the northern hills and flew down into the village. It was glowing and gleaming gold and green and blue. It made terrible noises and had terrible teeth that could easily eat one or all of the villagers gathered outside their homes. Just when the monk thought they were all going to bolt back into their homes one young man ran out in front of the group, lantern in his hand, and set off a large string of firecrackers. Soon, the whole village was running toward the dragon, firecrackers popping, lanterns swinging, children and women and men yelling. The dragon saw these terrifying things coming at him and immediately turned and flew away.

They had done it! The villagers had scared off the terrible Nian. The angry yelling turned to joyous shouts as the villagers started to celebrate their victory. They continued to set off firecrackers and everyone brought out food to share. Coins and oranges appeared and were passed around for luck. Some people started dancing like the dragon while others pretended to fight it off, everyone laughing. The party lasted for 15 days until the next full moon. The dragon didn't return and the people rejoiced. Ever since then the people have celebrated the new year on the anniversary of that special new moon night when the village stood together to scare off the Nian.

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

New Fasting Moon 2010: Spring is Springing

This post is about Chinese New Year, which I mention in the Full Fasting Moon 2009 post.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Brigid - Goddess of Poetry

February First

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

February 2nd is a holy day known by many names throughout western civilization. Some people call it Imbolc, the festival of the first lambing and ewe's milk. Some people call it Candlemas, the purification of the Holy Virgin forty days after the birth of the Christ child. Some people call it Groundhog Day, a time of weather augury to see just how quickly spring will come. Some call it Brigid, Bride, Brighid, Brigit, the day of the Celtic Goddess who has become the most beloved female saint of Catholic Ireland. I usually just call it February First.

No matter the name of the festival the Goddess is the central focus. At th
is time of the year the crone of winter goes to the sacred well and comes away the maiden of spring, the maiden goddess Brigid. Brigid is many things to many people; the patron of metal smith, healing, weaving and prophecy. She is also a goddess of poetry.

At the end of my first year of blogging here at The Wheel and the Disk I said I wanted to incorporate more poetry into this blog. I have not only been successful in posting poems on the blog but also in reading more poetry. Many years ago when I was a freshman in college, in a late night in a dorm room when the world was young and new, I asked a friend of mine what poetry is. I don't remember the answer she gave but I remember the question. It is still a question I have and still ponder. All I can think to say is that poetry is magic made of words.

As winter tips into spring I give to you a poem to commemorate Brigid and all the other forms of the Goddess.
by Mary Oliver
The spirit
 likes to dress up like this:
   ten fingers,
     ten toes,
shoulders, and all the rest
 at night
   in the black branches,
     in the morning
in the blue branches
 of the world.
   It could float, of course,
     but would rather
plumb rough matter.
 Airy and shapeless thing,
   it needs
     the metaphor of the body,
lime and appetite,
 the oceanic fluids;
   it needs the body's world,
and imagination
 and the dark hug of time,
     and tangibility,
to be understood,
 to be more than pure light
   that burns
     where no one is --
so it enters us --
 in the morning
   shines from brute comfort
     like a stitch of lightning;
and at night
 lights up the deep and wondrous
   drownings of the body
     like a star.
from Dream Work Atlantic Monthly Pr., 1986

Happy Brigid! Happy Groundhog Day! Happy Candlemas! Happy Spring!
*** *** *** 

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

February First 2009: February the First

February First 2010: Lovely Luz and Sweet Bridgit
This happens to be my all time favorite post from all two plus years of blogging. Please go check it out.