The children’s book writer Theodor Seuss Geisel, who wrote under the pseudonym “Dr Seuss”, had other pseudonyms too. In one of his lesser known books I Wish that I Had Duck Feet, he goes by Theo. LeSieg (LeSieg is Geisel backwards).
I began reading I Wish that I Had Duck Feet to my kids before I had actually previewed it, and was appalled by the end of the book, how the story turns, and how it ends. I didn’t know Theo. LeSieg was another name for Dr. Seuss, so I didn’t have my irony hat on. I even said to myself, “wow, that is sort of the antithesis to Dr Seuss!”
If I could ask him, I would inquire if he really thought young kids could grasp this kind of extreme irony.
In the book, there is a little boy who wishes he had duck feet, and then antlers, and then a whale spout, then a tiger tail, and then an elephant trunk for a nose. In each case he imagines, the boy arrives at the conclusion that either his mother, or society, would end up rejecting him. Then, he dreams about having the duck feet, antlers, whale spout, tiger tail and elephant nose all at once, and on that page, there is an illustration of him being mocked by proper folk, and arrested by police on the street. He begins to realize that none of these wild accoutrements have any place in his world. So at the end of the book, he has nothing of the wild left, and a crowd of well-adjusted, civil folk are beaming at him with pride, and approval. The very last page is of him walking away from a trash can, full of wild things.
Knowing a bit about Dr Seuss, I can’t possibly believe he would have written this book as a lesson to teach children to be tame and proper. It’s almost like a code for the opposite.
This week, my husband Ian, listened to one of my favourite recordings of mythologist Martin Shaw, telling the story of the Fox Woman, so we've been having wonderful conversations about the story.
Here is an excerpt telling of the Fox Woman Dreaming story, from Dr Martin Shaw’s essay Turning our Heads from the Pelt:
Once upon a time there was a lonely hunter. One day, exhausted, returning to his hut over the snow, he saw smoke coming from his chimney. When he entered the shack, he found a warm fire, a hot meal on the table, and his threadbare clothes washed and dried. There was no one to be found.
The next day, he doubled back early from hunting. Sure enough, there was again smoke from the chimney, and he caught the scent of cooking. When he cautiously opened the door, he found a fox pelt hanging from a peg, and woman with long red hair and green eyes adding herbs to a pot of meat. He knew in the way that hunters know that she was fox-woman-dreaming, that she had walked clean out of the Otherworld. “I am going to be the woman of this house” she told him.
The hunters life changed. There was laughter in the hut, someone to share in the labour of crafting a life, and, in the warm dark when they made love, it seemed the edges of the hut dissolved in the vast green acres of the forest and the stars.
Over time, the pelt started to give off its wild, pungent smell. A small price you would think, but the hunter started to complain. The hunter could detect it on his pillow, his clothes, even on his own skin. His complaints grew in number until one night the woman nodded once across their small table, her eyes glittering. In the morning she, and the pelt, and the scent, was gone.
It is said that to this day the hunter waits by the door of his hut, gazing over snow, lonely for even a glimpse of his old love.
For me, because I am a daughter of the Christian household, I can’t help but often look through that lens. Meaning… when I hear the Fox Woman Dreaming story, I often think of the wildness of the garden and the attempted taming of God. In other words, when I hear the story, I sort of invert the common Eden telling, which usually assumes that everything was nice, and tame, prior to the infamous fruit eating, and only after the fruit eating, is when everything became wild. But what if buried deep in that story, is a forgetting of a primordial part of ourselves that must be remembered, for recapitulation?
And of course, we could say, this tempering the wild, is a necessary part of evolution. Dealing with the lizard brain. Finding practices to aid us with irrational fight or flight reactions. Yes, right, of course, but that does not rule out the question: are there more sides to the evolutionary coin? In our process of evolving beyond the lizard brain, have we also tamed imperative wild parts of ourselves, wild creation, and God too? I'll warrant that this sort of taming is in desperate need of a major course correction.
