Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ben Camino's Ghost Dance: Ironic All Hallows' Meditation

Ben Camino's Ghost Dance: 
Ironic All Hallows' Meditation

This universe is a horrible place. Literally the setting for a horror show of unbearable trauma. I would say unimaginable except that it is precisely in the imagination where this horror performs its most brutal, beautiful dances. This we know. This needs very little explanation. From so-called “horror” films and such to the so-called rememberings (inaccurate though they be) of things that have been and the interpretations (wild as they may be) of the split-atom of our immediacy and the visions (part brain electricity, part futile hopes, part inspired prophecy) of the future. We talk foolishly about “imaginative” people, as if they world were divided up into two kinds of people: imaginative people and non-imaginative people. In fact, the world is divided up into imaginative people and all the things that haunt us. A person is an imaginative mammal. 

Of course, it goes without saying, except in the Ben Camino universe where nothing goes without saying, that the universe is a glorious place. Literally the site of a romance of almost unbearable aching loveliness. How do we keep from breaking down in tears of wonder and gratitude every day, no, every minute of every day? Every breath we breathe, every friendly gesture, every kiss, every flash of sunlight off water, is a haunted miracle precisely because we can imagine not breathing, imagine being friendless, imagine being alone, imagine being lost in the dark. And we know, or think we know, at least in those moments, that there is a meaning (or meanings), a presence (or presences), hovering above, under, around, and within those lovely moments (which were, are, and will be in our imaginations). Willing slaves of these absent presences, we write poetry, sing songs, shape clay, scratch canvas, burn candles, and chant in their honor. As we should. 

In his essay Spectres of Marx, Derrida called “haunting the state proper to being as such." This is all a little too technical for an All Hallows’ Eve audience perhaps, but the point seems to be that “being” (and I would say, the past, present, and future of human consciousness) takes shape or becomes self-aware in relation to these ghosts, these hauntings, these absent presences. Consciousness/being is relational. But not just with the so-called living person across the office. The story that we think is the story of us is really a much larger, perhaps scarier, story. My story is for all the saints and from all the saints. And the sinners too. And the wintry drives chasing the sun I think I remember. And the places I return to, not so much to have a “fresh” experience but to soak in, brood on, be gladdened or hurt by the ghost dance always waiting for me there. 

When St. Paul was making his defense before Festus and Agrippa, as recorded in the Book of Acts, he said that he had been a fine and dandy citizen until the day he was confronted by the presence of Jesus Christ, who had been haunting him for some time. Festus interrupted him at one point to say "You crazy Paul!" Obviously, Festus thought, you are imagining things. Paul couldn’t really point to the clear evidence. He couldn’t produce the presence which he claimed he met that day. What he could do was say that if one believes in the resurrection of the dead (I realize how big an “if” that is for my Festus-like friends), the universe is a much larger, more haunted place Festus (Horatio, Hume) than you have ever imagined. And, too, there is another kind of evidence. 

That's pretty much it, dear readers. There either are or are not presences haunting us, in their absence and perhaps, sometimes, by their intervening presence on roads to (or, these days, from) Damascus. There are or are not “kindly powers silently surrounding us” as Bonhoeffer wrote from a Nazi prison. There are or are not the kind of malevolent presences Luther sang of in his “Mighty Fortress” hymn (Happy Reformation Day, heretics). What we do know is that the universe, by which I mean human consciousness, is haunted by imagined (I don’t say false) “realities” that shape us, break us, and beckon to us. 

In my own long darkness, this All Hallows’ Eve, I share with family (including those I never met), friends (including some of my dearest whom I have only known in books), monsters (of my past and of my nightmares), and the haunting presences of my saints, especially St. Mary Magdalene (patron of those who wonder and wander by the way), Mary (the mother of Jesus), and St. Joseph (her husband and my namesake) this most mysterious pilgrimage of being. And with my sister Missy, who is probably right now dressed up as a zombie. And with you folks. My fit audience though few.

