Bourgeoisie Angels and Working Class Angels (Part II)

July 11, 2010

 

“There is no angel that is not terrifying…”Rainer Maria Rilke

Over the last few weeks I’ve traveled around Northern New Mexico for fresh vegetables and cheese, to haggle for rugs and for a sort of spiritual companionship. Here in the Jemez Valley, where I frequently stay, there is plenty of reliable religious fellowship. This village contains theological multitudes; parishes, congregations, cloisters, bodis, rabbis, wiccan circles, agnostics and secret pueblo religions. I have friends and acquaintances who are shamans, healers, former monks, nuns, aged priests and artists. Prayer and meditation are serious parts of their life, as are moderation, tolerance and other civic virtues suburbs hint at, but seldom possess. I appreciate the fact that they let me alone.

The Dali Lama seems like a genuinely nice guy who wears brown lace ups (size 7 ½); the Pope doesn’t appear particularly nice and wears red slip-ons (size 11). Most religion seems like that to me.

I have empathy, but little sympathy for the hypocrisies that abuse the good intent of religion. Dying is lonely; I appreciate the desire to have fellowship in passing. These days I really don’t pursue as many communal sacred diversions as I once did. Nonetheless I’ve been turned away on the road to Billy Graham’s Eagle’s Nest and asked a pilgrim’s entry to a variety of shrines, retreats, sanctuaries, kivas, mosques, and paid my admission to others.

I keep going. They’re like poetry—extravagant and often sincere.

In my life now everything seems sad, serious work, even play and pretending.
Yes, I recognize my tonal symptomolgies of depression, anhedonia, dysthymia, anxiety, insomnia. I’m intimate with the litany of our modern sadnesses, and the legends of their cures. I’ve passed being fifty and avoided suicide and other age appropriate disasters; my psychological state is of little concern to anyone. In deed I’ve reached that level of venerability as to endure periods of seeming invisibility…which aren’t without a certain disconcerting charm. Increasingly I feel shunted off to less vivacious groups. So increasingly I force myself into singular travels. Long drives across a desert, a solo hike in the forest, or a few weeks alone temporarily restores my sense of independence, but I know none of us are mavericks for long.

But as I have since my youth, for adventure I pursue ideas I don’t feel comfortable with…like angels.

This summer I’ve been searching for angels. Not like a cable television documentary or expose, I’m merely asking about people who confess commerce with celestial beings. In this part of the world, I seem to find more of them. Although I studied the translations of Jeanne D’Arc’s trial (recommended) and spent hours at the website of a person who claims a Doctorate in Creationism (not recommended), I travel by word of mouth. It feels more seemly that way. Angelic people are easy to ridicule, but that’s not my intention. Ridicule is for the young or clever. I’m merely shallow enough to try to reflect passing images. I loafe and admire my fellow travelers.

South of Santa Fe there’s a place called Stardreaming recommended by my friend Cyrus. You can visit it by appointment for $22. For $3 you can view the infamous Dionysian D.H. Lawrence paintings at the La Fonda Hotel in Taos, $20 for the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, and for $13 at the Loreto Chapel in Santa Fe you can visit the Spiral Staircase miraculously constructed by a legendary traveling carpenter, thought to be St. Joseph. There’s no admission to the Sanctuario at Chimayo and it’s been there the longest.

On the appointed day of my visit to Stardreaming it was blindingly hot and windy. Like a character out of Gide or Paul Bowles I was punctual and overly polite. One o’clock. There were four women on the verandah sipping purified water, chatting and laughing loudly. I announced myself to a bearded man in a field hat. He recalled my name, gave me a map and waved his arm by way of orientation. Feeling self possessed I accepted a self-guided tour, but first walked to my car for water and a broken golf umbrella that would serve me as a parasol. As I was re-buttoning my sleeves a woman reloading her bags into the hatchback of  the rental car parked next to me struck up a conversation. She was from the United Nations. “It’s failed really…and we’re investigating different ways of expanding the ideal…like this place.” We agreed to try to meet at the Taos Inn for tea the next day. I walked steadily towards the Temple of the Stars.

There are sixteen open air temples created by James Jereb at Stardreaming. They are stone constructions limning out various interpreted alchemical or indigenous shapes and labyrinths across a flat desert hillside. Some have required massive labor, some are constructed with rare minerals, others are eidetic and weird. I walked through all of them. In spite of the wind frequently reversing my umbrella, I walked each labyrinth as patiently and as consciously as I could. I listened. The wind chimes were wild. One broke free. At the Temple of the Talking Stones I was accompanied by a butterfly intent on visiting the small blossoms that had grown between the guide stones. Wind gusts bent back the stems and blossoms, but the butterfly held on. One doesn’t ordinarily think of a butterfly as tenacious. At the Temple of the Thirteen Grandmothers I enjoyed the memory of the feeling of my mother. I was grateful for that sensation, and content to leave it. I poured out water as a formal offering of libation…perhaps to the memory, perhaps to close my dreaming.

