Mystic Field Trip


For several weeks I’ve been attending service at this beautiful little Episcopal church around the corner. More than once the two giant phoenix sculptures installed at The Cathedral of St John the Divine have been mentioned, sparking my curiosity. Sunday the former rector who is now on staff at the cathedral was back to preach. During the coffee hour afterward she showed me some pictures on her iphone and I knew I had to see them for myself.

So, with the kids at their dad’s yesterday, I drove down.

The weather was amazing and I was blasting Mo’Horizons album Remember Tomorrow which is a heady combination for launching into a day of discovery. I found perfect parking on 111th and West End Ave, and walked over to Amsterdam.


Walking in to the cathedral had an immediate slowing, quieting, deepening effect. I picked up my visitors leaflet and took a seat below the flatscreen TV mounted above a clutch of chairs, airing a short film about the making of the sculptures.


Although initially commissioned as a spectacular display of modern art for the Beijing Central Business District, the sculptures were rejected when they turned out to be enormous creations of construction scraps, raw and rough. Every single intricate piece handled and infused with the sweat and soul of the impoverished migrant workers who spend their lives erecting new glamorous cities. Xu Bing commented that new capitalist economy of China is what has been imported from the West.

Last week Bill Gates tweeted that China has used more concrete in the last three years than the United States used in the last 100 years. Mind=blown.


It seems so few of us have any real clue about what is happening in China, and even less of an understanding of how we are intricately connected. Listening to artist Xu Bing tell the story of how the Phoenix came to be, moved me to tears. I scratched out some notes, but mostly I felt helpless letting the faces and story enter me.

The video below is only a tiny bit of the whole story.


Eventually I moved on. Right next to the viewing of the short film, is Poet’s Corner, dedicated to American literature. Reading the engraved quotes from beloved writers, it struck me once again how detached and oblivious our modern methods of daily life, from the depth of our traditions. It takes a field trip to a “site” to be reminded of the enormous act of courage it is to live earnestly.




I wandered around taking in what I could. Standing under the Phoenix. Letting the the vaulted ceilings and stained glass have their way with me.


The only time I prayed was at the National AIDS Memorial. As soon as I knelt I had the vivid experience of seeing humanity as a matrix of connection. “Oh God, please, plug me in to the fragile web of humanity and let me be a port through which your love is transfused into our shared veins” I cried.


Leaving the cathedral and walking the grounds, I noted with special appreciation the jungle gym directly out the side doors. Then, across Amsterdam Ave I saw Insomnia Cookies. I’ve stopped doubting the precision of a life lead by the Spirit. Even the angels know there is no better way to process, than with a fist of warm double chocolateness.

From my stool in the cookie shop, I texted to see if anyone was around and soon had plans to join a friend for the Ghana versus US match at a McGee’s Pub in Midtown. I hadn’t seen Malik in years, and reconnecting was the perfect change of gears. He introduced me to his friends and our table swelled as the match got underway. By now its obvious that I cannot help but plunge deep below the surface of life. All the time. Somewhere into a lovely conversation with the girl next to me, I caught myself reflecting on what national sports reveals to us about the ultimate nature of things. Damn, just enjoy the game, Rach! I thought.

I’m trying…




Old Post Repost: Religion is God in the Nursing Home

I originally wrote this in November 2008. It is interesting to me to look back over my spiritual evolution. See the common themes that have motivated me, the thoughts that have erupted, bloomed, dropped their leaves and returned again in seasonal reincarnations.
*           *            *
Religion is the iron gate that keeps God out of our lives. This morning I was sitting with Chris over coffee and suddenly I heard in my head “Religion is what prevents God from being in our lives.” I said it out loud, just like that and Chris looked up to see where I had just read it from and then looked back at me. Random. But then I couldn’t stop there, I started letting the thoughts spill out.

Religion is our prison for God. It keeps him in a specific place, and regulates our interaction with him. Religion turns God into a loved one who we visit and write letters to, but never gets to come home and live with us. In the prison of religion we have rules for interacting with him, a routine of seeing and talking to him. We may think we want him free from that prison, but in reality, we would never let him out.

Or perhaps for some of us, religion is like a nursing home for God. A place that helps us maintain our sense of duty toward him, without having to actually live with him. He is our creator and we love him, but coming home and being a part of our daily details is far too impractical because he’s no longer powerful and vibrant. He’s our old man deserving love and respect for giving us life, but is no longer relevant to our getting on with life.

The most devoted of us tend to be like the family members who visit all the time, bringing gifts and spending energy. But never contemplating letting Him out.

Honestly, I think its just occurring to me. I’ve wrestled to throw off the constraints of religion for years, but still I find myself a little anxious when I imagine God settling in to EVERY part of my life. Its hard not to have limits and boundaries where He can go no further.

“God is here. What’s He doing here?”
Sometimes I remind myself in random situations, “God is here. What’s He doing here?” At the cell phone shop when I’m looking at upgrading my beat up old Nokia. In bed during our most private adventures. Browsing the aisles at Barnes & Noble. Stewing over old hurts while I make dinner.

We don’t mix business and pleasure.
Compartmentalizing our lives doesn’t stop with God, and that’s why its so hard to reverse it. We separate our health from bank accounts, from our private dreams, from office colleagues, from vacation planning, from Saturday chores, from disciplining our children… Everything has a time and category and we rarely contemplate the influence each has on the other. We don’t mix business and pleasure.

So we don’t mix God and regular life. It just doesn’t seem like they go together.

So God goes in the religion category. And the whole point of knowing Him and being known by Him is lost, because we don’t allow Him to come and live and love us in the “real” moments of life.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4