I pulled this little sculpture down off the shelf this weekend and cleaned him off. It’s been a few years and he needed attention, and the universe was speaking to me through this image.
I bought this back in 2001 when I lived in Oregon. It was three days after the 9/11 attacks and it was my turn to priestess in circle that moon – I don’t remember now if I was pinch hitting for someone who couldn’t do it, or if it was just regular rotation. In that circle we took turns leading ritual, and whoever was leading had the option to bring in some of their personal altar furnishings if they didn’t feel like choosing from the selection that lived in the home where we regularly met. It was my turn, and I was looking for the right image of the Divine, and I found him in a little shop in the Hawthorne District that sold Indonesian imports – a lot of batik clothes that didn’t fit me, and paper lanterns, and brightly painted wall art, and these little sculptures in various sizes, some as small as a big marble, some as large as a cabbage. The one pictured here is about the size of a tennis ball, and fits comfortingly in the palm of the hand.
The story I was told is that this is a depiction of the Buddha, weeping for the sorrows and suffering of the world. It seemed right for that moment more than ten years ago – a circle that stands out in my ritual memory – and it seems right for this moment also: now when the year is dark and getting darker still, now when current events demand that we look unspeakable tragedy in the eye and recognize its presence, now when one overwhelming incident does in the end nothing to unmake the ten thousand lesser tragedies of loss and illness and privation and sorrow that already were and are and yet will be.
The internets tell me that perhaps this story is one that is modern, made up to sell these little statues, which are said to be an exercise for novice woodworkers: a stylized human figure, attention given to the body’s larger forms without needing to master the details of faces and hands. That may be so; I do not know for sure. I am reminded of what my mythology prof back in college used to say: A myth is a story in which everything is true except the story itself. I do not think it is necessary for this little piece of carved wood to have only one true meaning, any more than anything else should. We worry too much about that – we fall into the trap of thinking that one truth excludes all other truth, one meaning excludes any other possibility.
The Holy Mystery is bigger than that.
I was dragging around in a funk of busy-ness and business this week before things got more complicated. It is partly the season, the encroaching darkness and the fervent flurry of activity as though spending money we do not have on things we do not need to give to people who do not have use for them is somehow going to stave off the cold dark end of the year. I would dearly love to crawl up under the pillows and snooze until the light starts coming back.
The mind may understand truths about orbits and axial tilt, but the soul is wary of the deepening dark and fears that the sun will not come back this time, even though (so far) it always has. There is truth to both of these; may as well own it, and kindle a light in this darkness. Just in case. You never really know.