Wait for the wheel (III): For my axel to become roots

ganymede-nawruz-alphadesigner

The wheel has turned once more; the fasting is done, the samovars are heated, the tea is served. Naw-Rúz has quietly returned. Today is a holiday older than memory, signifying the cosmic cycle of seasons; the eternal struggle of light and dark; the lesson that must always be re-learned at ever-subtler hermeneutical depths, as we sift through the alluvium of meaning upon the banks of an enigmatic river.

This was the first cycle since becoming a Bahá’í that I performed the full fast: that is, getting up before sunrise to eat, abstaining from food and drink, etc. In previous cycles, I ate bread and water at set times; insomnia made arising so early an impossible challenge; and solitude, wrought by a lack of like-minded colleagues, was disheartening company for the journey. Understandably, I dreaded the coming of the fast this year — but this cycle around proved different. This cycle, I had company, as well as a determination, spurred on by close friends, to step beyond doubt and foreboding to try.

I was always perplexed by my fellow Bahá’ís, who every February would anticipate the fast with excitement, and then seemed so happy to be starving themselves. Now I see why. The air has been thick with providence, and every other day the earth shook with unforeseen encounters and conversations. New insights seemed to creep around every corner. A few of the things I’ve learned, some quotidian, some esoteric, some harsh, some I needed to be reminded about, some that should not have been so surprising. And in the end, I find myself writing this:

I circle
my edge scraping through the mud
damp soil clinging to my spokes

I circle
rolling and whirling and churning
never advancing, never regressing

I circle
digging and sinking and descending
seeking a telos, finding epicycles

I circle
the same lessons with new textures
grinding through sediments of meaning

I circle
the epochs of my life laid like old shores
traces of ancient continents re-discovered

I circle
down deeper to the planet’s burning core
where elements transmutate, matter reshapes

I pray
for my axel to become roots, my hub a seed
and hatching, finally, arising toward the sun

[Note: The image above is by the artist Alphadesigner. It concerns the myth of Ganymede, but I’m more interested in its imagery than its symbolism…]

Wait for the wheel

My grandmother used to say that life is a great wheel. Sometimes it grinds you down to the mud and other times it lifts you up to the light. We are strapped to this wheel, but the point is that most times you get a second chance. You just gotta wait for the wheel.

— John Crichton, Farscape

Today is Nawrúz, the official end of the Baha’i 19-day fast and the first day of our calendar. It’s also my second since joining the faith. When I look back on last springtime, more and more it feels as though February 23, 2009 was a culmination of sorts. In the least it was appropriately symbolic, at most not a coincidence, that I joined right before the fast, as though I had to pass through a kind of death in order to be resurrected and rejuvenated. I think my friend Tony, who joined with me, has a similar interpretation.

The 2009 fast wasn’t my first. I attended a Catholic university, so I was familiar with Lent. During my long complicated romance with Islam I had undergone Ramadan numerous times. I was never successful, breaking down after only a few days, at best after two weeks. But last year was different, and not because the Baha’i fast is a week shorter. My heart had never been in Ramadan; it always felt like an obligation. For the Baha’i fast, though, I found that my heart was ready for the commitment.

Tony and I have talked at great length about the meaning of the fast for us. While many Catholics, Muslims, and Baha’is feel that the act of sustained self-denial brings them metaphysically closer to God, he and I have had no such experience. We personally reject such sudden discovery of piety; instead, of ourselves we demand consistency. As I recently put it to a Flemish comrade, “I was a screwed-up jerk before the fast and I remain a screwed-up jerk during the fast; the big difference is that now I’m starving.”

But of course that’s not the main difference. It’s perhaps surprising considering our normally mystical inclinations, but Tony and I instead find ourselves understanding the fast in worldly terms of challenge and, most of all, ethics. We see the fast as an act of solidarity for those suffering privation throughout the world — approaching the divine via His justice, not His presence. This makes sense to us because for most of the year we’re more theophanic than ethical.

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