Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed for a day
Over the sea to Skye".--old folk song about fleeing revolutionary
When I was a kid, the music teacher came to the classroom once or twice a week with her autoharp. We sang folk songs from many nations, "con el vito" about a Spanish lady riding who dealt with Moorish bandits hiding, a Chanukah song about "glowing lights, candles bright, happiness we share", and two songs about Bonnie Prince Charlie, "who is my darlin'" whose attempt at revolt failed, and who fled, disguised as a woman, "over the sea to Skye". In my mind, the Isle of Skye, which I have never visited, has served as some symbol of retreat--my personal Avalon, if you will, though I've seen it only through the mists of song.
Today I arose early, spent time on line, then slept for a time while a movie played on television, awakening to see its second half. The movie was the 1995 remake of Burnett's "The Little Princess", with its lovely theosophical undercurrent and its retro grrrrl-power modernity that "every little girl is a princess" no matter how humble her station. I love the cinematography and earnest good wishes of this movie, which sends me to Skye as surely as if I were rowed there by staunch Scots patriots.
I bathed while re-reading Earnest Holmes' "Basic Principles of Science of Mind", which seemed somehow entirely fitting after the positive thinking The Little Princess had engendered. Holmes is one of my favorite New Thought thinkers, and the New Thought thinkers generally appeal to me. New Thought impresses me because it arose not from the philosophical intelligentsia of its time, but from chataqua tent motivational speakers, influenced by mesmerists and Christian Science dissenters, who stood on the shores of modernity, and tried to row their boats to Skye. Holmes' idea of Universal Mind, which Holmes freely admitted was derivative of dozens of others' prior ideas, postulated a movement in which he rejects all of religion that does not work, and accepts what he saw as all the true connection with reality (which he called Universal Mind, or God) that does work. The New Thought pioneers came from faith healer traditions, and catered to a largely upwardly mobile "can do" America, so their writing suffers from its emphasis on changes in health and prosperity by thought alone. But Holmes was a brave, fascinating man, who tries to pull together disparate strands to focus his listeners on the distant island, the place of rest available to all. Unlike the mystics who wished to disinherit all but the elect from the mysteries, or the traditionalists who wished to damn all they could not understand, this non-scholar was giving lectures (he declined to call it preaching) to ordinary middle-class people, whom he exhorted to believe it was possible to live both spiritually and happily. This is still a message needed today--that meaning and happiness in life are possible, and accessible to all.
Almost against Holmes' better instincts, a United Church of Religious Science was formed, which claims some 100,000+ members even today, largely situated in the west. The faith still emphasizes New Thought ideas, stresses tolerance for other faiths, and welcomes theist and atheist alike. I have been to the Founder's Church of Religious Science, which is like an island oasis in the harsh urban realities of mid-Wilshire Los Angeles, blocks from drug dealers of Lafayette and MacArthur parks, surrounded by the graffiti of hopelessness. On Wednesday nights after work I sometimes went to services at that church. The church was more like an auditorium than a place of finery, and I never remember attendance being large. The hymns were always upbeat, as likely to derive from the repertoire of Broadway plays as from the traditional hymnbooks of more traditional churches. In those moments in which we all stood, stock still, seeking in silence connection with some higher sense of Mind, I sometimes felt that I had crossed the sea onto some island. I do not accept the tenets of that faith that problems of health and finance can be solved by positive thinking alone, but I am profoundly moved by the idea that we must act as if our thoughts and prayers matter in this world.
Even if the only "god" is the idea of God we have within, that inner realm means something to me. My own view of God makes it impossible to prove some "objective basis" for God's existence, so I prefer to permit atheist and theist alike find their own personal Skyes.
I spent the afternoon at my office, doing month-end type of tasks,
and then adjourned to an MJD Designs. MJD Designs is a small Dallas craft store retail chain that could never decide if it were more a "mainstream crafts" store like a Michael's or a "lots of wax flowers and geegaws" like a Hobby Lobby. It rsolved the dilemma by going out of business", so I stopped in to see what was deeply discounted. I had a specific goal--styrofoam for my new 10 dollar styrofoam cutter. I must say for MJD devotees present for its wake--those artistic shoppers are polite, determined and very crafty about finding the merchandise they want. I barely resisted buying some squares appropriate for mini-quilts, as I realize I could not do a mini-quilt anyway. Instead, I got tons of styrofoam, at forty percent off. I have this mental image now of making a chess set in styrofoam--the set hovers in my mind, a Skye I may never reach.
Tonight we ate at the charming Persian restaurant now open down the street from us. I was pleased to see it had customers; I really want this place to make it. Then we adjourned home to watch the video of "Tortilla Soup", a charming movie, which, like many Los Angeles movies, made me long for some aspects of LA.
All through the afternoon and evening, I've been browsing the massive Mary Baker Eddy biographical tome I bought some weeks ago. Although it is quite well-written, it is one of those non-fiction works that is really best taken snippet by snippet, out of all order. I remember a quote from Doris Lessing, in the intro to the Golden Notebook, about advising people to read books with less reverence, to get what they need from them, and then to put them down. But I was only able to locate another quote from the Golden Notebook, which I also find very important: "While writing it, I found I did not believe some of the things I thought I believed; or rather, that I hold in my mind at the same time beliefs and ideas that are apparently contradictory. Why not? We are, after all, living in the middle of a whirlwind".
Alas, the news for Bonnie Prince Charlie proved not to be so favorable, as his flight to Skye after a badly flawed effort to restore himself as the "true successor" to the English throne was soundly turned back in battle. His noble flight to Skye, aided by a sympathetic woman named Flora MacDonald, merely led him to a life of strong drink, failed casual affairs and a failed marriage, a disappointed man in almost every respect. The Scots people never rose again after this, the last of the Jacobean revolts. I think it's much easier to be a tragic hero than to live in a world in which all one's dreams fade so swiftly away.
I'm intrigued by the contrasts in Ms. Baker Eddy's life. Penniless and unable to earn a living most of her life, beset by disease and rather unfortunate family circumstances, trapped and hemmed around by Victorian sexism, she nonetheless had the vision and fortitude to found a major religious movement, Christian Science. A sickly woman who became a faith healer, she lived always in the paradox, temperamentally ill-suited to faith-building, and yet never losing her dream of a new way of approaching religion. Her photograph looks out from her biography, both powerful and haunting, weary and strong. She was a plain woman who inspired mass devotion, a largely uneducated woman who was responsible for the creation of the Christian Science Monitor, a woman of a rather puritanical mindset who nonetheless was pilloried with charges of sexual misconduct, and a would-be unifier of faiths that nonetheless built a church as distinguished for its rigidity and schisms as for its unity. I learn a great deal from Ms. Baker Eddy, however, about how important it is to keep that vision in front of one, no matter how improbable it may seem, or how difficult it may be. It is one's vision of how one should live that is the only refuge from the hordes of searchers, trying to destroy one's dreams.