Friday, November 3, 2006

Friday Reflection: Poet of the Earth

Quote of the Day, from this story on the clear and present dangers to the fish of the earth (and thus a large portion of the human race's food supply):

"The way we use the oceans is that we hope and assume there will always be another species to exploit after we've completely gone through the last one," said research leader Boris Worm, from Dalhousie University in Canada.

This bears directly on the message coming from our weekly author of the banner quote, the great American poet, Walt Whitman. I pulled it off a great website called American Who Tell The Truth. The original is from the Preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass.

Whitman's work is a soul-ringing response to the cults of fundamentalism and their program of hatred toward the body and its natural functions and desires. Here's the first page of Leaves of Grass, written right here in Brooklyn, in 1855:

I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease....observing a spear of summer grass.

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes....the shelves are crowded
with perfumes,
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it.
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a has no taste of the distillation is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever....I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

The smoke of my own breath,
Echos, ripples, and buzzed whispers....loveroot, silkthread,
crotch and vine,
My respiration and inspiration....the beating of my heart....
the passing of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore
and darkcolored sea rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the belched words of my voice....words loosed
to the eddies of the wind,
A few light kisses....a few embraces....a reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields
and hillsides,
The feeling of health....the full-noon trill....the song of me
rising from bed and meeting the sun.*

So, what would Walt Whitman have to say to Pastor Ted Haggard**, who has been driven out of the closet after preaching a "gospel" of hatred and injustice toward gays? Perhaps he would have the same message that is expressed by Carol Anthony and Hanna Moog, in their epochal study of the I Ching:

...form is not meant to be separated from the function it serves, for it is only through fulfilling its function that its beautiful expression can be achieved. This can be understood in the sexual act and the love it is meant to express. The function of sexuality, apart from procreation, is to renew the life force (chi) within the partners through love. When sexuality is practiced apart from love, it cannot serve that function, and it degrades the people who do it.

Perversion breeds—within the Catholic priesthood, among right-wing pundits and evangelicals, and even in Congress—precisely because weak, petty demagogues like Pastor Ted teach that God wants us to be ashamed of our bodies. They tell us that God is love, but sex is not, and will violently react to anyone who suggests otherwise (especially to novelists who wonder whether Jesus might have had a love-child).

So now Pastor Ted will have to find his own answers; I would only suggest that the last place he wants to look for them is within his own ministry. It is his own teaching that has trapped him in this net of adultery, deceit, and prostitution.

But let me be very clear about this: being gay is not the problem, being loveless is. If we cannot as Americans respect and even admire the love that is poured from one body into another during the sex act, and celebrate it as Whitman would have us celebrate it—whether or not the love's exchanged between the same sex or different colors or mixed races or even opposite political affiliations—then how dare we call our nation a democracy?

A true Democrat lives as Whitman did—for himself, for herself, for the meaning and beauty that her individuality has to offer the whole. I will say it and write it until my cat's fur turns white: the universal is realized and perpetuated by the dance of freedom within each individual. And if you think that is an empty, vapid, New Age idealism, void of meaning in the arcane matters of policy and geopolitical complexity, then tell it to your children, that you have given up on the possibility of a sane and natural world for them to live in.

Then go tell the fish, and all the rest of this planet's creation.


*from Walt Whitman: Selected Poems, 1855 - 1892, an outstanding edition by Gary Schmidgall (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999).

**We've written about Pastor Ted before, in "Angels and Virgins: The Faces of Fundamentalism". He's a friend and ally of President Bush, as was revealed by Jeff Sharlet in Harpers Magazine.

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