For mythologist Martin Shaw, particularly schooled in his place in the world, Devon, he does see that there is a bridge from the wild to “conviviality” or what he would call “gallantry”. In his language, real, whole, wildness is connected to whether or not we are initiated. This is my language, too.
We have traded the wild and the hearty, for uninitiated civility - and in most cases, we have called this civility, “Christian”.
I recently mentioned being at my friend’s place, and seeing a nerve gas mask from WWI, hanging on the same wall as an elongated ritual mask of an indigenous origin. These side-by-side images are still haunting me.
My great uncle had to wear one of those nerve gas masks. And one of the times he wasn’t, the nerve gas overcame him, in some filthy trench.
When I used to sit on his knee, I could feel how shaky his body was, and I would look up at the part of his eye that had been grazed by shrapnel.
There he was, born into the story of violence in the name of civility. He had been swept up into the machine of the uninitiated, that would catapult technology into the unimaginably fast pace we find it today.
For some time now, I have been haunted by the concept that our relationship with, and financial investments in technology, has had something to do with separating wholes, and sundering sacred unions, in order to destroy. Like, in order to have God-like powers to destroy life, we need to pull apart and tamper with the building blocks of life.
Then, when I was recently on pilgrimage to Iona, I listened to John Philip Newell speak of his mentor George McLeod. I was truly awestruck by McLeod’s mysticism, as I soaked in his palpably present legacy there in that place.
This quote of McLeod's pummelled me even further than I’ve ever gone, into the haunted longing for initiated union with the wild, and with the God of that wild. It made me yearn for a different story. One in which innovation merges into a union with nature.
This longing never ceases, and is like a prayer.
Here is a quote from Daily Readings with George McLeod, page 68-9,
Suppose the material order, as we have argued, is indeed the garment of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Ghost. Suppose the bread and wine, symbols of creation, are indeed capable of redemption awaiting its Christification. Then what is the atom but the emergent body of Christ?…
The Feast of the Transfiguration is August 6th. That is the day when we ‘happened’ to drop the bomb at Hiroshima. We took His body and we took His blood and we enacted a cosmic Golgotha. We took the key to love and we used it for bloody hell.
Nobody noticed. I am not being cheap about other people. I did not notice it myself. I was celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration, in a gown and a cassock, a hood, a stole, white hands, saying with the whole Christian ministry, ‘This is my body. This is my blood.’
The while our ‘Christian civilization’, without Church protest, made its assertion of the complete divorce between spirit and matter.
One man noticed. When the word came through to Washington of the dropping of the atom bomb - ‘Mission successfully accomplished’- Dr Oppenheimer, in large degree in our name its architect, was heard to say, ‘Today the world has seen sin.’
I recently listened to the podcast Another Name for Everything with Richard Rohr, Brie Stoner and Paul Swanson. It was the episode from the second season, on parenting. I found myself weeping when Richard said, “if you’re a Christian, sing Jesus Loves Me to your children.” He was speaking about children needing to enter into the Mystery through the particular. Ever since then, I have been singing it every day with my young kids. One time this week, they even sang it with me to the rhythm of my milking our Jersey cow, Lady Susan. It doesn’t get more “particular” than that.
This song Fox Woman, can be heard at many levels. And I am daring to "interpret" the story through song in the first place. What comes up for me with this story is how much we fear the wild, certainly, but mostly, how much we fear death. And maybe even through insular walls, we fear a Creator with both feminine and masculine fire, that would indwell in oneness, with such a wild, fertile, unpredictable world. The voice in this song could be Mother Earth herself, baring her dark breasts, levelled by industry, and showing us her commodified womb, running dry.
For my part, I sing Fox Woman with the longing I have for collective reunion, with our wild creator, and with this wild world. We are causing all kinds of extinction, through the severance story we tell ourselves. And to be at least a bit gentle to people... it is very likely that this severance story resulted at the dawn of human consciousness of mortality. And maybe the reunion story will happen, when we make peace with death.
