Posts Tagged ‘Jean D’Arc’

Opening Words

Monday, May 14th, 2018

Big River Meteor

Big River Meteor photo by Todd

“When an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate.” Carl Jung

I like to write letters to friends and to artists and writers and movie directors I admire. Sometimes my friends will send me letters, but the artists and writers and movie directors I write to very rarely answer my letters, though until twenty years ago if the admired person was British, Australian, or from New Zealand, no matter how famous, he or she always wrote back—but not anymore.

For many years, before there was email and texting and tweeting, I sent off several letters every week; and almost every day in those halcyon days of postal abundance, the postal service agent would bring me letters from friends. On my computer I have a file entitled Letter Head Quotes. In this file are pages topped with a quote I especially like, and I will either type a letter to someone on one of those pages, or print out the page and use the empty space below the quote to write a letter by hand.

Here are some of my favorite letterhead quotes and a few thoughts about them.

“I would suspect that the hardest thing for you to accept is your own beauty. Your own worth. Your own dignity. Your own royal pedigree. Your priestly identity as one who blesses and is blessed in return. Your own calling to learn to love and allow yourself to be loved to the utmost.”  Alan Jones

Alan Jones is an Episcopal priest who was the Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco from 1985 until 2009. When I lived in Berkeley from 1995 to 2006, I would attend Evensong on Thursday evening at Grace Cathedral twice a month. I’d take BART from the North Berkeley station, get off at Montgomery Street, hike up the hill to the cathedral, walk the labyrinth adjacent to the cathedral, enter the cavernous church, listen to the Boy’s and Men’s choirs sing gorgeous unintelligible hymns accompanied by a genius organist, and open my heart and mind to Alan’s spontaneous prayer, which always concluded Evensong.

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.

This quote from Winnie the Pooh is especially dear to me, literally dear, because when I was creating a book of my writing exercises The Writer’s Path with Mindy Toomay, I really wanted to use this quote in the book, and our publisher, 10-Speed before they were eaten by Random House, informed us that Disney, who now owns all things Pooh, was demanding five hundred dollars for the use of those few lines. 10-Speed was not about to cough up five hundred cents for our book, let alone five hundred dollars, so I coughed up the money, which amounted to ten per cent of my advance for the book; and I have never regretted the expenditure.

If I be not in a state of Grace, I pray God place me in it;

If I be in a state of Grace, I pray God keep me so.” Jean D’Arc

I first read this quote in Mark Twain’s novel Joan of Arc. I’ve read everything Twain wrote, and though I consider The Prince and the Pauper his finest novel, Twain considered Joan of Arc his greatest work. He spent two years in France meticulously researching his book, and he studied French for several years so he could read the transcripts of Joan’s trial in the original French with the aid of able translators. Despite Twain’s immense fame, no publisher would publish the book, so Twain published the fascinating work himself.

This quote, which comes from the transcript of Joan’s trial, speaks of a desire to be in a state of grace without needing to know whether one is in such a state. In that sense, the sentiment, when separated from the context of Joan’s trial, echoes the Buddha extolling the virtue of Not Knowing, of Beginner’s Mind—an innocent acceptance and appreciation of whatever we are experiencing.

In the context of Joan’s trial, these words are a testament to her astonishing genius, for this simple reply effectively defeated her brutal prosecutor and proved the most brilliant minds in the Catholic Church incapable of convicting her of heresy. Thus stymied, those hideous men tortured her until they imagined her anguished cries to be an admission of heresy—after which they quickly burned her at the stake.

But before they tortured her and killed her, they laid a pernicious intellectual trap for her. There was an arcane law of the Catholic Church stating that anyone claiming to be in a state of grace, or claiming not to be in a state of grace, was a heretic. So if Joan could be tricked into saying, or even implying, she believed she was or was not in a state of grace, she would be proved a heretic. Having been deprived of sleep and sufficient food for several weeks, having stood through weeks of trial in the face of legions of ghoulish priests intent on killing her, Joan, nineteen, illiterate, and knowing nothing of the complicated laws of the church was asked by the prosecutor, “Do you believe you are in a state of grace?”

As Twain describes the scene, the devious prosecutor asks this question almost as an afterthought at the end of a grueling day of interrogation. Joan gathers herself, awaits guidance from her angelic allies, and replies with quiet eloquence, “If I be not in a state of Grace, I pray God place me in it. If I be in a state of Grace, I pray God keep me so.”