You too, Festus. Yeah, I know I’m a little crazy. Why don’t you write a song about it. Or maybe a gospel. Do something worth imagining.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Ironic Ordinary Meditation #1: Ordinary Time Again

Ironic Ordinary Meditation #1: Ordinary Time Again

Yesterday we began ordinary time again.

Ordinary time again. That has a kind of ring to it. A dull ring. OK, maybe not so much a ring. Let’s say it has a kind of thud to it. Ordinary time again. THUD!

“What the heck are you talking about Ben Camino?” I hear several readers say, most of them, as usual, named Jennifer. Except my friend Jennifer who is an Episcopal priest. She knows what I’m talking about. Also, being Episcopalian, she wouldn’t say heck.

For folks who either aren’t part of a liturgical tradition or who are but like to spend their sunny summer Sundays at the lake house or at farmer’s markets or just sleeping in and binge watching True Blood, I’ll first clear up what the heck I’m talking about and then, if I get rolling, talk a LOT about it.

Yesterday, June 24th was sort of the reboot of what the traditional church (sometimes known as the Roman Catholic Church or the One True Church or Pope Francis’ Neighborhood) calls “Ordinary Time.” Even the most liturgically deprived of my readers, whether named Jennifer or Zsa Zsa or Fred,  I assume have heard of Christmas and Easter. The great feasts we call them. 

Some of you, a smaller but still substantial group, have at least some notion of what is meant by Advent and Lent, the two great fasts. You might not know that they are thought of as “fasts,” but you at least know about the universal practice throughout church history of giving up chewing gum and high-fructose corn syrup (which is in everything) for Lent (I sometimes changed that up a little as a kid and gave up Brussel sprouts).

So, the easy way to think of this is that if you are in the Advent, Christmas, Epiphany (which follows Christmas), Lent (which precedes Easter), or Easter seasons, you are NOT in Ordinary Time, no matter how boring your Christmases might have been, Jennifers.  This is one of those circumstances when the liturgy, representing something higher and loftier than dates on a calendar or even your self-esteem, says to you, “I will tell you what that day meant, regardless of how underwhelming the scene was around the table at Granny’s.” 

More recently, since Easter that is, we have celebrated a series of BIG DEAL DAYS, which get their own liturgy, their own emphasis, and sometimes their own cool little customs (although, sadly, the concept of cool little customs related to the liturgical year seems to be fading away as visits to lake houses and binge watching vampire shows increase). 

So after the seven Sundays of Easter (yes, Easter is longer than you think, dear reader), we celebrated Pentecost (40ish days after Easter), Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi (a feast begun in the Middle Ages to make a big deal of the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but also to have parades and plays and pageants and big celebrations), and . . . finally, yesterday, it was the Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time. The first chunk of Ordinary Time was way back between Epiphany and Lent. 

Since then we got into BIG DEAL TIME. But now that’s over. It’s a little more complicated than I’m making it, but I’m trying to give you a break and get to the good stuff. 

Assuming I come up with some good stuff. 

Anyway. Or anyways as Jennifer Lynne Ricke would say, thud! It’s ordinary time again. Everybody’s like lookin’ around, waiting for something cool to happen, maybe an angel of the Lord talkin’ to Mary, maybe dead people walking around alive again, gotta’ be something wild or outstanding or extraordinary or worth a present or at least a fast.

Well no. Not really. Or yes, but not that way. 

Yes, there is still bread and wine. And maybe, ancient witnesses suggest, more. And if you listen carefully to the gospel readings during Ordinary Time, you will get a big dose (maybe bigger than you want) of the teachings of Jesus, especially the ones that tell us how to live, how to love, how to be human. Sometimes they are parables, but, with a few exceptions, they aren’t nearly as hard to figure out as, say, the Book of Revelation (or the extra season of X-Files for that matter). 

One cool thing I always liked about Ordinary Time was that the liturgical color, to the degree we use a liturgical color, is green. Bright summery lively . . . green. Ordinary, everyday, natural, look-around-you (unless you live in Arizona, in which case don’t) green. The ordinary. Maybe the beautiful ordinary which we lost sight of even though it was right under our noses. Maybe nothing golden, but then, as we know, nothing gold can stay.

