Saturday, May 18, 2013

Double take

When that British theologian (and her theologian husband) came to stay for Queer Christianities 2, people I had never met before, I had a look around the dining room to see what someone might think it told about me religiously. To my surprise, it told I was a Buddhist! There certainly is a lot of Buddhist stuff there, though there is Christian stuff too, harder to see, and in the other rooms the Christian stuff rules the roost. Here's an inventory, with stories of how things got here.

This is calligraphy from 仁和寺 Ninnaji, a Shingon temple in Kyoto. I think it's by someone quite important. 大道, the great way.
Next you might notice this goddess Saraswati, in her Himalayan Buddhist garb. It was my thank you gift from the proprietor of Gangtok's coolest bookshop, where I gave one of my everyday religion talks last January. (The flower you'll recognize as more recent.) Nearly on the floor beneath the Japanese calligraphy you might notice this tankga of the medicine Buddha, which I picked up in Shangrila last summer. I bought it because I wanted a tangka, and was looking for one without a Buddha - but I'm the only who sees the greens here!
In another corner you might see this Tibetan incense holder, a gift from a past colleague He picked it up on one of his annual pilgrimage/ tours.

And then of course, in the middle of the table, there's this candle, which has become the official candle of Sunday dinners! Though it looked like dragonflies to my flatmate, it in fact evokes the cubes of Buddha eyes atop great stupas like the one at Boudha in Kathmandu.

A lot of Buddhism going on here, it must be said! A lot of it is souvenirs of my recent trips to the Himalaya, and the calligraphy was a gift from our oldest family friend in Japan, who grew up in a temple in the tradition centered at Ninnaji. The Christian stuff is harder to find...

Photos of my dear ones are jammed higgledy-piggledy atop a CD rack. That postcard of Jesus reaching from the cross is from Halle.

And a little farther down in the CD rack you might notice this, a Russian icon of the Trinity, blessed by my late friend V, an Episcopal priest.

The wooden thing in the window - an eye knocked out of a block of wood, with the word PEACE burnt in - is from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, NM, where I've twice gone on retreat. (It looked happier before the landlady put bars on the window!) I have to admit that I, too, don't pay these Christian things much heed - except for the postcard from Halle, which is there precisely as a reproach for my religious fluffiness!

The room I sleep in is more clearly marked. A poster of the Verduner Altar, a 12th century enamel altar in Kloster- neuburg, just outside Vienna, gets the whole big wall to itself. Like the Georgia O'Keeffe Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival poster it's traveled with me for years.

And behind the cookbooks (and more incense) is Christ of Maryknoll, an icon by Robert Lentz, a queer Christian, another reproach.

So what does it all add up to? The digs of a double belonger - or just of a dilettante? This has been an interesting exercise as I come to the end of my most Buddhism-heavy semester in many years, perhaps ever. What is Buddhism for me - or, for that matter, Christianity? I confess I'm glad I'll have access to these things - all of them - remotely as I set off for another summer of peregrination. (I read the blog, too!)

I leave you with a picture of the fridge, recalling telling students in classes on "Lived Religion" that you could learn a ton about people by looking just at what they put on their refrigerators. It's dominated by art by various children in my life, and creatures of a "design your own religion" set from another colleague. Oh, and at the top, a tiny little Buddha I picked up in Boulder, Colorado five years ago. Oops.

PS Oh and guess what else I forgot: the palms from Palm Sunday...!

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