In a more modern context, but in a similarly metaphysical vein, the following quote from Buckminster Fuller is a succinct description of how I believe the universe operates. I assumed that nature would “evaluate” my work as I went along. If I was doing what nature wanted done, and if I was doing it in promising ways, permitted by nature’s principles, I would find my work being economically sustained. 

Having shared this quote with many people, I can report that artists and poets and people who have lived unusual lives universally agree that this is how the universe operates, while everybody else says Bucky’s idea is hokum.

Here is one of my favorite Philip Whalen poems.

HOW MANY IS REAL

Whether we intended it or liked it or wanted it

We are part of a circle that stands beyond life and death

Happening whether we will or no

We can’t break it, we are seldom aware of it

And it looks clearest to people beyond its edge.

They are included in it

Whether or not they know

 

Men In Dresses

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

If I be not in a state of Grace, I pray God place me in it;

If I be in it, I pray God keep me so.

Jean D’Arc

Various accounts of the life of Joan of Arc, or as they say in French, Jean d’Arc, suggest that when she first heard voices urging her to wrest control of the badly beaten French armies and lead them to victory over the occupying forces of the British, she wasn’t sure if the voices were those of angels or self-delusion. I know how she feels. A week ago I woke to a voice saying loud and clear, “Men in dresses,” and for hours thereafter, visions of men wearing dresses came fast and furious.

I saw the capitol mall in Washington D.C. filled with millions of men in dresses, not kilts or robes or even skirts, but full-blown dresses made originally for women but now worn proudly and purposefully by men. Please understand: these millions of men were not dressed up as women. They were not wearing makeup. They were not trying to imitate women. They wore sensible shoes. They were merely men, the vast majority of them heterosexual, in dresses.

Why were all these fellows wearing dresses? I didn’t know, but I felt in my bones that these visions were prophetic, and furthermore I sensed that men in dresses, both the idea and the three-word expression, would play a key role in the salvation of the world along with the salvation of human society. My linear logical mind told me I was delusional, but my gut, if you will, told me I was right on.

So I wandered deep into the forest and sat at the base of a mighty redwood and spoke to the unseen powers of nature or whoever it was that had contacted me. I said, “What meanest thou by men in dresses?” I thought by using that older form of English I might entice even the most reticent spirits to join in the discussion. I was flying by the seat of my pants. I was whistling in the dark. I had no compass in my quest to understand why these bizarre visions had been sent to me.

Then I heard a voice. Well, I didn’t really hear a voice. I sensed a voice. And maybe what I sensed wasn’t technically (measurably) a voice, but more of a feeling. Yes. That’s it. I had a feeling. A feeling deep inside. Oh, yeah. And the feeling said unto me, “Enough with the olde English. By men in dresses we mean just that. Men wearing dresses. If men in great numbers start wearing dresses, trust us on this, eventually all men will start wearing dresses, unless their job absolutely precludes wearing a dress, and when the majority of men are comfortable wearing dresses and wear dresses most of the time, then for reasons we can’t explain to you yet, there will come a cognitive and spiritual sea change in how men and women think about life and the planet, and most importantly in how men and women think and feel about each other, and this sea change will spark a vast and celebratory global transition away from the paradigm of weaponry and greed and inequity, and usher in a time of peace and compassion and creative family planning that will reduce the global human population to planetary perfection within seven generations and make of the earth a paradise once more, and render humanity vibrantly diverse and creative and profoundly graceful.”

“Fine,” I said, liking the vibe of this feeling I was hearing, “but what does that have to do with me?”

“You have been chosen as the messenger to bring this news to the world. You are deeply, one might even say absurdly, heterosexual. You had two brilliant older sisters and relish the company of women, and, well, we can’t tell you the Big Reason we chose you, but believe us, it’s a really good reason.”

“Oh, come on. Why me? And for that matter, why choose an illiterate peasant girl, speaking of Jean d’Arc, and not some well-connected princess to lead the resistance? Why not invade the psyche of some macho movie star with fabulous media connections? Why an unknown middle-aged semi-recluse perfectly comfortable in trousers?”

“Sweetheart, we’ve been grooming you for this role over several lifetimes. Trust us. You’re the perfect person to lead this movement.”

“You keep telling me to trust you. Why should I?”

“We’ll get to that later. For now, how do you like these visions we’ve been sending you? Of men in dresses. Compelling, no?”

