Gathering 2 – Creating a Place at the Table for Grief

The Earthquake

The first deliciousness of how Martín Prechtel writes is how thoroughly animistic and re-animating it is – he writes in a manner that by reading his words we give life to things which English had previously ‘objectified’ into inanimacy. For example in English it feels wrong to say “the tree who stands in my front yard” – instead we are required to deanimate (to take away the ‘animus‘ or spirit) trees by turning to them into ‘things’ – “the tree that stands…” On top of that, we can only talk ‘about’ them (in the third person using ‘it’ and not s/he) instead of talking ‘to’ them (second person). Reading Martín breathes life back into the living world we have been taught to ignore – it re-inspires them, re-breathes them, or re-spirits them. Spell-breaking by another name.

One aspect of Martín Prechtel’s writing that I deeply admire but took me a long time before I noticed was the intricacy of his chapter titles. I would often read the title and wonder what could it possibly mean and where would the chapter take me. Often by the end of the chapter I would be so deeply wound into the depths of the Story I would have forgotten what the title was and go back and laugh a knowing kind of laugh when I re-read it. Like the Story he is writing his titles are multivalent, holding the capacity to take us in many directions and like Schroedinger’s Cat it seems they don’t decide which direction until we open the lid of the box or turn the page of the Story.

A third praise of how Martín uses English is writing that exposes English’s hostility to being in more than one time simultaneously. Because it was born of a monotheistic time, English is deeply hostile to multivalent thinking that we could be here and now and there and then simultaneously. The indigenous languages of the Guatemala Highland Mayan’s has no such challenge. Martín’s use of words like ‘a beginings‘ to refuse to bend his knee to the insistence that “there can be only one” is another example. In these next chapters we begin a journey that will take us forward many chapters and through many times – it can be disorienting to be standing here in a future reading the story about the past events where Martín’s teacher, old Chiviliu, is telling him about the very time we are standing in now looking back at him telling us! Alden Nowlan’s poem “Exchange of Gifts” also uses English to do this same act of spellbreaking:

As long as you read this poem
I will be writing it.
I am writing it here and now,
before your eyes,
although you can’t see me.
Perhaps you’ll dismiss this
as a verbal trick,
the joke is you’re wrong;
the real trick
is your pretending
this is something
fixed and solid,
external to us both.
I tell you better:
I will keep on
writing this poem for you
even after I’m dead.

—Alden Nowlan, “An Exchange of Gifts”


The Unlikely Peace

This week I’m suggesting that we read the rest of Part I: Chapter 2 – “Star Arches, the Lurching Earth, and the Seed-eyed God” and Chapter 3 – “The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic”.

Other readings

Since so much of the work we will engage with together is cultivating our capacity for Grief to be in our midst, I’m offering a short piece from Martín’s book The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise to help guide our understanding of how Grief appears in our midst. To see more of this book as well as the audiobook version with Martín narrating, go here.

Our Work

The work that we began in our first gathering, cultivating the capacity to have Story in our midst, must continue. In addition to that work that you’ve already started, in this gathering we are offered a chance for to begin recognizing some of the deep Grief woven into the fabric of things and to begin to recognize the centrality that the skill of brokenheartedness holds in the indigenous understanding of being human.

Creating a Place at the Table for Grief

Among the most important jobs we have in this project will be recognizing all the moments of shame and guilt and loss and anger and sadness and boredom that show up. Both while reading my writings here but also during the readings from Martín. They could show up in so many ways. These could easily tip us into grievance and the thinking that what is happening is all wrong and shouldn’t be this way. Our job, as I see it, is to learn to metabolize all of this into “a grief of recognition of our lost directions” so that it to become “spiritual compost that allows us to learn to stay put without outrunning our strange past, and get small, unarmed, brave, and beautiful”.

So whenever you find yourself falling towards grievance – remember if you can me telling you this would happen and remember if you can to take a deep breath and give yourself a moment to metabolize that grievance into grief of our lost ways and add that into our collective compost pile of cultural grief we are all tending in the heart of our village.

Our Gathering- Waning Half-Moon

This gathering I’m asking us to bundle together the experiences and the wonderings that we’ve collected during our time so far in the presence of the Story and bring them with us to the story fire where we can sit together and share what we’ve heard, seen, done, and thought about for a collective wondering. The Waning Half-Moon Gatherings will be a more familiar, discussion-oriented, conversational gathering.

As the time for the gathering approaches, I’ll repost the Zoom link in our WhatsApp channel.