Ordinary Time, like the teachings of Jesus, which were, for the most part, less other-worldly than that of the other-worldly preachers who have followed Him. Don’t resent your broken brother; welcome him back. Take care of that guy who fell among thieves, even though the religious leaders don’t. Take it easy Martha; come out and sit and relax and talk with us. We’re talking about forgiveness and stuff. Quit praying so loud in public. Quit giving so . . . loud in public. And so on.

Ordinary time sounds easy. But it isn’t really. For example, the local church, even the one in New York or Paris, isn’t renting a camel for a big pageant on the Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. The choir may even take a few weeks off (you guessed it, to go to their lake houses). There may be babies but they won’t be Jesus and they won’t be nearly as tender and mild as the one in the songs of Christmas. There will be wise men, but unfortunately for you, they will all be called Ben Camino.

The “strong liturgy” of the feasts and fasts grabs us and makes it difficult (though not impossible, obviously) for us to wander too far off from the message. We know where we are (Third Sunday of Advent--check, The Baptism of Our Lord--check, Holy Thursday--check, etc.). And, if you're like me, you hope (and maybe worry) that it’s all really making some difference in what we like to call “reality."

But the softer liturgy (my phrase, like it?) of Ordinary Time calls us to attention, calls us to attend, in another way, a more subtle way. Instead of placing us in the larger story quite so specifically, perhaps Ordinary Time asks us to find the story in our specific situation. Child-rearing, friendship, working in the garden or on the assembly line, toast, making love, breaking up, arguing, settling (or not) a dispute, cleaning house, driving down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a relationship with a brother, fishing, swimming, dealing with depression (ours or someone else’s), welcoming (or not) a refugee—these and many other actions make up the gospel story of Ordinary Time. It’s one that may become extra-ordinary, perhaps. Or not

Or maybe it’s not so important whether ordinary time becomes extra-ordinary. Perhaps that is the point. The ordinary is not necessarily less worthy, less valuable. It just might be less interesting or less spectacular. Less “extra.” And it would be a shame for us to mix up those categories (though we often do). 

Don’t neglect your babies, even though they aren’t born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger. Don’t neglect repentance even though nobody is putting ashes on your head.Take care of that person you wronged, although nobody else is watching, nobody else will know.

Bless the ordinary. Bless the weeds you just pulled. The water you just poured. The prose you just wrote. The lips you just kissed. The tears you just cried. The emptiness you just felt. The meal you just ate. The moon and stars you looked up to see while walking the dog. Oh, and don’t forget the dog. The life you just lived. The child you just burped. The candle you just lit. Or blew out. The flowers on your table, in your garden, pressed in your book, or growing out by your lake house.

The ironic church of an ironic God says, come, let us celebrate ordinary time. It’s no big deal. It’s just everything. Everything.

It’s ordinary time again.

Glory be to the Lord of the ordinary. The everyday. The good old green. The under-our-noses everything which, altared (my word, like it?), becomes the sweet stuff of the kingdom of heaven.

Feel free to share your ordinary time with the rest of us in the comments section. 


Friday, January 6, 2017



I'm not in the mood to sympathize with the three Magi(c) Kings about their journey, at least not about the weather. T. S. Eliot forced “a cold coming we had of it” into their mouths, but, truth be told, he swiped that from a sermon preached by Lancelot Andrewes before King James on Christmas Day 1622. At least, Andrewes had the decency to put it in the third person: "a cold coming they had of it." 

But, really, how cold could it have been, unless the three kings were coming from Kazakhstan or somewhere? Check the map (I did). Furthermore, it’s colder here this Epiphany in Indiana than it ever was there. Heck, it’s colder in Atlanta and Alabama. I know. I mean, I saw a picture of a friend from Alabama wearing a scarf today, and you don’t really get that a lot down there in my experience. I got chased out of Texas for wearing scarves, so you can trust me. Well, trust me about it being cold. Maybe not much else. 