In the meantime, the lie of separation muffles the cry of the earth, the cry of the wild, and the cry of you, yourself. Because your cabin in the woods, is the Fox Woman's cabin. And she may very well still be stirring a stew at the fire, but has only left your awareness.
We will be forever haunted... we are atomic garments of Christ.
To close, I want to mention again the book I Wish that I Had Duck Feet, written by Theo. LeSieg.
I wonder if perhaps Dr Seuss had heard a rendition of Fox Woman Dreaming, and then perhaps put his tongue in his cheek, and gave civilization what it was looking for. A tame child, who leaves wild things behind. But I wonder also, if he might have written a secret last page we will never see, and on that page, the child grows up to then pick up a gun, or a bomb, as though that is the appropriate, civilized next step, that we all ought to accept.
Look at the image below, of all the wild things in the trash can. If you look more closely, you will see a set of paint brushes, a guitar, and a manuscript, of a novel, or book of poetry.
And although he aches for those wild things, the grown up boy’s parting line will be,
“long live short term profits”.
This is a sermon I’ve prepared to preach at the Erickson Lutheran Church tomorrow.
14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed,
knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have
known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through
faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for
teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that
everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good
work. 4:1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living
and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge
you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or
unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in
teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound
doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers
to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and
wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the
work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
2nd Timothy 3:14-4:5
I want to respond to the 2nd Timothy text this morning, but I’m going to arrive at the text in a round about way.
Two weeks ago, I was on pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona, Scotland. This island is a place where the ancient history of Celtic Christianity bridges a gap into the very ancient indigenous world of the Hebrides and Scotland.
I sat with other pilgrims in the ruins of St Columba’s hermitage and learned that when Columba and his brother monks went off to evangelize on mainland Europe in the 5th Century, they went around recognizing the light, the essential goodness and giftedness, of everyone they met. Almost like being a Christian was more about bearing witness to God’s beauty and holy purpose in each person, rather than “witnessing” to them.
These days, a part of my journey is digging back into my own heritage, Scottish, Polish and British, to understand, to heal trauma, and so on.
Back in 2009, I was performing a concert in Ullapool, Scotland and was able to travel north from there, to Achmelvich, which is far west and north of Inverness, by the ocean. That is where my McRae ancestors come from. Where my great grandmother grew up.
There was some strange pull there, like my cells were somehow tied to the place, and really ever since then, I have been drawn to understand not only my Christian roots, but also my pre-Christian roots. Like there are pieces to the puzzle that were dropped as we began to tell our story of separation from God and each other.
There has been traditionally, an inclination to interpret this reading in 2nd Timothy, as a shutting off of our pre-Christian history. This text has been used to shy us away from being tempted to mine the wisdom and practices that were passed down from our ancestors.
I want to tell just a few stories I’ve been exploring, to show you the beauty we can find in prehistory.
After the last ice age, in the Scottish highlands and in the Hebrides, there was a people who began venturing there in the summertime. Other inhabited regions between the mainland of Europe and the British isles, which were once attached to the mainland, were eventually covered by the sea and it is believed that some of the people who began hunting and gathering in the summer months in the land we now call Scotland came from lands and cultures that are now under the English channel.
As the region began to warm, and the land, although harsh and challenging, became more inhabitable, and huts began being built and ways of life became more solidified, expressions of culture and spirituality began to emerge. First through rituals held in caves, invoking more feminine gods, and then through standing stones, stone carvings and eventually timber pole circles.
On one island, from around the 4000BC, there are mass, grass covered mounds to this day, that contain the shells of various shell fish, which it is thought, represented a ritual expression of gratitude for the bounty of the sea. Human bodies are buried within the mounds, and due to other burial expressions it is thought these burials are an expression of people giving back to what sustained their lives while they lived. A sort of circular invocation of gratitude.
