Hearth and Home Vol. 10 ~ Does Anyone Here Speak Sumerian?

Ceremony and Ritual

T

he Sumerian-inspired subject line of today’s Hearth and Home is brought to you by my seven year-old son, Jasper, who has been availing himself to my Sumerian dictionary. Yep, you heard that right: Sumerian. Like from ancient Sumer. Actually the text I have is more than a dictionary: if you want to, you can learn how to read Sumerian cuneiform, based on scholarly reconstruction of archeological findings. It’s a solid tome, and, you know, practical if you want to learn Sumerian. He has plans for this book, he is going to try to cram it into his bookshelf so that it magically becomes his, that’s right, the bookshelf in the picture – do you think there’s room?

Who in the world would want to learn Sumerian? NO ONE speaks or writes Sumerian anymore. It is truly a dead language, written and spoken. And yet this very fact is what makes languages like Sumerian so attractive to some people (and certain 7 year olds).

Y’all should have seen J as he tried to wrap his head around the fact that Sumerian is dead. The notion that a language could be dead is actually what brought cuneiform to life for him, lighting the whole thing up like a Christmas tree. Now there are scraps of paper with cuneiform marks all around the house. (One of the groupings of marks he copied, means “liberty”, according to scholars, and Sumerian is the earliest known written language with this concept.) So this ancient, dead language is now the coolest most relevant thing ever, and Jasper has decided he wants to become an ancient culture detective (as he calls it) and find out what really happened to the people who spoke Sumerian.

Oh, and also: he does not quite believe us about the whole “dead language thing” because he woke up last Saturday morning asking who in the household speaks Sumerian. He is pretty sure one of us is holding out on him. Maybe it’s the baby.

I love everything about this. I love the fact that my 7 year old chooses to spend his Saturday morning delving into a magical script from a faraway time and land. I love the fact that he is so sure someone really does speak Sumerian somewhere, and I love the fact that he might just be right…maybe somewhere someone does after all.

Jasper’s tenacity (around ancient languages and generally speaking) is a study in belief. The belief that he has access to this knowledge and that this is appropriate – that knowledge should not be jealously guarded under lock and key or held only be a few. The belief that if he practices at something long enough and diligently enough he can begin to make headway with it. And the belief that there is magic…in old books and ancient languages and everywhere around us if we know how to look. This has been the theme for our family this year, ever-present magic and the fact that while the extraordinary is most definitely part of the everyday, we still have the privilege – and challenge – of dealing with the everyday.

This month ‘the everyday’ beyond the usual work load looks like wrapping up presents and picking out gifts, decorating the tree, and sending out Christmas cards. I unashamedly and unabashedly love Christmas, Solstice, Yuletide, and the Omen Days that come after. I love it all. I love the sparkle and the color and the corny music. I love the excitement of the kids. I even love the pangs of sadness – the way that I miss by best girlfriend because when we lived in the same city we did our Christmas cards together. And the way that I miss my grandfather who loved this time of year above all others. I adore the stillness and the quiet of the cold air and the sparkling stars.

We often hear it said that the holidays are hard. And they certainly can be. But there seems to be an expectation that they should not be so hard…that everything should be happy and joyful and perfect. To my mind this expectation is rooted in the forgetfulness that the holidays are in fact HOLY days.

Genuine holy days are days pierced and crowned with the qualities of wholeness and healing, and holiness – truly beautiful and magical things. But these magical qualities are no more free of the hard and the tough than the phrase “happily ever after” is meant only for fairytales. Never in my experience has the magic of the truly holy turned away from the incredibly hard. Always it has made room for and embraced it.

This means of course that the genuinely hard times are never far from holy, wholeness and healing – even if it can feel like sometimes they are, even if the grace and freedom you seek feels a million miles away.

I tell my students that what keeps us steady in the face of the hard is our daily practices. These practices change as we do. They morph, they transform. But if we commit to showing up with them, they in turn commit to us and give us a steady foundation from which to work, live, and simply be. These days my practice begins at 4am when I get up before anyone else to take care of all of our animals.

