A hundred blessings to you and to all those who had a hand in your making! My gratitude to you and them for coming here and for reading these words.
Welcoming What We Have
While you read what I’ve offered here, please notice the parts of you that think some version of: “this is too much”, “I’m not that intellectual”, “I’m not that creative”, or some other way pressure will be created for you to avoid coming to our gathering because whatever you’ve got to offer is not welcome. I’m asking you to cultivate welcoming what you have and bringing that with you when we gather.
Your showing up will give my own struggles a bit more ability to show up as well.
An Unlikely Project
There is a many-year history that lives between me finding the book we are about to read and you reading these words here. In that time that lived in the gap, I fell in love with the long life, that like a seed was buried in the heart of the words of this Story, words that were planted so long ago by our indigenous ancestors and have been tended and cultivated and replanted by so many before somehow planting themselves into Martín Prechtel who wrote them down so that we, too, might fall in love with them, jump up, and live again. As he says in his Preface:
“And then there are those puzzling human wonders who, in this age of numbing sarcasm, still read my books. For my readers don’t read books to escape or to feel better, or for travelogues, or to become “initiated”; they read my books for the same reason I write them: because they are in love with what I’m in love with and by reading them we sit side by side, both of us looking out past the world’s insanity in hopes of somewhere growing ourselves into roses to feed the hummingbirds of the Holy in Nature.”
The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic sat on the table beside my bed for almost three years. I would see it every night as I went to lie down for sleep. Some nights it would call to me and I would read, enthralled, maybe 3 paragraphs, maybe 3 pages (sometimes Martín’s paragraphs take a page each!!). Other nights I would reach for it, habitually, and it would sit in my hands, unopened. In this way the Story slowly unfolded before me. Then there was “The Dry Time” – when it wouldn’t let me pick it up for many, many months – then, suddenly, the heart of the Story opened up to me and I read meticulously to the end, my heartbreak growing more profound each day as the number of pages and words still unread dwindled and disappeared. Those pages revealed a world I could not have known that I longed for, a world I wish all of us to be able to touch and hold alive together.
This project is my best effort so far to live my life in a Storied way and by sharing that with you we might all jump up and live again.
For each session I’ll offer a set of readings for us to engage with alongside one another to help inspire our wonderings. The major weight of those will be from The Unlikely Peace but I intend to include other optional readings that I think complement what the Story is offering us.
The Unlikely Peace
For our first gathering I’m asking everyone to allow Martín himself to read to you (listen to him narrate the audiobook). Let him read to that part of your soul that your old time indigenous ancestors who dreamt you into being still sing to. Words are living, breathing, pulsing and alive and Martín as an author and storyteller lives that understanding. As he writes in the Preface, “… for all the beauty I stood for and spoke came from cultures where the grandest of all comprehensions were never, ever, written and only transmitted in osmotic whispers inside the context of hands-on ritual. To write them was to freeze and kill the “germ” of the seed of the knowledge.” There is an eloquence in his words that has the power to re-animate. This is especially true in the readings I’m suggesting for our first gathering.
My suggestion for all of us is that we cultivate a capacity to listen for responses from the more-than-human world. This means that we create spaces before we embark on activities and spaces between activities and we use those spaces to listen for guidance. So before going into each of these 5 distinct pieces of reading I’ve suggested for our gathering, take a moment to bring your attention to the Story and offer it and the Author your gratitude and listen for a response that could mean “not now, it’s not the time” and if you get that response come back to it later. If you get a different response then proceed. This is a kind of discipline that were we to take upon ourselves would begin to feed the more-than-human world with the gift of our focused, reverent attention.
- Listen to his two Dedications (which I’ve combined into one in the audiobook) (about 1:30)
- Next listen to the Preface where he describes the context of the Story. (about 15:00)
- Then (in a strange twist) I’m suggesting you jump to the end of the book and listen to his New Words and Redefined Words as Understood in this Book. These give a sense of the arc and grand scope of what is in store for us. (about 25:00)
- Then I suggest you come back and listen to A Note on Writing with Native Words which begins to anchor us in time and place – something required for indigenously understanding the journey we will embark on – (and maybe like me you will fall in love with the story of how Latin American Spanish got the ‘X’) (about 10:00)
- Then, finally, the path has been made to begin the main Story: Part I, Chapter 1 – Always a Place at the Table, which is the overture to the Story that lies ahead of us and wonders aloud about becoming “ancestors worth descending from and possibly grow a place of hope for a time beyond our own.” (about 22:00)
All told I’m suggesting around 1:15:00 of listening for this gathering.