In other tombs, people are buried with their hand holding a seal fin. It is thought, this most likely indicates that the seals would bring the spirits of the people into the deeps of the sea that fed them.
Another burial site was found in Northern Scandinavia of a mother and her baby, who probably both died during childbirth, and the baby is buried in the cradle of a swan’s wing.
It is interesting that the word inhabit, holds the word “habit”. Historians use the term “enduring habits” for expressions of culture that cannot be traced back to their origin, but have been practiced by a people for a very long time.
In the Shetland Islands, the practice of a bird hunt has been going on since the folks on the island can remember. The hunt involves men scaling down vast vertical cliffs to get to the area where they catch the birds. The practice of this develops a certain set of muscles and skeletal structure in the men.
More recently, a tomb was found where the men buried there, along with skeletons of this particular bird, had the exact same body development as the men who practice this bird hunt today. It indicates that this ritual has been practiced at least since about 4000BC, and until that tomb was found, it was simply a habit practiced by the people, because they carried the tradition within them.
In my research, I've also learned that the last of the tribal Picts in Scotland, were found living in a cave in 1915. These people, living in a traditional way, were forced out of their home, and cave dwelling was immediately outlawed.
There is in each of us, a wildness that was punished, shamed, and “put to rights”. But something that comforts me is that I see this very wildness, in the person of Jesus.
In the 2nd Timothy reading, because we’ve been trained to take the word at its word, to a fault, most of us will be very quick to hear it as a teaching that would tell us to remove our own cultural history from under our feet. In that context, these enduring habits that have been passed down from generation to generation, quickly and flatly become the myths we’re are told not to have itching ears for, and not to wander away to. In other words… this text, and many others have been used out of context, to annihilate the cultures of people. To disempower the ways and stories and habits that enrich our lives and connect people to community and to our ancient past.
But what happens when we place this same text within the context of the myths of the Greco Roman power structure instead?
When Rome invaded Britain in 46AD, Britain didn’t go down without a great fight. One of the leaders who fought, was a woman named Boudica. The reason I bring Boudica up, is because she actually led a charge on the Temple of Claudius, which brought it to rubble.
Now, what is interesting about this, is that once Constantine had Christianized the Western Roman world, the very first church in Britain was built on the foundations of the Temple of Claudius.
It stands today in Colchester, England.
See, Constantine’s Christianity is about exceptionalism and victory. It is about the church triumphant. In other words, by building a church for Christ on the foundations of the temple of Claudius, he superimposed the Jesus figure onto the Roman teaching that once a Caesar had died, they became a god to be worshipped. It perpetuated the hierarchy of royalty and oppression. This is not to say that Jesus wasn’t God incarnate. It is to say that we’ve generally followed the lead of worshipping Jesus like a Caesar, instead of as the self-emptying, outpouring, interwoven God Jesus exemplified.
What if we were to read this 2nd Timothy text once a day for the next week, and examine how we "wander off" to the myths our civilization tells us?
Or rather, because I love the word “myth” so much, I’ll say, how do we wander off to the lies our civilization tells us?
Here are a few of the lies.
That there is never enough.
That life is a race to be won at whatever cost.
That we are not intricately connected.
That the suburban family nucleus is the only model for living that has ever existed.
That everything must and always be, institutionalized.
That we are either “totally depraved” as John Calvin taught us,
Or as science often teaches, that we are generic blobs, in competition with each other, and there is no inspirited nature to the universe.
What if we considered that these are the lies that we wander off to?
What if doing the work of evangelism and not wandering off to the lies, is, like Columba and his brothers, and I daresay Jesus, to recognize the light and abundance of gifts in ourselves and others?
What if the very “myths” we have been told to be rid of, are the rich, cultural stories we actually ought to be developing? Many of our cultural stories are the ones that tell us that we are, as Charles Eisenstein says, “people of the Gift”. People of life. Of sunshine. Of water. Of the earth.
Julien of Norwich even says “we are made of God”. Not just by God.
