My good blogging pal ‘Wise Web Woman’ recently posted a strange tale concerning Ansa, her beloved dog who sadly passed away some time ago, and a feather. I was immediately reminded of a feather that changed my life. One I have kept close to me for over sixteen years. It gave me the impetus to emigrate to America where I married the woman I love. She has since bestowed on me many years of happiness, love, and companionship.
I wrote of that feather, which incidentally still rests on my makeshift altar along with other objects I hold sacred, in an essay that never truly saw the light of day, but is hidden away in ‘Sparrow Chat’ under one of the ‘Bits & Bobs’ in the sidebar.
Wise Web Woman was wary of publishing her account for fear of ridicule. She need not have been. Just occasionally there are happenings we can’t explain and the event below is evidence of that. It’s all too easy to lump them together under the heading of, “Coincidence,” but often coincidence is a sadly lacking explanation for events that seem so much more than that.
I titled the essay, “The Vexed Question Of Being.” I’ve copied it below:
“A few weeks ago, an anonymous emailer wrote querying (I think, rather sarcastically) “what I am.” From my writing (he or she said) it’s obvious I’m neither a Christian, nor a Muslim; a Buddhist or a Hindu, and I’d previously stated I was no atheist – so where did this leave me?
It would be easy to say I was ‘this’, or I was ‘that’, but unfortunately my life is never so simple. I don’t believe anyone else’s is either, if the truth be known.
Pigeon-holing has never appealed to me in any facet of life. I’ve shied away from fashion; deliberately neglected to visit cinemas screening the most popular films. I find much television a waste of precious time; hate the very idea of golf, or any other sport that involves competition, and am decidedly anti-social, refusing all invitations to barbecues, parties, or similar collectives of the human species.
I do believe my brief jaunt through this particular lifetime is part of a longer journey home, and that the road I’ve chosen is one of an infinite number, all leading to the same place by various tortuous, or otherwise, paths.
To call that path Christian or Buddhist or Wiccan is simplistic, and evades the truth. We probably all, at some stage of our spiritual journey, take shelter among one, or all, of the so-called ‘traditional religions’, – maybe for most of one lifetime, or perhaps for just a part – but to proclaim ourselves ‘Christian’ or ‘Muslim’ or ‘Hindu’ is to self-deceive, and when we do that – try to kid ourselves – we just tend to go around in circles until our Higher Self decides it is necessary to prod us out of our self-created maze and back onto a path that actually leads somewhere.
Organized religion is like a care home for battered souls, a great place to rest and recuperate, but not to linger in too long. It is because of this that so many emotionally strained individuals are sucked into the religious net. Unfortunately, the hierarchy of clerics, who claim they have the power to speak for their deity, will do their damnedest to dissuade rested souls from leaving again.
Of course, like everything physical and spiritual, religion evolves, too. The “non-hierarchical” – Wicca or Paganism, Buddhism, Taoism – are more evolved forms of traditional religion than Christianity, Islam or Judaism.
My own spiritual journey has touched on many such traditions and I, just like everyone else, have learned much from them.
But none of this really answers the question of what I am.
In one room of my house I have a small altar. It serves no deity and was never made for worship, but is utilized as a focus for meditation and spiritual contemplation. Apart from an oddly-matched pair of brass candlesticks and an incense holder, there are five other objects displayed there. Perhaps, if I explain what they are and why they are there, it may help to at least partially reveal what I am about.
The first object is a piece of sculpture by a little-known British artist, Neil J. Rose. It is of a mountain lion metamorphosing from a dead tree trunk, and to me at least, symbolizes the evolution of consciousness.
The second object is a small statuette of a goddess. She is one of the many goddesses of Spring and is anonymous, so I call her, Mia – for no other reason than because I thought it suited her. For me, Mia symbolizes Mother Earth who gives me physical life; whose rhythms strengthen me, and whose bewildering array of beauty has always tantalized and enchanted me.