For this week, I am suggesting to focus on the listening to Martín reading to us from The Unlikely Peace.
One of the descriptions of “work” that has been significant to my understanding of what it means to be a human being is “that thing we are least inclined to do” – not that we are lazy but that for each of us work will look very different – it will be that thing that requires us to most turn against the pull of gravity, comfort, and familiarity. Each gathering I intend to lay an invitation to join me in some aspect of the work of culture-making. For our initial gathering, it is a call to pull against our habitual pull to rush into something, to get as much as we can, to do it as soon as we can, to digest or devour it. Instead, I am asking us to turn to creating a place in our days into which the Story can appear.
Cultivating the Capacity to Have Story in Our Midst
As we begin the task of yoking ourselves to the great Story that is The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic, learning to approach such a vibrant, multivalent force of nature like this Story is the foremost task I’m suggesting. The English language is deeply hostile to anything that refuses to quietly conform to the insistence of neatly being either this or that. We have been deeply schooled in binary oppositional thinking. What is needed is for us to cultivate a capacity to be ambi-valent – refusing to collapse into the world of “either / or” instead embracing “both / and”. Wendell Berry practices this kind of radical spell-breaking for us in How to be a poet: “There are no unsacred places / there are only sacred places / and desecrated places.”
Nor is The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic simply dead writing on a page that we can pick up, read, and put down whenever and however it suits us. It is alive and vibrant. As Martín writes in the Preface: “One did not write about a horse; one wrote a horse into view, and then as the horse charged off the page into the grassy pastures of the reader’s soul, one had to stand back, make room, or be trampled.” And just so, the Story requires of us a degree of courtship before some of its inner depths will reveal themselves.
So in this time before our first gathering, set yourself the task to learn the way of this Story. Perhaps you might set aside a portion of your food at meals to feed the Story, the Author, and all who had a hand in his coming into this world. What delicious words of praise for the Story and the Author could you speak before and after reading? This is my invitation to all of us to practice a reversal, to change the language we use around Learning to perpetuates our being on the take: instead of trying to digest the book, allow the book to digest you, let it process you, let it work on you, take you in. Instead of trying to understand it, for a moment stand under it. Maybe with enough patience and care we might find ourselves approaching the Story with the same reverence and humility that we would a wild deer in the forest
Our Gathering – Waxing Half-Moon
I will post a zoom link for the call on our WhatsApp group.
I’m inviting you to join me in an experiment for creating a different Zoom experience – thank you ahead of time for your willingness to participate in the experiment – and the possibility of getting it wrong – and for learning. I am cultivating ways that cut across our consumer culture habits of wanting what we want and instead craft ways to give back to the Story that has fed us. I am also cultivating a place for Mystery to have a voice in the gatherings – so as much as I am able there will be no script and no audience – we will all be participants and practitioners.
For the Waning Half-Moon Gatherings, (so not this gathering but our next gathering and every other gathering after that one) I am intending to host a more familiar conversational or discussion kind of gathering.
For the Waxing Half-Moon Gatherings (i.e. this week), I am inviting us to gather in a less familiar kind of online circle – a circle of council that has a talking stick – there will be rounds with a focus topic or question that we will be invited to speak to, someone will start, we will go around and when the talking stick arrives you can share and then pass or simply pass. We will have time for multiple rounds.
Please be ready 10 minutes before the call begins and prepare yourself to meet us. Perhaps lighting a candle or a fire. Perhaps pour a bowl of water into which you place dried flower petals. Perhaps sitting outside listening to the voices of your ancestors in the wind as it moves through the branches. Perhaps petting the cat on your lap. Perhaps none of this and simply taking whatever time you are given to remember us remembering you as we meet.
If it helps you cultivate a slowing down and opening up, I’ve written a short guided meditation and made a recording of it. In the meditation I mention a woman, Born on the Way to Blue Lake. She is a native woman I had the good fortune to meet who was from Taos Pueblo. She told me the story of how she was born and how she got her name. I share that now with you.