I was recently at a friend’s place and he has this beautiful, elongated mask from, I believe, an indigenous tribe in South East Asia. Hanging on the same wall, is this complete, elongated nerve gas mask from World War 1. And I was struck by how quickly we’ve made one mask “savage”, and the other one “civil”. Almost no stories or ritual belong to the WW1 mask. And it comes from the result of believing the lies of our civilization. The other mask, no doubt, has a rich, deep ritual, and probably a story… most likely pointing to interconnection.
The Waterboys have a great song that simply says,
I’m gonna look twice at you
Until I see the Christ in you
Till I’m looking through the eyes of love
Till I’m looking through the eyes of love
That is true evangelism. It isn’t persuasion. It is simply the way you look at the world.
And the way we look at the world is the story we tell ourselves. What if there really is joy, texture, richness and inspirited truth in every atom in the universe?
The way we collectively look at the world is how the world is.
Carrying out our ministry fully, is more about not living the lie that we are truly and completely prosperous, when others are enslaved. It is about no longer saying matter and spirit are separate. And in that case, I will go so far to say, carrying out our ministry is about encouraging the recovery of myths and stories and languages that were lost, quite possibly at at the hands of a bad interpretation of this very 2nd Timothy text.
If we can remember our original instructions of interconnectivity, we will be able to move forward into a more Christ indwelling world. “For I shall put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “No longer will they teach one another, or say to each other “Know the Lord”, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I shall forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”
* If you are reading this and your experience is as a colonized person, your journey is especially precious, as you navigate healing and taking your stand. This piece was not written to you, so much as in respect of you.
I recently did a pilgrimage to Iona, Scotland that was led by one of the great Celtic Christian voices in the world, John Philip Newell. John Philip stands in the wondrous lineage of George McLeod, Alexander Scott, George MacDonald, St Brigid, Eriugena, Pelagius and Columba as well as a host of Eastern mystics who have lit up his life in the last 30 or so years.
One of the reasons I applied for the scholarship to attend this pilgrimage, is because I was once told by an Anishinabe woman that it wasn’t so much that she wanted me to “go back to Poland, or Scotland”, (the land of my ancestors), but that she believes that white people need to find out who they are. “Because most white people I’ve met have a sickness in them”, she said. To be clear, I hadn’t asked her the cliche question “what, do you want me to go back?” She brought it up, and I deeply appreciated it.
After hearing her say that, it reminded me of Thomas Merton, (in his talk on Sufism to his novices), saying that, “the war in Vietnam is America working out its own neurosis.”
A good part of my journey to the Hebrides was connected to this longing we all have… that reaches back into our own past, to retrieve a cultural wisdom that was suppressed and outlawed, but still found ways to spring back up and resurrect through the cracks.
The other part of my journey also carried the complexity of wanting to wrestle with the demons of being born a colonizer ("We are Legion"). If I am to do the work of untying knots and picking up lost threads, I have to “go there”, and look it straight in the eye. There is no getting around it. There is no smoothing it over. It is difficult, serious work, and it shows up in every facet of life, once you can see it.
I have to face these demons with the Muses and ancestors companioning me, so I don’t flatten the intricate terrain, into an oversimplification. For those of us who have been enchanted by white privilege, we really have no long game, and can often be entitled, when we want change. We as oppressors-who-are-waking-up, can end up in a sort of insipid, spoiled, trance, that makes us flimsy and whiny when in a pinch. Our muscles for subtlety and music are often drastically atrophied, because they haven't had to be fine-tuned. We need wise leaders of colour, many of whom are women or lgbtq+, to be the most heard, the most watched, and the most followed, for what lies ahead. The decentralized, must be held as our center.
And we need to dig down into our own histories.
What was perhaps most striking and surprising from my journey to Iona, was my encounter with Brigid, the goddess from the Celtic druidic tradition, and also the 6th Century Abbess of Kildare, St Brigid. Although most of Brigid’s wells were filled in throughout Scotland, seen as heretical by the Church of Scotland, there is still one of Brigid’s wells, on the Isle of Iona.
