Sunday, January 08, 2017

Castles and Bothies

I like to watch Netflix while I'm cooking. At the moment I'm watching a documentary series on castles in Britain. It's a fascinating history with hints of intrigue and skullduggery.
Some of the great castles took decades to build, had new buildings, towers and turrets added on and, all told, building would be in progress for a couple of centuries.  It was the long haul. The king or prince who started the work would likely never see its end.
Jane and I have also been listening to a Dick Francis audiobook. It's set in Scotland, and the protagonist is an artist who lives in a bothy. Bothies are primitive stone shepherd's huts, often built high on the hills to offer protection when the weather turns. Bothies wouldn't take too long to build, but were built very sturdy. Centuries old bothies are currently being renovated and used as tourist getaways.
I have been struck by the comparison ... castles and bothies. Grandeur, strength, centuries in the making, and small, protection against the elements, primitive not too difficult to erect. There's something quite romantic about both types of stone dwellings. Wandering around old castle ruins, I have wondered what it must have been like to live in one. But on a cold, winter's walk in the hills, with the wind bearing down and the threat of snow, a bothy has much appeal.
Both dwellings suggest endurance, longevity, long-lastingness: Castles in the sheer number of years and quite likely millions of "man hours" to construct; bothies in their resilience against the elements over a couple hundred years.
Both dwellings speak to me about my spiritual path. I have realized that anything of deep spiritual value takes time to construct. Spirituality runs contra to the tenor of our times when we want everything more or less instantly. I've grown so used to Amazon prime—ordered one day, second day delivery—that anything over two days seems like forever. I grow impatient.
Though the verb "to endure"has negative connotations, spiritual practice does have a large endurance quality. You practice today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after, and so on. Each day of practice adds incrementally to the building. Day to day you do not see much difference. But after a year, five years, ten years, twenty years, fifty years, the building takes shape. And the building will likely not be finished in one lifetime.  Like building a castle my spiritual journey is in it for the long haul.
The bothy, as a safe haven from the elements, speaks of spirituality, too, for my spiritual practice is my bothy, my place of safety, my retreat. It's my hide out from the world. Sometimes I need that. It's not too fancy, not grand in any sense, but it's just what I need when the snow clouds threaten. I hope you have a spiritual bothy too!
+Ab. Andy

Pics; Bothy http://www.mountainbothies.org.uk/about.asp Sterling castle http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/stirling/stirlingcastle/

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The foolishness of Christmas (and Hanukkah, for that matter ...)

This year Hanukkah and Christmas fall on the same weekend. It's a rare occurrence, and Christians and Jews will light candles of hope at the same time. A foolish exercise if ever there was one! These festivals of hope occur each year in the face of difficulties, personal losses, wars, terrorism, and life's many imponderables. Yet still we celebrate.
Hope is a foolish virtue. It's not wishful thinking exactly, but more a steady confidence that things will be OK despite the evidence.
That we celebrate hopefully in the face of difficulties is not new. It has been this way since the beginning. Christmas is the story of an unmarried and outcast pregnant teenager who gave birth in a stable. (Cynics might say, "What good has ever come from that?") Her child was executed as a criminal in the prime of life, while she was still a relatively young woman. Hanukkah is the story of a rebuilding of a temple. That temple was later destroyed. Yet Christians and Jews still light candles of hope.
The Season has grown beyond its religious roots in the Christian story. The Season's non-religious accretions are many: snow, reindeer, Father Christmas (Santa Claus), music, presents, Christmas trees and anything that goes by the name "Yule." By all accounts the modern Christmas was a product of Victorian ingenuity and philanthropy, with an admixture of ancient myths, Christian and pagan. The Christmas we celebrate is a very mixed affair. No matter, it is the Season of Goodwill and we need goodwill now as much as ever.
This week saw a deluded religious fanatic drive a truck into a Berlin Christmas market, killing and injuring many. The terrorist was a Tunisian refugee, fueling further fears of Muslim immigration. He was killed after Italian police had asked to see his registration papers. He refused and a gun battle ensued. The atrocity occurred as the media were reporting that the registration of all Muslims in the United States might become policy.
Registration is  not a new phenomenon. After all, in St. Lukes' Christmas story, Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem to register for the census. Governments like to keep track of people. Registration locates you as a certain kind of person. Today the government keeps tack of us though social security numbers (try doing anything without one), through driving licenses (leave yours at home when your drive at your own risk!) and a periodic census. We learned some years ago that resident aliens in the United States by law have to carry their "Green Cards" with them at all times. We discovered this when Jane, traveling on a Greyhound Bus was threatened with arrest by an armed Homeland Security Agent. Her crime? Not carrying her Green Card. Even now, when I am flying internally in the United States I carry my US Passport. Call me paranoid, but my passport locates me as belonging here, despite my British accent and British dental work. We all learn to live with some amount of government surveillance, for good or ill. However, when one ethnicity or religion is singled out for a particular kind of profiling and registration, we ought be be worried. Such "special treatment" (I use the phrase purposefully) has a fearful history. Jewish people have faced this kind of existential threat for ever. It's time we learned from history's disastrous and inhumane mistakes. I hope that there is no Muslim register. I hope the US Constitution, Amendments and institutions will hold firm. But then, hope is a foolish virtue.
Nonetheless, this year, as every year, we shall light the Christ candle of hope. This year I shall light it in solidarity with my Jewish friends as they light the Hanukkah candle. I shall light it, too, in solidarity with my Muslim friends in the hope of a better world—one without terrorists, scapegoating of the Other, a world of loving kindness.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all!
+Ab. Andy