Monday, May 02, 2011

On the Eastern Front

Appendages of light traced lines along windswept acres of dune grass and reeds as a golden sun gently kissed the rippling sands of a lonesome beach on a sheltered cove. I sat on a lounge chair beneath the wooden awning and awaited sweet creamed coffee. An ancient fortune-teller approached and taking the seat beside me lifted her head to look into my eyes. The last cool blast of winter blew snow from the mountaintops and as a glowing shaft of morning sunshine pierced the shuttered blinds she pulled a fraying shawl around her shoulders, gripped my palm and sighed.

I read her thoughts as she examined my life through the touch of a delicate finger, criss-crossed paths and parallel creases that told her much about the past and so little of future events. I couldn’t give her the answers she sought, for whose life is truly in their hands? Are not mystics dressed in rags that offer us kingdoms at the drop of a hat simply another aspect of fairy tales, invented to amuse and teach? For the drop of a coin and a simple coincidental phrase, who would wish to see what is to be, or not to be?

What is past is history and what is yet to be is a mystery. Holidays come and go and while the rock was symbolically rolled away yet again, no trumpets blew announcement of a new dawn of transformation. Though even the least faithful painted eggs, lit candles and celebrated rebirth in the season that reminds us of the ambiguity in childhood stories, no revelation of heavenly kingdoms was unveiled. Here in the East the festivities, though familiar, are distinctive, and I was at least able to participate in an allegorical renaissance.

The streets were alive with bands and military parades, processions of icons through the older parts of the walled town and hundreds of devoted followers carrying candles and roses in sacramental tribute to the occasion.

Even the alleys had been washed with rose water on Good Friday in anticipation of the midnight pageant, and at least the scent was divine. In a holdover from the carnival that historically marks the end of the Lenten fast, onlookers threw lemon tree petals from balconies while children danced in traditional costume and a dozen priests carried crucifixes and paintings of saints through the tightly packed alleys that weave like a web through the old Venetian city.

Following the march past each church in the walled town, around the dockyards – an homage to its seafaring past, and the obligatory return to the central cathedral, everyone dispersed to restaurants and cafes around the harbour to dine on seafood and drink spirits in a toast to the day’s events. Lanterns were lit and music played as the celebrants danced the night away.

Local bistros came alive with joyful singing and even though there was another day of festivities before the resurrection was officially declared, the party had already started. My friend handed me a glass on arrival and with a shrug of one shoulder said with subtle French inflection, “hey, why not, it’s Easter.” And so the King would arise in true style.

Future kings and queens of many nations were out and about in a spectacular display of force in the UK this past week also as the ‘royal family’ held another of its ostentatious events designed to lighten the mood of perpetual world crisis and raise the British profile with global traders of retail and finance – oh yes, many millions will flow into the coffers as a result of this majestic fa├žade, an exchange for the small price of a luxurious fantasy for a select few – and just in time for Christmas babies too. As wannabe celebrities bemoaned their lack of invite those with units secure in the stocks waved ceremoniously from regal carriages on the way to disco in the throne room after a family function of six hundred odd close friends shared bubbly and nibbles of the highest quality.

Tradition is wonderful when function serves interests of the age, the continuity of shared belief, and those whose vision of a moral system of political stratagem (at least on the surface) provide stability through times of crisis. However, those clinging to established structures for the sake of wielding rule must eventually loosen their grasp to allow a real meritocracy to flourish. Though a photo released by ‘the palace’ of the happy couple surrounded by a group of children is noteworthy by its implicit hint at a next wave of royalty waiting to come out. With all their privilege will they have the strength of character to make a positive difference to this world?

Whether the new generation of royals has a notion of the depth of significance their role assumes is yet to be seen. Only time will tell if those sacred vows exchanged ‘in the sight of God’ have meaning to followers obsessed with celebrity fashion. The media as information machine relegates experience quickly to the historic past as it lurches from one global catastrophe to the next, alienating us from the emotions that human interaction assume. We have become integrated as part of the machine and the machine never stops.

