Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Keeping Vigil


This last Sunday, in the little Lutheran church near my summer house in Amagansett NY, I heard read a lesson from Isaiah 65: “I held out my hands to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me continually, sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks.”

Uh oh. For the moment, let’s set that one aside, along with Leviticus 20:13.

Sunday night, I consecrated a derelict brick barbecue as my summer altar and temple. If that isn’t camp and chutzpah together, tell me what is.

Earlier in the day, I’d restored dead leaves and garden waste to the freshly swept lower compartment of the altar, where they’ll rot and generate new life. (The poem I shared late last week, "Playing with Agni," talks its way around the experience that led me to perform this small act of respect for God in her endlessly generative female manifestation.)

Changing a little before sunset into white drawstring pants, I set in the altar’s upper chamber the objects that will rest there till the end of August, each of them sexy and resonant with the memory of a treasured moment of my inner life, some of them gifts from beloved comrades. A brass vajra; a minuscule Ganesh; a crystal cross; a tiny buddha that turned out to balance perfectly on the half-dislodged mortar between two bricks at the center of the back wall, a few inches above the floor; a round soapstone box shaped as a Shiva lingam: these things fuse my erotic longings with my desire for the Divine.

I smeared my heart and the altar with a paste I’d made of earth and green tea and sweet wine. Cones of incense smoked as I set out candles and an unglazed clay lamp filled with olive oil from the kitchen and a wick cut from a length of garden rope. At a time I’d arranged in advance with a beloved brother far away, I kindled flame and offered prayer to the Eternal as fire-bearing Destroyer of Illusion.

The candlelight glowed off the brick walls as darkness fell. Hour by hour I woke and went outside to find the lamp still burning, on through to the sound of birds waking before dawn.

I’ll work on Isaiah 65 later...

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