Reading the Signs, Part 2: The Sheathed Sword

Two weeks ago I talked about recognizing oracular messages in the world around me, for instance through storygaming. In that case I didn’t recognize the significance of the sign until after an unpleasant incident, though it was helpful in making sense of my travails. Diagnostic, but not preventative, if you will.

But it gets better—shortly thereafter came a time when I did read the signs in time to avoid causing pain in myself and others. A little background: with our lease up, debts soaring, and paychecks through the summer, Annie and I concocted a mad plan to gain breathing room both financial and spiritual: help renovate her parents’ RV and ditch the city for the summer, camping rent-free on our friends’ farm.

But as we struggled to realize that dream, obstacles kept arising. Creditors, the IRS, the DMV and more descended on us. Both our computers broke down. And we moved in with Annie’s folks while her dad put the finishing touches on the RV. Continue reading Reading the Signs, Part 2: The Sheathed Sword

Reading the signs, Part 1: Montsegur

At Go Play Northwest I played Frederick J. Jensen’s Montsegur 1244, facilitated by John Aegard. The game is about a French castle that has taken in a band of heretical Cathar refugees and is besieged by the Inquisistion, with the bitter end predetermined but each character’s physical and spiritual fate still very much at stake.

It was an intense, personal game experience, with rich storytelling and painful human tragedy. It affected me deeply in many ways, but I didn’t at first realize that it was trying to tell me something important about my own life.

You see, in the game I played the landless knight Pierre Roger, captain of the defense of Montsegur. He’s married to Philippa, eldest daughter to the Lord of Montsegur, but also dallies with Arsende the Harlot (all this is part of the pregenerated situation of the game, not created by players, but it’s up to the players to interpret and flesh out). And there was a theme that kept emerging, partly from my portrayal of Pierre (he was ruthless and decisive in martial matters, but bewildered and hesitant in family affairs), and partly fellow player Susan’s portrayal of Philippa (she spent a lot of time arguing with her parents and sister, and barely addressed her husband), and partly the way scenes were framed (many crucial scenes for Philippa were framed with Pierre absent, or else his presence a mere afterthought). The result was, Philippa was in crisis but estranged from Pierre; he felt for her but knew not what to say or do on her behalf, and she in turn shut him out of all major decision-making in her life. Continue reading Reading the signs, Part 1: Montsegur

The Green Man of Portland

So I’m out with some of my churchmates last week with fresh-baked ham, corn and potatoes to help feed the homeless.

Except we don’t call them “the homeless,” we call them “our friends without houses” or “our friends who live outside.” It’s more humanizing and personal, as opposed to “othering” these real human beings with a handy sociological label. But anyway:

So I’m helping share food with my friends who live outside, and as always I’m enjoying being there face to face, looking people in the eye and handing them something they need and can enjoy, fresh cooked from my oven, making human connections. And I’m thinking about the sign I received a month ago, the three-fold omen whose significance I’m still pondering.

I wore a mask of the Green Man of medieval myth for Halloween. Then I found a beautiful leaf on the street downtown, sporting beautiful colors and seeming to leap into my path. Then I passed a sidewalk art fixture that spoke of the “Green Man of Portland.”

Turns out the fixture was created by comics artist Daniel Duford as part of a series about the Green Man and his mystical, perception-altering  influence over the city’s inhabitants. What stood out for me at the time was the artwork’s closing line of poetry: “Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.”

While I’m hardly a seasoned veteran at interpreting signs and portents, I’ve generally found them to occur at pivotal times, when I’m feeling blocked about a particular problem or when I’m entering a new season of my life.

So I took it in and mulled it over. “Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” For a long time I’ve been drawn to the “shunned” in all aspects of life, from the invisibles of the street to the passionate, the dissident, the radical. These are in so many ways “my people,” so it was no surprise to read those words. But what to do with them?

“Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” I do long to reach out to people. To hold them in my arms, to awaken them to a way of life–of health, of freedom, of joy–that even I only dimly grasp. But do I have the right to push my way of thinking onto others? And even if I do “have” that “right”, do I really want to exercise it?

“Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” Maybe I can find a way to hold people in my arms without smothering them, without trying to “fix” them, without “knowing what’s best” for them,” loving without any strings attached?

So I’m helping share food with my friends who live outside, and I believe that I can.

There are still a lot of unknowns. What about my life will change as I assimilate this new focus? Will I adopt some kind of persona and mission, or just keep doing stuff informally, as plain ol’ me? Will I continue to reach out piecemeal, doing little things here and there, or will I take up a dedicated mission and cause? I don’t know. I just know that I have a renewed focus to love people, and if there’s any kind of valuable lifestyle I can impart to help them, it will be by doing, by living in such a way that it invites them to do the same.

This isn’t a scientific process. Nor is it some esoteric mysticism requiring saint-like patience, fanatical devotion, or elite, hidden knowledge. it’s just a matter of looking and listening. Consider everything potentially significant. Be alert for connections in all things, even, ESPECIALLY, the unconscious. When you look and listen, story finds you.

Peace,

-Joel