How long this public fascination with the pomp of ceremony lasts is a question for the future, and how long people will be entranced by the spectacle of new love is undetermined. We must reach out to others and remember that love is not a device to be reified along with social norms of care and comfort. Will these sovereign dignitaries reach for a significance beyond the pop-star image that fuels so much of today's culture, or be enamoured by the presence of their own importance as icons in the star-studded magazines read by an increasingly anaesthetised populous.

As the newlyweds drove off in the ethanol-converted sports car we could only wonder if their sanctification in the eyes of the world will usher in a new dawn of environmental and humanitarian compassion, a vision of an integral spirituality bolstered by the words of their sermon, or tighten and secure the partition that leaves some hungry while others seek equality with a passion for justice.

Dostoyevsky wrote a fine story within a story in The Brothers Karamazov about a character named ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ (such an impressive tale that Orhan Pamuk retells it as ‘The Grand Pasha’ in his novel The Black Book, setting it in Istanbul) who encounters Jesus during the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisitor sees the Christ resurrect a young girl and immediately has him locked in a dungeon. He goes to speak with Him and tells Him that He is unwanted at this time, that the people are not capable of accepting His hope and faith in the Kingdom of God, that people are weak and need to be told what to believe.

The Inquisitor accepts that Jesus’ message would set people free, but reminds Him that people have no inclination to be free; though all are bound for hell at least they’ll have the comfort of security in this life through being relieved of the responsibility for truth and spiritual awareness, which demands a change of life that they are not strong enough to bear, like the cross Christ carried to His death. His Kingdom, the Inquisitor reminds Him, is not of this world, and people must be fed today or anarchy will reign supreme.

In true sacrificial fashion the Inquisitor accepts his own sin of deceiving the people, but also that he takes upon himself this burden for the greater good; ordinary people need something tangible to believe in, and the Church offers ‘bread and circuses’ to sustain the people through the suffering they endure in His name. After speaking the Inquisitor tells Jesus not return until his appointed hour, at which time the Christ kisses him and leaves.

It’s time to end my story here also; it’s time for me to move on. This part of my life is over and has served its purpose. This journey has been exhilarating at times and a genuine discovery, but as we all awake from the most pleasant of slumbers, it is time to rub the sleep from my eyes and renew conscious efforts to continue in other ways. I will continue to seek ways to explore an integrated vision of tomorrow, a future wherein we, as evolved from the earth but formed of the matter of the universe, can proclaim a unity and fellowship with every being toward a greater understanding of our potential.

I’ve never been one to believe in the circus as exemption from truth, but merely as another sideshow in the pageant of life, an illusion that only momentarily entertains with its necessary suspension of disbelief.

To me the wizard behind the curtain is merely a man, no man is a king but raises his honour to match virtue, and the royal opera is simply staged celebration of a fantasy others need to provide faith of power in a world where the truth has been hidden by the obscenity of wealth and personal revelation obscured by the constant barrage of false idols that clutter the airwaves. Fortune-tellers might interpret wrinkles or comprehend the movements of stars through lives, but our personal history is a narrative we are writing each day and the flame in our eyes is brighter than any distant fire.

My spirit is filled with a new purpose. I have things to do, places to go and people to meet, as they say. Although no one knows what the future will bring, it’s time I travelled without the baggage old dreams or future promises bring – occasionally our dearest desires come true and we can rejoice in the celebration that all in love is right and will be justified in the end, and other times that kiss is simply a betrayal that can never be forgotten.

I wish I could have lived the dream as I perceived it or as some believe it happened, but alas, all dreams are just the imagination of ideas that trick us into faith and faith is but the confidence to believe we can achieve what the heart desires and soul demands.

With a few new wrinkles to mark passing time, the glow of hope and the experience of having lived under golden palms will at least partially compensate for the patience of waiting to continue the journey through a life that has been on hold far too long. Over the past year kind words and thoughts, and a few nice photos have carried me through changing times; I sincerely thank those that have travelled hopefully with me.

As I watch the sun etch shadows across the contours in the sand I draw a line under this part of my life. The future for me will exist in a new format with different emphasis, but for now I give a wave to the beacon that guides me and a wink to the midnight sun as I say farewell and fly off the Edge of the Map ..

*     *     *