Category Archives: The Atheist’s Pulpit

One believer’s view.

35 Years

My Mom died 35 years ago today. Life is short; death everlasting. Mom told Merri she knew I’d be angry about her death for a long time. Indeed, I was, but anger is a bitter memorial. She deserved better.  

They say funerals are for the living, but Mom would have liked hers. The turnout, the finery —  the hats! The Dixieland band playing a dirge as we rolled her coffin a mile down a busy street from the church to the cemetery, next to my Dad. My bear Teddy rode on her coffin. Patsy Coontz pleaded with me not to bury Teddy with Mom. (She’s long dead, now, too, but Teddy is with me.) 

The band was upbeat on the return to the champagne reception afterwards. It was a good send-off. 

That was more than half my lifetime ago. I’m older than Mom lived to be. I often mark this anniversary with a haircut — she loved my hair, as did I. The sacrifice is less each year. 

Chris Hobgood, the minister, said he’d visited my mother in her final days in the hospital. She said she wanted to talk about her funeral yet every time changed the subject. At the memorial, he read this poem, appropriate as spiritual metaphor lacking conventional religious imagery.

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze,
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch her until she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: “There! She’s gone!”
Gone where? Gone from my sight – that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side,
and just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the place of her destination.
Her diminished size is in me, and not in her.

And just at the moment
when someone at my side says: “There! She’s gone!”
there are other eyes that are watching for her coming;
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout:
“There she comes!”

(I’ve seen this attributed to Henry Van Dyke and Luther Beecher.) 

Though one of beauty and strength, she *is* gone forever and nowhere else. I believe death is absolute and final. Still, her mitochondria swim within me, and many of my best traits were hers. I’m grateful to her for more than just my life. And sorry she didn’t have more of her own.

super blood wolf moon eclipse – draft

Starting at 9:36 p.m. EST Jan. 20, skywatchers will notice a “little notch is taken out of the moon,” according to Brian Murphy, director of Indiana’s Holcomb Observatory & Planetarium and Butler University professor.
“The moon starts to enter into the earth’s shadow in a portion called the umbra when the sun is totally blocked out,” he said. “Earth is moving from right to left through the shadow.”
At 10:34 p.m., it moves into a partial eclipse, and starting at 11:41 p.m., the full eclipse begins; a maximum eclipse occurs at 12:12 a.m. Jan. 21. The total eclipse ends at 12:44 a.m.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema Took Her Oath of Office on the Constitution

[quote] When Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona was sworn into the U.S. Senate today, she placed her left hand on an Arizona “lawbook” (to use Getty’s terminology) instead of the Bible. It’s precisely what you’d expect from the only officially “Unaffiliated” member of the new Congress. I imagine Vice President Mike Pence, who administered the oath, died a little on the inside. [/quote] Huzzah!

via The Friendly Atheist

Thirty-four Years in the Land of Enchantment

The Land of Enchantment
near Chaco Canyon

I live in a dry land that once was under water, a seabed now 5000 feet above sea level. Sunrise is held at bay by a granite ridge 5000 feet higher, which at sunset glows as pink as coral. Looking west, the eye is drawn to the sliver of green flanking the Rio Grande, life’s blood trickling through a parched land that rises to five volcanoes close at hand, which in turn are dwarfed by a volcano 80 miles away. All under a sky of limitless blue.

This vista fills me with joy.

Driving into town from any direction, you can take in the largest city in the state with a glance. Stand under the cottonwoods along the river and you forget where you are. Here the land has not been subdued by man. We are surrounded by reminders that we are all recent arrivals and none will outlast the land itself.

The land appears still until you view it at 10,000 years per second, when it shakes and buckles, rises and falls, like a coffee cup on the hood of a truck at rough idle. The land appears flat until you cross it to find the surface cracked and broken by ravines scoured by wind and rain. The land seems silent until the wind howls like an injured animal lashing out in pain.

The land seems dry until a year’s worth of rain falls in a few days. We live for these days and relive them in conversations. We smell the rain before we hear it, we feel the temperature change, listen for the first drops. We sit on our porches, big grins on our faces with the look of wonder like children at a fair.

The Navajo advise each other to walk in beauty, to appreciate our surroundings and be part of that beauty.

This month, I complete my 34th year in New Mexico — more than half my life. This land leaves me speechless.

No sparrow falls unnoticed (a new poem)

What befell this sparrow
writhing on our porch
one wing extended
leg out, as if,
stepping into space
but for the head twisted back.
Are you watching me, Lord?

Wisdom says leave it
time may heal it or end its pain,
but I cannot suffer at a distance.
I scoop it up into the nest of my hand.

It slows, the head turns forward
as the wing contracts but
one little foot clutches my finger
like a limb.

Rest here and wait
for mama to come
as she has every other time
you needed her.

Its eye stares at this feeble giant
then closes slowly
as a chorus in the trees
sings its soul to heaven
and I weep.


Wolfman Mark

“Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night
can become a wolf, when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.” (from the first Wolfman movie)

I can’t remember when I became a werewolf. Looking back, I see a few staggered steps, like tracks in the snow, lurching from man to wolf and back again. There is no cause and effect, merely history, which can be told so many different ways.

When I was a child, I had a dream. It began with me willing myself to fly. I soared over my neighborhood with delight. Soon, the force of will necessary to fly drained me and I began to descend, despite my will. In the slow descent, I flew lower into a dark woods and, at the moment of greatest fear of what lurked within, I awoke. This dream recurred many times until I was past 10 years of age. I think the dream portended changes to come.

In my teens, I found my pack. We stalked the streets and parks of Northern Virginia. To varying degrees, we found and created ourselves, as the pack and as individuals. They must have been the first to see my wolf nature emerge. I watched werewolf movies. I read Steppenwolf – auf deutsch sogar. I identified with the man uneasily on the edge of his society. At times, I lost my hold on humanity, which was a terrible sight, I know, and yet, my friends kept me in the pack, for which I’m grateful still. Eventually, the notion that “Mark is a werewolf” didn’t seem the least bit absurd – simply a statement of fact known to those who needed to know.

It was the pack that brought home my eventual mate the night before Halloween, 1981. Merri Rudd stepped into our den with wise shyness. She sniffed the air and told me she had been a dog in a former life. (I don’t recall when I first told her I’d been a wolf in the current one.) I followed her into uncharted territory, a land with its own wolves. In a few days, we’ll howl at the full moon for what could be the 364th time – a year of full moons.

At times, I think the wolf within crawled out from under my skin to become my totem, my animus, my daemon, if you will. The old man still snaps but his teeth are loose and dull. As much as ever, I linger on the doorstep of a large community, not sure I dare step over into the firelight, no matter how welcome I would be. But, from the edge, it looks lovely.

[reposted from 10/31/2015]

35 Years Ago

mjh & MR in Landmark Shopping Center photo machine, Alexandria, VA, January 1984
mjh & MR in Landmark Shopping Center photo machine, Alexandria, VA, January 1984

Friday night, Halloween weekend, 1981, Robert Coontz brought someone new home for dinner. I stood in the living room to meet her and she walked around the far side of the coffee table, nose in the air. She wasn’t avoiding me (she said), just sniffing her surroundings, having been a dog in a former life. That was my introduction to Merri Rudd, my belovéd-to-be.

[photo: mjh & MR in Landmark Shopping Center photo machine, Alexandria, VA, January 1984.]