Thursday, November 23, 2006

Beginnings--Thanksgiving Day--2006

This Thanksgiving Day of 2006 seems to me to be a good beginning for a blog named "Earth Notes". A series of serendipitous events occurred to bring me to this moment. As always. Here are the things I love: my family (I am a husband of 24 years, and a father, of almost 20 years); gardening, Classics (I am a Latin teacher, now for 18 years, and working on a PhD in Latin through the University of Florida), mythologies, theologies, painting and art in general, teaching, trees, things Celtic, things Native American, languages in general and the cultures that go with them, the human body and pathways to healthy living, and breathing. I love breathing.

How's that for an introduction to Earth Notes? A word (or a few) about each.

Family: there is no religion, spirituality, or philosophy which could offer me more to reflect on, learn from, or grow in my daily life from quite like family--family in general, family of origin, and the family that my wife and I have constituted over these 24 years. It is every day a mirror to gaze into, see (or not!) and decide how I shall walk with what I see today. Family is, for these reason, sacred to me. Living consciously in a family is the most wonderful, awful, difficult and demanding thing I've ever done.

Gardinging: I grew up in a rural community in Alabama where family gardening was, as I look back, the deep center of my life, as were the woods, the mountain, the creeks, the wild animals. Hence, Earth Notes. Nothing is more stabilizing to my life and my mental health than digging in the earth, cultivating, planting, growing, and adoring the beauty of the earth.

I don't know why, but early on in my education, I fell in love with Latin. I've been studying Latin now for 33 years. I don't think it a particularly magical language, or more difficult or intelligent than any other. But, it is a language that has been in constant use for what is approaching 3000 years in Europe and in the world, and the culture of Latin, that of the Romans and then Europe, lies underneath western civilization. I am not a traditional Latin teacher, and I love to explore the interweave between the ancient and the modern.

For me, much of making sense of life boils down to our stories. This is what mythology is--the stories we tell that help us make sense of life. Stories convey truth as we have come to understand it, and truth has little to do with historical fact. The two can be connected, but they need not be the same thing. So, I understand mythology to be both those personal stories we tell to make sense of things, and the ancient stories that we re-tell. And they are all "sacred" story.

I have an undergraduate degree in Biblical Literature (Hebrew and Greek), and a M.Div degree from Emory University's Candler School of Theology. I was, for 8 years, a United Methodsit clergyman. I left the UMC and became Roman Catholic. I taught theology for the Catholic Church at the high school and graduate level for 15 years. I was granted permission from Rome to be ordained a priest as a married man. Then, our diocese got a new bishop who didn't like the idea. Despite all of my preparations to become a priest, he squashed that. In retrospect, being ordained under him would have been a disaster for me. I continued to teach for another 7 years. I left the RC Church 5 years ago. I am now a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Theologies, as I see it, are the words we use to explain our stories. See "mythologies" above. They are all, in a sense, sacred, and they are all, in a sense, terribly misleading, when they attempt to offer anything absolute or final. Theologies are always human, and relative, even those that claim to be divine and absolute.

One of the most important things that has ever happened to me was the night 25 years ago when I took my first painting lesson in the basement of a women who lived in the small community where I was the Methodist minister. Several things happened all at once: I fulfilled a life-long intuition that I was capable of making art; I experienced for the first time, consciously, what an altered state of mind could be as I completely lost myself in the artwork and became oblivious to time; I did something entirely for me and allowed that that was okay.

Teaching is such a comlicated art, and I love it. Two years ago, I was granted National Board Certification in Latin for Adolescents and Young Adults--after a grueling process of portfolio work, reflection and writing (about 80 pages) and an intense exam. I am very proud of my NBCT status, but more, am grateful for the process of serious reflection on my work as a teacher that it afforded me. Every single day that I enter the classroom this dance happens involving: 1) what I know of my content area (Latin), 2) who these people are walking in the door of my room 5 times a day (and they are all different); 3) and how to connect what I know of Latin with who they are as human beings at their level of development and skill in the language. In my experience, I can never do anything twice the same way. Ever. Pedagogy (how we teach) is as important (maybe more) than what we teach. Teachers who don't understand this are very dangerous. That's not hyperbole.

Very simply, they speak to me. I am born a Druid, in that respect. There is an energy in trees, and if you stop and give a tree your attention, it will begin to speak to you not in words. Every kind of tree has its own energy, and every tree withhin its kind speaks a little differently. I don't find hugging trees all that special, but sitting with them is a special privilege.

Things Celtic:
I bleed Celtic any way you scratch me. My maternal great-grandfather was born in Ireland and his wife, my great-grandmother, in Scotland. I know less of my other great-grandparents, but they all have Welsh, Irish and German names. All Celtic. So, over the years I have followed my Celitc inclinations to read and learn of Celtic mythologies, ancient rites and customs. They speak to me, to my genes.

Things Native American
: I have it from my paternal grandmother that there is an "Indian" in the family line. Her saying that it was so only confirmed what I already resonated with in my body. The land, animals, the Native American flute (I own and play with two cedar flutes) all speak to me, to my genes.

Languages and Cultures:
I guess at this point this is redundant, but I have working knowledge of Latin, Ancient Greek, Hebrew (very rusty), and Spanish. I recently passed a proficiency in German and French, but that's only reading. I have dabbled in Sanskrit and wish some day to do an intensive with the American Sanskrit Institute. I would love to go to Ireland for a summer and do an Irish intensive there. My Latin and Spanish make reading Italian fairly easy, and this past summer I was in Italy for a month, and found myself increasingly able to understan Italian as it was spoken.

Human Body
: I spent 5 years in an active massage therapy practice. I am national board certified in Massage and Body work, and that whole experience woke me up to my body and the deep intelligence that it has. This along with Tai Chi and meditation practices of various kinds have helped me understand that "mind" exists throughout the body, and not just in my head.

4 years ago I spend a week in retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. I took the Three Jewels or refuges with him: The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, that is, the path of wisdom as embodied in the Buddha, the teaching tradition of wisdom, and the community of those who practice this wisdom. The breath, enjoying the breath, being present in the breath, right now, is the centerpiece of that for me.

These are all topics that I may write about from time to time. These are the threads of my life. There are others. Life is such an adventure and always, a path unfolding. I have learned so many times (I can be very slow) that while I may want to see where the path is leading before I take a step, what I usually get and what life usually demands of me is simply taking the next step. Now is all there is. The next step is right in front of me, and it is loaded with such beauty, such mystery. Who could ask for more?

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am so grateful for this next step.

Bob Patrick
November 23, 2006

1 comment:

Pat Barrett said...

Nice to find a blog I can check in with every day with utmost anticipation.
Felicem diem actionis gratiae (or however they would say it).
Pat Barrett