Then, when the weather is favorable, I go outside in my pajamas, with a thick blanket and wrapped up in a coat, and I lay down under the stars. It is dark and cold. The neighbors are mostly asleep (and my neighbors know that I am a bit touched and seem to be OK with that), the wind is usually blowing gently at 4:30am, I listen. I’m watching the stars in part because I am preparing to teach my most ambitious astrology course yet in the New Year. But I am also simply being with the sky and the earth and the air, saying an intentional hello to these elements that surround me all of the time. With so much happening, with so much busy activity, these few minutes of star and moon bathing seem to add hours on to my day.

My practice is also all of the daily stuff. Watching Heath as he begins to eat solid foods…zucchini is a yes, bananas are a yes, as is spinach; green peas he is not so sure about and green peas and rice will earn you a Paddington Bear-esque hard stare. Listening to Jasper play piano at his winter recitals and play basketball (he is learning to catch the rebounds) and loving the way his little brother smiles at him as if he is the very sun itself. My practice has also included the fun of snuggling with my love, diving into Grey’s Anatomy – yes we just started, and yes it is so fun – and figuring out how to bend time and space so that my lover has time to draw and sketch and create the gorgeous art that our homes and lives are filled with.

Business is a practice for me too. I love my work so the scheduling and the follow up emails and the readings, the lighting of lunar lights and the teachings – all part of the practice. First writing and then shepherding the book into this next phase has been a new set of practices I have become familiar with.

At the end of November I got to speak to the publicity and marketing team in charge of my book (we have decided that when we meet in person it shall be over margaritas) and we have devised a very sophisticated marketing strategy…would you like to know what it is?

Write a good book.
Tell your community about your book.
Create an actually useful and awesome bonus when people pre-order the book.
Whip up some fun ways for there to be more time and connection within the community without outsourcing everything to social media or a keyboard…so simple, yet pretty revolutionary stuff huh?

Amidst a sea of bad marketing advice this certainly feels revolutionary. And then there is my publisher and my team, and for us it all comes down to integrity…write what needs to be written, share what needs to be shared, make it worthwhile and let your community know. As Emeril says, “Bam!” I’ll be sharing loads more about the book in January so stay tuned for that but in the meantime I hope you do what the title advises and make some magic for yourself this season.

And on that note, I want to share one of my favorite little tricks for creating some sweet magic in your home. It is the holiday season and some of the tough stuff that we encounter happens in our own families, yes? We can all use a reminder to speak with more kindness and compassion, to listen with more mercy, and to check our snap judgements at the door. One of my favorite magical tricks to inspire this behavior is to fill the sugar canister with whole vanilla beans, one for each member of the family. As you place the pod into the canister, name it for the family member and bless them with the following blessing:

“May your season be full of love, warmth, and kindness for yourself and for all you come into contact with.”

Of course you can also utter a blessing straight from your heart.

When you bake with the sugar or add it to your tea or coffee, it will call to mind the sweetness that you have wished upon yourself and everyone in your family. Want another little home sweet home enchantment? I’ve got one right here. And for those of you who have asked me about the lunar lights for 2019 – they are open through today so get in on it! Beautiful blessings of this holy, hard, and yes, magical season.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

What “Happily Ever After” Really Means

Lunar Letter

D

ear Miracles,

You know the phrase “And they lived happily ever after”?

Has there ever been a phrase that has generated more doubt, cynicism, hopelessness – and yet through it all, more hope and desire – than this one? I think not.

When we hear the words happily ever after we typically meet them with an eye-roll, an exasperated shrug, an annoyed “pfft! Yeah, right.” The promise of happily ever after has been betrayed too many times for anyone in the modern world to really buy into it. If that isn’t the first reaction, then it is something closer to this: happily ever after sounds great, and maybe it can even really happen…but only for other people, and certainly not for me.