Anyway, or anyways as Jennifer Lynne Ricke would say, this is it. We have made it through Advent and Christmas. Unless you are really liturgical (why you lookin' at me?) and then you get to celebrate Epiphany (which is at least Christmas-y) for another four weeks. But I'm not planning on boring you with meditations for every day of the Epiphany season, although there is no good reason I shouldn't just send you a little liturgical "poke" every once in a while is there? Seriously, I promise that I have never sent anyone a poke. 

Thank you to my readers who have done parts of this journey with me. I apologize (not really) for being so "contra" everything, including my own ideas, but that's the way this little thing called interpreting reality works for me. Today we celebrate the coming, more specifically, the arrival of the three kings or the three wise men or, as I like to call them, the three magi(c) men who finally got their "epiphany," their revelation. 

We always tend to think of epiphany as something that we "have" or "experience" (as in, whoa Missy, I had an epiphany last night on those pain killers--ask my sister about this one) but, in another way, it's something we are given. It is a manifestation. Something or someone that in and of itself is epiphanous (shiny, resplendent, superamazinglysignificant) which we are privileged to witness or experience. It is a manifestation. We can look or not look. And, in the normal way we use the word epiphany, that experience creates a new normal. We are changed. 

When you put it that way, and I should know because I just did, a lot of our epiphanies really aren't. Like almost all of the ones that Mr. Jerry Egan told me I was supposed to be having reading A Separate Peace back in first form English at St. Anthony's Catholic in San Antonio. I mean, it changed me and all, but only by convincing me that I never wanted to read another novel by John Knowles. 

And so on and so on and so on. "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive": that's how Wordsworth described the epiphanic moment when, he thought, he was witnessing a change in human consciousness for the better, that is, the French Revolution. Turns out, it wasn't. There was a new normal, however. It was called the guillotine. 

We could all swap stories about our own many false epiphanies. But that might be boring. And I'm sure it would be depressing. 

But THE Epiphany, the manifestation of the Divine Power of Justice and Love in human form, the promise of divine connection not by national or racial privelege (the three magic dudes being not part of the people formerly known as  chosen), that was a gift. 

Of course, we always make a big deal of  the gifts given by the kings. So, today, or maybe just on Christmas, in many parts of the world we give gifts (at least to some degree in remembrance of their giving). The actual Epiphany, though, was a gift to them, and through them, to all the people of the world. 

Heavy stuff. Hard to believe? Sure. I won't argue with that. I'm just trying to suggest that it's a little more radical than we usually are led to think. Certainly had the powers that be, represented by Herod, pretty worried. More specifically, it located the center of power in Judea and even the universe (according to the legend) in a poor child of a poor laborer's family in what looked like a relatively insignificant place. 

Well, so be it. I'm on record as liking this story. And trying my best to live like I believe it, which I do, except when I don't

But forget the belief part for a moment. I want to talk about what it might look like to "live like I (you, we) believe it." The usual approach (and it's a good one) is to talk about gift giving and think about we can share gifts with others. Perhaps think about how we can use our gifts (especially all our myrrh?) for the sake of God and goodness. Good, good, All good. Or as my students say. Nice. Nice. 

Instead, though, I want to think for a just a moment (hahahahahahaha, you never think for just a moment, Jennifer Woodruff Tait just mumbled--speak up Jennifer, I can't hear you) about a life lived epiphanously. 

Because of the double connotations of the word (as I mentioned before), that can mean a couple of different things. It might mean to live our lives as a manifestation, a revelation, a shining light of somethingorotherness, to which others have the opportunity to witness (if they open their eyes, take off their blinders, tune their antennae, and aren't afraid to cry and moan). 

I love that idea. I more than love it. I lurve it (my annual not-quite-random Annie Hall reference). And I want to do that. And I want to be that kind of person. And yet, I can't imagine how one would consciously strive for that and be that without being a pompous religious ass. I am now manifesting. OK, shining my light of otherness ya'll, ready? 