“I see all sorts of problems with your plan.” I directed my words to the massive tree, imagining my words traveling up the trunk to the highest branches and from there skyward. “First of all, assuming I could convince an initial bunch of guys to wear dresses with me, what makes you think we wouldn’t be taken for a bunch of cross dressing exhibitionists?”

“Oh, you most definitely will be taken for a bunch of cross dressing exhibitionists. Not to mention perverts and weirdoes. But since you’re so fond of referencing Jean d’Arc, remember, she was considered as nutty as a fruitcake until she proved herself otherwise. This won’t be easy. Saving the world never is.”

“Great, so I’m supposed to spend my golden years as the brunt of jokes and verbal abuse and who knows what else? Listen, I’m flattered you thought of me, but I’m sure you can find someone better suited, pun intended, to the task.”

“We’ll continue this discussion tomorrow. In the meantime, we’d like you to focus your thoughts on how you will stage your first massive Men In Dresses demonstration to achieve maximal media attention. Bye bye.”

I walked home in a funk. Being sent visions is completely different than thinking things up or imagining things. Visions are out of your ordinary. I know that doesn’t sound like a proper sentence, and it might not be proper, but it’s accurate. Whatever your ordinary might be, a vision is not of that. Not obviously anyway. Visions don’t follow logically from inklings or predilections or stuff you’ve been working on. I’ve never wanted to wear a dress. And I’ve never thought it was neato or even keeno when a man wore a dress. Indeed, men in dresses have always made me uncomfortable. What’s the point, unless one has a rash you-know-where and you’re trying to avoid chafing? So…

I decided not to focus my thoughts on how I would stage my first massive Men In Dresses demonstration to achieve maximal media attention. If these spirits had a plan, let them present it to me in full flower. And so they did. They didn’t even wait until the next day. I was eating a desultory lunch, avocado on rice cakes with goat cheese, and pondering my diet to discern if I’d eaten something that might have triggered the whole Men In Dresses concept, when a high definition vision came to me of how I would stage my first massive Men In Dresses demonstration to achieve maximal (and positive) media attention. And with this vision came a partial understanding of why the spirits had chosen me. I’m a huge fan of elegant design, and this way to stage the first massive Men In Dresses demonstration was, in the immortal words of Richard Pryor, pure pussy.

Okay. So. Brown paper grocery bags. We, the ten thousand men attending the first Men In Dresses critical mass, bring our dresses to the demonstration site in brown paper grocery bags. This is critically important. Brown paper bags are a symbol of no frills masculinity. No real man would be embarrassed to be seen carrying a brown paper grocery bag. Embarrassment is the first and largest emotional obstacle to making this whole thing work. Men, believe you me, are very easily embarrassed.

Secondly, a minimum of ten thousand men must participate in the first demonstration because any fewer than ten thousand will be, well, embarrassing. This will require a great deal of advanced planning, but there’s nothing wrong with advanced planning, especially since ten thousand men without exhibitionist cross dressing tendencies will need serious convincing about why we’re doing this and how it will not be embarrassing.

Thirdly, we will wear jeans and T-shirts and sensible shoes over which we will put on the dresses we’ve carried to the demonstration site in brown paper grocery bags, thus eliminating any worries about undressing in public or being seen carrying a dress. Eventually, men will feel perfectly comfortable traveling to massing sites in their dresses, though that will never be expected or required. The idea is to get men used to wearing dresses in public with a minimum of discomfort.

Fourthly, as stated before, no one will wear makeup or act girly. This whole movement, in these initial stages, according to my spirit guides, is about wearing dresses. Everything else, whatever that turns out to be, will follow from that.

Fifthly, I have to write a declaration, something along the lines of the Declaration of Independence, brief and poetic (in a masculine sort of way) and deeply inspiring, that will compel millions of men to become Men In Dresses.

Which is to say, I have to compose a stirring text from the dictations of the spirits. Once I have the declaration in fine fettle, I will send the speech to the seven men the spirits direct me to send the speech to, and these seven men will each send the speech to seven other men, and so on until seventy thousand men have received the declaration and one in seven commits to showing up for the first public display.

The cool thing (and a huge relief) I just learned is that if I can successfully transcribe the Declaration of Men In Dresses and the attendant Oath of Commitment To Wearing Dresses as given to me by the spirits, I will be exonerated from wearing a dress until the fourth critical massing. Here’s what they’ve sent me so far.

Beneath our clothing, we are each and every one of us naked. We hold this truth to be self-evident.

(This piece originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2010.)

Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com