Every time we witnessed as children our parents fight, our teachers check out, and our friends be unfair – or as we witnessed much, much worse happen to our bodies, to our homes, neighborhoods and communities – the message was driven home: happily ever after is for suckers. The world seems so unhappy, and no adult certainly seems happy: who wants to be a sucker? Wake up and get real. And then, as we entered into adulthood and experienced the pressures of life for ourselves: making money, making love, making a home, a career, a name, a difference, we felt it again: happily ever after is a cruel lie made crueler by the fact that deep down it is what we most want or what some small piece of us believes is still possible. More than more money, sex, health or love – under all of those is our hope, our silent yearning and our absolute disbelief in the possibility of happily ever after .

happily ever after is an idea that reveals just how divided within ourselves we really are. Exactly for this reason, this phrase and its native ground in the fairy tale are useful tools, for they point to where the real work is for us, ultimately to the possibility of discovering a genuine and lasting wholeness.

I think a great illustration of this division is the popular conceit right now that you can choose to have a happy life or an interesting life but that you cannot have both. The notion is that a happy life is a stable, normal life, so for us in America it would look something like a stable marriage, 1.5 kids, and a white picket fence, a diversified stock portfolio – so they say. An interesting life, on the other hand, involves grand adventures, travel to exotic places, love affairs that end as passionately as they begin, great art and food and music. But you won’t have someone to come home to at the end of the day or if you are coming home to someone there will be lots of existential conflict and difficulty.

Those who encourage a worldview split between happiness and passionate interest claim that you cannot choose, cannot have both. When we look at the sources from which happily ever after springs, however, we discover that the idea is much richer than it sounds at first blush, and we might even find that a happy life and an interesting life are closer together we think.

Much like their best-known ending phrase, the fairy tales we grew up with as children had a reputation of being very sweet and just as unlikely. But much has been written and said to help us remember that this is not the native truth about fairy tales, that these stories are often much edgier, scarier, and bloodier than their more recent cleaned-up versions suggest. Or, to put it in a different way: the pressures of life, what we once called the necessities, are not overlooked in fairy tales but on the contrary are the fulcrum around which such stories turn.

Fairy tales do not seek to dispatch with difficulties; rather, they teach us how we might engage them more directly and more fruitfully. It is easy to hear in the phrase “and they lived happily ever after” or in many of the other effortless resolutions we find at the end of a fairy story, the attitude of hearkening back to some once upon a time, a golden age, as perfect as it is unreal. But that sensibility is alien in the stories themselves.  The tales are about the hardships we face in life, told and created by the people who live up close and personal to those same hardships, who often knew fear, hunger, danger, and powerlessness much more intimately than we do today.

So it is not honest to say that the idea of happily ever after is simply pie in the sky emerging from a more innocent time, place, and people. Perhaps then it was a phrase of escapism – in real life, stories did not end well and many hardships were not overcome.  But in our stories at least we could give our heroes and heroines the happy ending they deserve.

But what is escapism if not the movement from an idea that is real and knowable to an idea that is at once more real and contains more mystery? This is what J.R.R. Tolkien meant when he wrote that every airplane wishes to escape into being a bird and every cathedral secretly desires to become a grove of trees. So here too the argument that happily ever after is merely spun sugar escapism falls flat. The idea of happily ever after carries weight and pain exactly because we know that it or something like it really does exist and is possible.

Another argument is that because fairy and folk stories came from lower classes, happily ever after was inspired by economic mobility and the much easier lives of the wealthy nobility. Yet even a cursory glance at fairy tales reveals to us kings who lose their kingdoms, queens who cannot have babies, and royal children who are kidnapped, betrayed, and even killed.  Hard necessity is an equal opportunity player in fairy tales and folk stories.

So then we are left with another fresh possibility. Perhaps the real meaning of the phrase “and they lived happily ever after” is not what we think it is. Is it possible that living happily ever after is not to live in absence of suffering, pain, loss, difficulty, and death?  Could it be that happiness is living with all of those experiences (as well as job, love, desire, hope, and beauty) in a certain way?

In this way what we witness in these old stories is not a utopia or an unrealizable ideal, but in fact the possibility of a living happiness. This living happiness becomes a promise only if we are willing to rise up and meet the challenge: how to find life gladdened, enlivened, enriched, empowered and enchanted, not because bad things never happen to good people, or times are never chaotic or devastating, but exactly and precisely because they do and they can be.

Now when I use the phrase “and they lived happily ever after” in the stories I tell, I pose it as a dare: when they least expected it, when it seemed most improbable, they discovered the source of a living happiness…will we?

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.