James was alone in his studio when I returned. He offered me some water and asked me about my experience. As I started to talk, he took out a leather notebook and began writing. I wasn’t clear if he was taking notes on what I was saying, or something else. It was something else. The studio windows were opposite four 4’X 7’ paintings of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael. The paintings were a combination of folk art, Eastern Orthodox icons and a trained eye. My seat faced the paintings. James said I only saw the final layer of each painting and there were seven paintings beneath each one. This technique was dictated to him by Archangels and intuition. In a prior avocation James F Jereb PhD, published a book on Moroccan Arts and Crafts with Chronicle Books (They’re the people who put moleskin back into bookstores). James was enjoyable to talk with, laughed  and appeared comfortable discussing any topic I brought up. I brought up angels.

I wept when they told me I had to give up my writing contract. I had a three book deal with a major British publishing house. My life was made. I cried, but I had to do it. They said I would paint and make art in the desert. I wasn’t a painter. I didn’t know about making art. Now Raphael is my agent. He said he’d take care of everything…No that’s your cell phone alarm, they drain the batteries. [reconstructed]

That’s how I knew out interview was ended, my cell phone battery died. I didn’t ask him why angels want to drain cell phones, or why Archangel Michael directed Jeanne D’Arc to restore the French Monarchy only to have it end in the Reign of Terror. Angels are anti-rational. Like religion they serve to permit madness in a rationalistic mind.

That James Jereb can or can’t speak with three Archangels simultaneously, or has a diminished opinion of those forced to channel, or that in his opinion Archangels are sometimes evasive, seemed insignificant next to the obvious manifestation of his sixteen temples. By some direction James came to the New Mexico Desert and materializied his enormous dream. The world his Archangels choose for him is mineral, fallow and merciless. Perhaps it takes a belief of preternatural connection to have the courage to undertake a risk that specific and eccentric. It’s the risk of a creative life, but even art monsters like Picasso or Diego Rivera weren’t directed by their muses to the bleak edges of nowhere to truck rock.

Within ourselves we recognize familiar places that we sense shouldn’t be familiar. We’ve all experienced déjà vu, premonitions, had vivid dreams, felt a deep bond to a stranger, come to a place that somehow spoke to us, or been surprised by an impulse. But only a singular few of us do anything extraordinary with that mysterious information. At best we sift through it like archaeologists finding a false door in an excavation, perhaps we pay someone to analyze the beauty out and leave us with a neurological artifact, or we chatter it away as if it was yesterday’s sports score. These experiences are disconcerting to most of us; they seldom inspire confidence. Instead we’re almost desperate to be relieved by the security of our predictable mundane. We despise digging our ruts, but hate to leave them. Our daily trenches are essential. The structure they provide allow us to walk through our lives dreaming we know who we are and what we’re doing. Like James we construct labyrinths, only interior ones that keep us in a sense of dreamy wander, but return us exactly where we began.

Perhaps it takes a message from an archangel to penetrate all the fear we have to accept to not believe in our own possibilities. I don’t know if James’ Archangels are real, but he is. I’m not sure I’d follow him to relieve the siege of Orleans, but that’s not what he’s asking. He’s only asking visitors to go off to relieve their private sieges.

 And the truth is I asked to visit him.

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5 Responses to “Bourgeoisie Angels and Working Class Angels (Part II)”

  1. JimFC Says:

    Thanks Dom! Your blogs always take me on a vital poetic walk through the tragic / comic labyrinth of life. Pain and wonder always mixed. You open the way for “angels” to appear in totally unexpected different sizes, shapes and colors! I am grateful. – JimFC

  2. K Vanek Says:

    A beautiful journey into the sadness and creativity of life. Does being an angel mean that one leaves the sadness behind leaving only the creativity to inspire and console?

    • domzuccone Says:

      Excepting the ones on cards and made of china, generally the arrival of an archangel seems to be a beautiful trauma by ordinary standards. I mean everyone would like to meet Jeanne D’Arc, not many of us would like to be her…even if we did get to look like a young Ingrid Bergman.

  3. Joe Apa Says:

    size 7 1/2-hindu to the right…..
    size 10 1/2-roman catholic..get a cross and move to the left!!

  4. domzuccone Says:

    Always look on the bright side of life!


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