It was, for lack of a better description, a mystical experience, being touched by that well. Like some squelched, primordial creature (the Divine Feminine?) that had been long stuck in my throat, was unfettered and released.
I tasted a bit of the freedom that had been there, in the beautiful, organic syncretism before the State interfered with celtic paganism, and celtic Christianity in the 6th century.
I had visions of Brigid suckling the Christ child, as I stood on the highest hill in Iona, Dùn, knowing that the picking up of what has been long forgotten, is needed for the road ahead.
For Brigid, whose druidic lineage had an understanding of “Animism”, the Christ mystery would have been seen as an affirmation. A Mirror that had traveled across vast lands and waters to meet with her ancient wisdom and intuition.
Brigid happily called Christ her Druid, which was to place him in the highest prestige she could.
The Celtic imagination seamlessly could call Brigid the midwife, or foster mother of Jesus, with images of her as his wet nurse. As though she was one of the necessary bridges for pre-Christian wisdom to be carried forward into a widening sphere of acceptance and belonging in that region and culture.
I speak of the legend of Brigid, to point out that somewhere in there, deep under the roots of British colonialism, is a vibrant, plethora of expressions and colours, not conforming to the corruption of the uniform, and the bland.
I wrote this new song White, White World, as a lament - that conformity and vapid monoculture, has driven the complex garden of Creation into such painful imbalance.
I have a theory that the earth's imbalance and power-lust, is 100% connected to the avoidance of untended wounds.
In other words, the balance of the climate, of power, of the earth herself,... will not occur until those of us who "fit in", (in other words, who have built-in power), let the Big Grief come, and give ourselves away. Including giving away, a whole lot... of actual, physical possessions, and property.
I really believe climate change won't be healed with technology, but is a direct result of the imbalance of who gets to steward our breathtakingly beautiful earth.
Perhaps a good measuring stick for blindness to imbalance, is how much time we spend, trying to please and find acceptance in this society. Somewhere in there, for every single one of us, "fitting in" sits uncomfortably, because, it really isn’t who any of us are.
Jiddu Krishnamurti said, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Most people who judge others as "broken" or "fallen", are the most broken inside. Hiding behind apparently respectable lives.
Every time I am tempted and desperate to fit in to what is seen as normal, there is some Voice in me that calls me back out to the edges... and that has perhaps been my most truest Christ encounter. Not everyone has the luxury of choosing the edges like I do. That's just where they're put.
None of the gospels were written in a privileged vacuum. They originated during the excruciating pain of occupation, and after the horrors of temple destruction, and civil war. When the writers remembered in their own way, the rebel of colour, who lived in nonviolent defiance of "civilization".
And somehow, this wisdom was passed on... that defiance of the kingdoms of this world, was a God thing. Which is why the gospels looks so ugly and SO boring, when possessed by the dominant culture.
I just can't do it.
So, probably very much like you, I seek. I sit in the Unknown. I journey. I long. For a radical balancing, that will challenge me, and that, I hope... will effing rock this world back into vibrancy.
As Martin Luther King said in this NBC interview, most white folk want "more of an instalment plan for equality". But that's not how Christ works. That's not how Symbiosis and Nature works either.
Monoculture is killing our planet.
So... it's time to drop the instalment plan, and go for the gusto.
For the love of God, I guarantee it will be more interesting.
*As a regenerative farmer of white settler heritage, and a songwriter with an AMAZING audience, I have committed to raising awareness about land reparations for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. Please consider supporting Randy and Edith Woodley to resurrect their farm Eloheh/Eagle's Wings. After being attacked by a white supremacist group and having to move, they are ready to begin doing their healing work again, this time in New Mexico.
I can hear the land weeping for their presence. This is the tangible balancing that I speak of!
To help them to become stewards of this land, CLICK HERE.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.