The other three items on my altar form a more personal relationship with me. The first is a simple, short, prayer ornately decorated and printed on a piece of paper sealed in a transparent plastic cover. It is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi and is the prayer that ends every meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (at least, in Britain) and its partner organization, Al-Anon. It reminds me of the drunks I knew and grew to love during my years at Al-Anon, an organization for the families and friends of alcoholics. Some of those drunks are not around today. This prayer helps me remember them, and the suffering they and their families endured. Alcoholism is, indeed, “The Family Disease.”
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The second of my ‘personal’ objects is actually a group of four white stones, molded smooth by four million years beneath the ocean. I took them from a beach at Barmouth, in the region of mid-Wales, UK, when I knew that I would be leaving to live in the United States. That part of Wales was my spiritual resting-place, and the Barmouth Estuary one of the most beautiful places on Earth. As well as reminding me of where I came from, these stones symbolize the deep places on our planet where man can never go, and which hold mysteries we may never discover. In the intense heat of an Illinois summer, the stones are always ice-cold to the touch, and remain so however long they are held in the hand.
The last object on my altar is the most precious of all, and yet nothing more than a humble pigeon feather. I had lived for some years in an old stone cottage, originally built in 1812 as a chapel for the Welsh hamlet of Melin-y-Ddol, but closed and later converted when a larger church was built in the nearby town. I lived there alone. At night, as I lay in bed, I would hear an occasional, muffled cough; the quiet scuffle of shoes against a wooden pew; a child’s stifled giggle before shushed by authoritarian parents. The old chapel had never truly closed, it’s presence – and that of its congregation – very much alive in the stillness of a Welsh night. It was a place of peace and serenity. Nowhere, before or since, have I known such spiritual love and support as at Capel-y-Ddol, the ‘Chapel in the Meadow’.
But, however comfortable the road, before long life presents a junction – and for me the crossroads was America. Should I stay at my chapel in the meadow, or should I fly across the ocean?
A narrow, twisty lane led up to a stile and into Goat’s Field Woods that rose from the rapid, turbulent, Banwy River in the valley down below. It was a walk I took often and knew well. The path led down to a clearing of standing stones – good friends – and on to the river, before winding back in a steep climb through pine trees to the lane, and then back home. A round trip of about three miles, and great exercise with those gradients. I began the walk in turmoil that day. My mind tortured with the decision I desperately needed to make. Unable to decide, I consulted my friends the standing stones, then turned the whole matter over to my Higher Self. Confident I would receive help I asked for an indication before I left the woods that day, and continued my walk. It was a wonderful afternoon, still and quiet in the woods. No wind stirred the mighty fir-trees. My walk was almost over and I was returning to the stile feeling slightly foolish that I had expected such assistance, when I was disturbed by a sudden rustling high above. Squinting against the sun, I peered up at the topmost branches of a hundred foot pine.
“It’s just a pigeon,” I thought, watching the bird wing out into clear air.
I stood a moment till it was gone from sight, and was about to walk on, when from the corner of one eye I spotted a movement in the stillness. It was a good twenty feet above the ground, falling slowly perhaps six feet away from me, and spinning slightly as it did so. Mesmerized, I could only watch as the pigeon’s feather changed direction, veered in towards me, and landed – right between my boots. A flight feather! My decision had been made. I booked my ticket the very next day.
The feather still rests on my altar. It’s now nearly six years since it landed at my feet. It is my most cherished possession.
I am neither Christian nor Muslim, Jew or Hindu. I am not Wiccan or even Huna. Yet all of those are a part of R J Adams, just as are the standing stones in the Goat Field Woods, the chapel of Capel-y-Ddol, and the Welsh pigeon that kindly left its feather at my feet.
You see, I cannot answer the question “What am I?” in one word, or even a few sentences.
However, ask what I am not, and you will find me much more emphatic.” End.
That essay was written eleven years ago – in 2007. The pigeon that sacrificed its feather is certainly long gone, but the feather is still very much a part of me. It began its existence in Wales, moved with me to America, and now resides in a small room of our French house overlooking the Brittany countryside. It’s still as fresh-looking as the day its owner left it with me. It will probably outlast me.
I hope it does, for I owe it a lot.