Anyway(s), I still love the idea, but it's not immediately apparent to me how to go about it. And  I'm prone to skepticism about supposed methods I can follow to make it happen. Especially the ideas of spiritual directors who want to direct my spirit when I'm not sure I even have one or want to have one. Except for Tara Owens, she gets me.

That's alright, because there is still the second kind of epiphanous living, and, this one takes us back to the three . . . whatever they were. They may not have been kings, they may not have been cold, and they may not really have been magi(c). But they were, I think, living epiphanously. 

They saw. They witnessed. They experienced. Something happened. Their lives were knocked blessedly off-kilter because they opened their eyes, they went out of their way (so to speak) to see the wonder, the vision, the poor mother who was the queen of heaven, the child who was the prince of peace. 

We might say, well of course they saw it. No credit to them. If God reveals, puny mortals can't help but witness. If the Epiphany itself was the real gift, then they were just passive gift recipients. Well, I don't know where you were on Christmas morning, but I'm not even sure I know what a passive gift recipient is. And I'm sure I wouldn't like him if I did. 

I got a gift for Christmas that was a wonder in the good old sense of the word. It killed. I loved it. No, love is too weak a word for that. I lurved it. And, guess what? It didn't really cost that much. I know exactly how much it cost, because I went out and bought four of them for other people. But it was more than the elements of which it was elemented, or, perhaps more accurately,  the elements carried a charge of love (of grace?) making them superamazinglysignificant. 

On the day after Christmas, my long-lost cousin brought out an old New Testament from her bag. It was beat up, tattered, nothing special. Except that it had been carried by her father (whom she never met) when he was a soldier in Vietnam. This was as precious to her as a piece of the so-called true cross. We all felt it. No, I mean literally, we all reached out our hands and felt it. Touched it. Through her eyes, perhaps, saw beyond the gift of the Gideon's once upon a time to a much greater gift. 

I gently mocked Wordsworth earlier for being taken in (my interpretation anyway) by the big exciting buzz of the French Revolution. That's more an anomaly for him though.  In fact, I would probably propose William and his sister Dorothy as being two candidates for my all-epiphanous team. Eyes open, probing the given gift of the world, journeying up and down (OK, I'm sure it was cold some of the time) . . . for what? For the revelations, the manifestations, the showings (to use Julian of Norwich's word) of the resplendence. What Gerard Manley Hopkins called "God's Grandeur" by which the world is "charged." 

I work with someone who shines. Oh no, she doesn't know it or think so, and if she did, she'd fall into the trap I talked about with the first way of living epiphanously.  But, I witness, I experience, sometimes I marvel. I suppose I could just say that she's a good egg (who really says that anyway?). But living epiphanously, I receive her everyday life, to some degree at least, as a gift. I'm not willing or at least desiring to let my way of knowing her or, for that matter, anything else sink back into the blah blah blah of the everyday. This is, she is,  an epiphany. If I keep on opening my eyes. And wondering as I wander. Or is it the other way around?

When I was "home," by which of course I mean in Texas, over Christmas, I had the great pleasure of visiting a sort of retirement home for priests of the Oblate order, some of whom had been my teachers at St. Anthony.  

One of them, Father Walker, was, as much as anyone was, a mentor to me in the high school years. He saw something in me, I forget now what it was, that motivated him to enter me in some kind of "oratory" contest (I gave a speech). I won second place in San Antonio or something. I don't know, I still have the trophy. I was fifteen. 

He also taught me about liturgy. That's fitting, since this is about Epiphany. I don't think really he was that much of expert as such. He just was asked to teach it. I suppose I was one of the few students who really liked it. LITURGY ROCKS. Remember that t-shirt I had? I was fascinated by the modes of worship in the early church and how they had morphed into the modern liturgy which was continuing to morph even as he taught.  I reminded him of that the other day. he smiled. It's not a big smile. You have to look closely to see that it's really a smile. He hadn't changed a bit, except for some of the normal signs of aging.

