The Bloody Slipper: Amputitng our Toes for Redemption.

The glass slipper wouldn’t fit either of the sisters. One took a knife and cut off her big toe. The other cut off her heel. By the time Cinderella got to the shoe it must have been full of blood. These stories get bowdlerized over time. In our civilization we prefer the violence to happen offstage. We’ve also chosen, via Walt Disney, to make the step-sisters ugly and stupid.

I’ve been hanging out with the shadow side of myself a bit these past few days. It’s tricky, because that side of me isn’t full of joy. He’s tired and often depressed. The stigmata of childhood injury stand out very clearly on his body. His thoughts are often dark, and the dogs of mayhem open their eyes and regard him with interest.

But you know, he’s not he, he’s me. I still keep a certain dissociative distance by using the third person singlular, but it’s a pretty flimsy device. No matter how sharp the knife, I can’t really cut him off to make the glass slipper fit. The result is that it only appears to fit, or only fits sometimes.

I know this guy. I can deny him the right to a first person singular, and maybe that’s okay, but I don’t think he can be redeemed until I can be him. I don’t know that parts of ourselves that we disidentify with, that we lock away, ever allow for the touch of the Holy Spirit. Who are we to decide that parts of ourselves are other than God’s work? Maybe by naming them so, we hand them off to the other guy, who’s only too glad to make use of them.

But part of me thinks that just to wear the slipper for a bit is worth it. To be in that light only for a little while maybe justifies the amputation or imprisonment of that shadow self, that maybe it’s what, necessary?, inevitable? to hand him over to the other guy so I can dance with the Prince for a little while.

I know this guy. I can deny him the right to a first person singular, and maybe that’s okay, but I don’t think he can be redeemed until I can be him. I don’t know that parts of ourselves that we disidentify with, that we lock away, ever allow for the touch of the Holy Spirit. Who are we to decide that parts of ourselves are other than God’s work? Maybe by naming them so, we hand them off to the other guy, who’s only too glad to make use of them.

But part of me thinks that just to wear the slipper for a bit is worth it. To be in that light only for a little while maybe justifies the amputation or imprisonment of that shadow self, that maybe it’s what, necessary?, inevitable? to hand him over to the other guy so I can dance with the Prince for a little while.

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Venus Setting

Last night I went to take out the garbage. It was seven-thirty, and still not dark. The south-western sky was aqua and peach, a conversation for clarinet and solo voice, sweet, soft, and penetrating. I can’t see very many stars these days, and even for the brightest ones I can only catch them out of the corner of my eye. If I really want to see anything I have to look away from it, kind of like you do when you’re bird-watching and don’t want the bird to know you’re looking at it. Venus swam there in the pastel wash of light, slipping away over the shoulder of the world as it turned into darkness.

The pain and sweetness in equal part were overwhelming. I want a life where I can look at Venus head-on and see it, where I can watch the summer stars wheel, Cassiopeia and Andromeda, Perseus and the great wing of Pegasus, the ruby eye of the Scorpion. I want to light a fire beside the lake, lie on the sand, hear a loon and oh my, an owl. I want to sleep by the creek rushing down to the lake with its thousand icy voices.

I don’t dare to long for the things I long for. But I’m afraid that if I don’t, at least sometimes, cry out for freedom and push my poor atrophied wings against the bars, my heart might turn to a black stone, a black hole, an inrush of fury, a ‘no’ that would be very hard to take back.

The trouble with falling is that there’s no end to it, no point at which one hits the ground, feels for broken bones, or, more fortunate, is obliterated by the impact. The fall is forever, a fractal infinity of falling and the scary part is, once you were really falling you might not let yourself know it, carry on making tea, chatting on the phone, a brittle simulacrum, a narrative that you hold to make life manageable for your friends.

These are dangerous waters.

Spring Train: Fire and Rain.

It’s spring. Cloud, wind, flashes of sun, the snow gone, everything looking a little scruffy. It’s very dry; there’s less than half our normal snowpack in the mountains. Without a lot of rain we’re looking at a fiery summer.

At night I sit on the back steps listening to the big creek half a mile away roaring down to the lake. It’s a wonderful sound, between a rush and a roar. The Steller’s jay whose territory is outside my bedroom window has become noisy and territorial, screeching, barking, making all kinds of odd reptilian hisses and clacks, a rusty hinge turned predator.

It all feels a bit remote to me, a bit like something seen down the wrong end of a telescope. Forest fires? Maybe. Climate change? Probably. Neighbours with motorcycles and midnight barbecues and industrial-strength speakers? No doubt. But it’s all somehow over there. Seen out of a train window as I pass by.

It’s nice enough, in its way. Things fuss me so much less than they once did. Unflappable, or just old?

My life isn’t about any of these things any more. There’s a conversation going on, and at their worst these are distractions. I am experiencing my life as being held by God, released by me. I’m sure about this; sure that it isn’t just sanctimonious chit-chat. In some way I’m kind of disappearing. The personal data, not that there are, God bless us, all that many, are of such little account. I like it when I feel well and happy, but I don’t much care when I feel sick and tired. I really like it when I sleep well, but it’s not that big a deal when I don’t.

the thing that stays real, and maybe gets more real, is love. Maybe that’s because it isn’t coming from me. As my own needs, reactions, state of mind, become less important I am more able to be a proper conduit. My good qualities, the ones that come with the gene pool, of steadiness, strength, patience, and intelligence, are so easily put to use now.

Downside? I look back with grief, horror, disbelief, at the stunning and outrageous stupidities of years gone by. “We have done those things we ought not to have done, and left undone those things we ought to have done.”

Maybe it’s winter’s end in my soul as well. Dry, dusty, scruffy, inheld breath, waiting for rain, sun, even for fire, coming out of one more winter.

Pain

The question before me now is: can I use physical pain to feed the fire? Theoretically that should be an easy yes, but these theoretical constructs always look better when their practice is miles away, some interesting excrescence on the horizon, inevitable, but not very immediate.

I have a few pretty good owies right now, sufficient to keep me from sleeping. Everybody gets owies; it’s no big deal in itself, and certainly not something to get into an argument with God about. As I write this people are living, and dying, in agony, horror, and despair. And I lie in my comfy bed in my peaceful house in this sleepy little town in the mountains sleepless because I hurt.

Every morning I thank God for what the day holds, and for what the day before brought me. It seems logically inevitable that I need to be able to thank him for the pain as well as the goodies. I say, and I believe, that I live in the palm of His hand.

It doesn’t make the pain go away, or hurt less. It’s very engrossing when it comes and I don’t know if it’s possible to stand outside it and look at it objectively, see it as a large and obstreperous thing that is not me. My own way is to let go and drop into it, try to get to the centre. To pray for its removal at that point seems a distraction. While I’m in it there’s no subtext or marginalia. Just pain.

But afterwards, among the exhaustion from two nights with very little sleep, there’s an odd sense of work completed, of sprung-ness, and a nebulous, fluid kind of happiness that I think wouldn’t be there if I’d fought the pain.

The Old Catholics use to say we should offer up our pain for the holy souls in purgatory. I’m not sure about the ‘holy souls in purgatory’ part, but it does recontextualize pain as something we are doing, that has a positive value in itself.

The prayer then isn’t “Lord, take this moment away.” It’s “Lord, let this moment be of use. If each moment is a bead, and pain is a hot wire we need to insert through the heart of each moment, then let it be that one end of the string is in my hands, the other in Yours.”