Saturday, June 6, 2015

Cape Cod Contemplations

Dear Readers,

It has been four months since I have had the time and energy to write in this blog. The spring semester was an insanely busy time for me. First of all, in addition to my busy teaching schedule at my NY state college, I also took advantage of an opportunity to teach a Religious Studies course one evening a week at another college in a different state, which required nearly 4 hours drive each way and an overnight stay--quite exhausting physically even if delightfully refreshing and stimulating intellectually. Then I also got involved in protesting a frack-related power plant that is on the road to being built in my corner of New York. It will provide few benefits to people in my area, but many harms, from air and water pollution to destruction of historical heritage sites, landscape and environment, all the while posing a constant risk of explosion from large tanks of chemicals that the plant will need in order to function. Resisting this petrochemical juggernaut has been a terrible uphill struggle, and a real education for me in seeing how hard it is to stop something like this when big money is involved, big corporations are pushing the thing forward, and the public is too apathetic, ill-informed or simply stupid to resist. On top of that, I organized a trip to Lithuania and Latvia that required much more attention that I expected, with constant uncertainty about size of group and cost of travel that made the whole thing very difficult and stressful. In the end, the trip did take place in May and went fairly well...but afterwards I was about ready to collapse, and so here I am.

I am visiting Cape Cod over this long June weekend, a place I have vacationed in since childhood, first with family in my youth and teens, then with friends and girlfriends in my twenties and thirties, then on a farewell trip with my mother as she was dying in my forties, and more recently by myself. This place has always been a refuge to me across many years and relationships and all the inevitable ups and downs of one man's life. Over-built and over-commercialized as some of the Cape may be, there remains a magical combination of natural beauty and Old New England charm that touches something deep inside of me. Route 6A...Sandy Neck Beach and Barnstable Village...Wellfleet, Truro, Provincetown....these are my touchstones, my old friends who greet me with a warm and silent smile that I prefer to many conversations each time I come. I used to enjoy long walks on the beach to feel the sand beneath my feet, looking to one side to see scrubby pines beyond the sand dunes, while on the other side beckoned the endlessly crashing, draining and replenishing ocean, but on this trip, I find my old bones too tired to do very much walking. Instead I have enjoyed sitting in a chair on the sand and watching the waves dance back and forth on the shore, while I read a book or write in my journal or watch the gulls circling the water, the people strolling by, or the seals popping up out of the waves. When not on the beach, driving or walking around towns from Barnstable to Provincetown and seeing the weathered old traditional grey shingle houses, the old fences and trees all likewise provides a welcome balm to my weary and worn-down little self. The combination of the natural and the old....that's what does it.

The reason I find this worth sharing in this blog is that I see the same set of factors at work in the appeal of Modern Paganism. Gods of nature, rites of old. Nothing manufactured or marketed, owned, operated or controlled by a corporation. Ritual behavior with no obvious economic value, simply because it feels good to honor that which cannot be bought in Walmart or sold on Wall Street. Our modern life is so frantic with buying and selling and consumption that the whole "business" of living becomes more and more frantic and stressful, as we dance to a consumerist tune that grows ever more hectic and hollow. In a similar way, Paganism allows us to get at least a temporary break from the mindless rush into a mechanized, robotically efficient and number-driven future that the masters of technology are insisting is the only possible reality for the human race. With Paganism, we touch other notes in the symphony of the universe, we look backwards as well as forwards, and we embrace what we feel to be eternal rather than the latest mass-marketed trend. We turn off You Tube and the boob tube, disable the chatter of endless advertising, reject the frantic claims and sly seductions of the New... and seek refuge in the Old, like a gull diving into seawater without relying on GPS or a beach plum blossoming on a sand dune without permission from Microsoft or Monsanto.

The tree grows as trees have done forever, the tree is real as trees have been forever, and so we hold the tree sacred. The sand dissolves and returns as the shoreline sings and dances and sky and sea rejoice. This is our religion. This is our truth. This is our Paganism: a search for fundamentals beyond the buzz and chatter of modern distractions.

Thank you, Cape Cod, for this chance to reconnect on many the ocean of eternity, riding waves of memory, knowing that the seemingly random order of stones on the beach is the truth beyond our arrogance.

To my late mother, you were right, this place indeed has magic.

To the gods that whisper in the trees and illuminate the silence, I hear you and I breathe you.

May all be well....even if we cannot see the way, may there be a way to follow.

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