But the arc of his life certainly had changed a few years after I left the school. He was sent (in an order, you don't "take a position," you "get sent") to Zambia as a missionary priest. He had been a pastor of a church, had built several churches (not just buildings; he was church planting as they say). And he had been in charge of vocation discernment and formation for the students considering the priesthood ministry. 

We talked about other things. What he was reading, for one thing (detective fiction, he said; but he had also just finished re-reading Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, which made me very happy since I had first read it when I was 15 at St. Anthony). We talked about politics. He was much less conservative than I remember. I asked if he had any family. He said no, and then spoke of his "son," a Zambian young man infected with H.I.V. whom Father Walker had adopted in order to care for him before he died.   

Ron Walker. Just another retiree from the Detroit area (why is nobody every just from Detroit or Chicago?) who was once just another Catholic kid from the Detroit area. One who had, perhaps, journeyed far in search of a big epiphany. Perhaps. Or perhaps he was the epiphany. Perhaps, he was the gift. 

Nothing in the room was literally shining. And, sorry to say, it smelled a little . . . like what you'd expect from a nursing facility. Yet I was whopped up side the head, knocked off kilter, plowed up in my already raw guts, by this good, ordinary, hard-working man, who had given some really good years of his life to me and some of my dearest lifelong friends. And given 31 more to Zambia. 

And to the queen of heaven. And the prince of peace. 

Today is Epiphany. Anglicans will be outlandish about celebrating Epiphany all the way until February 2. Good for them. I'm no longer Anglican, but I crave more epiphany, anytime and anywhere I can get it. Once I attended St. Thomas Episcopal on 5th Avenue in New York City on the final Sunday of Epiphany. You would have thought "the holiday season" had never ended. Well, truthfully, I remember thinking that it felt like the Ringling Brothers Circus was in town. Those high-church Episcopalians. They kill me. But, that's OK too. 

For me, Sunday will be the big celebration of the feast of Epiphany. And Monday will be the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus (another pretty big epiphany). Then it will be on to what the church calls "Ordinary Time." I don't like that. But I don't make the rules. Someday when I'm Pope, or when I finally get that audience with Pope Francis and give him all my ideas, you'll see some some big changes around here. Ben Camino has his finger on the pulse of . . . something or other.

Still, having four more Sundays isn't enough anyway. The secret (OK I don't like secrets), the mystery (ooh, I love mysteries, especially the ironic connotations the word stirs up) is how to live epiphanously all through ordinary time, mundane time, dismal time, dark time, depressed time . . . my time. 

Jumping around the house, belting out random karaoke songs with your roomies? That might work. Especially if it's understood, as Gerard Manley Hopkins and maybe even Dorothy Wordsworth might understand it, as a human light shining in the darkness, an electric charge in a too-dull world, a community of saints not ready to be frozen out by the big big chill that surrounds us. 

We are having a cold coming and going of it right now. Check the weather report, y'all. The wise men? I'm not impressed by that. 

But I love, no love is too weak a word for that, I lurve their rather wild, counter-cultural, radical, wide-eyed journey to the wonder. They found it, and "it was (you may say) satisfactory." Oh wait, that's Eliot's lame-ass version. They found it, and it was (you may say) mind-blowing. Partly because of what was revealed, what was manifested. But partly because of their openness, their out-of-the-ordinary pilgrimage, their commitment to the discipline of living epiphanously. 

That's my New Year's thing. That's my Epiphany Gift. That's my new motto. That's the  name of my next album. That's my next t-shirt. That's ©Ben Camino Ltd., International, All Rights Reserved, I will sue your pants off if you even think of whispering "living epiphanously" without my permission. 

Oh, and God bless.  

****Final Note

Ben Camino wants to thanks his readers and his especially his guest writers for being part of this Advent and Christmas journey. Due to some travel and some exhaustion, the complete "Joys of Christmas" series is still unfinished. He hopes eventually to finish it and have it available as a complete set (on the blog or in print).