A pen. But not just any pen. A Uni-ball GEL Impact 1.0 mm. Black. Or a pencil, if the medium is hard, if the writing is to occur on a table or a desk. If the medium is paper, which is pulverized trees. Lined or graphed and in a notebook without a spiral. Not loose. Not blank. The medium must be contained, bound in some manner as to keep pages from separating. You touch to connect.
A bible. Small, leather-bound, preferably old, a hundred years and counting, and well-read, well-worn. King James edition. Musty-smelling and somewhat faded by sun, by eyes. A good used bible is a window into a another life. Anotherís soul.
Rumi. Coleman Barks Edition. Bloated with bookmarks, festooned with 3M brand stick-on flags marking pages and passages and lines where, in times past, a certain unity had occurred, a joining, a reunification between the reader (myself) and the writer (Jelaluddin Rumi) and the translator (Coleman Barks), forming a momentary trinity, a new Pangaea, a super-continent of hearts and minds.
A small stone pried loose from Jack Londonís grave. Mouse-sized and mouse-colored. Suitable for rubbing or total enclosure within a fist. It gives off a heat you can feel in your palm. A transference.
Bones. The ivory femur of a deer. Human metatarsals. A few teeth, molars, no dental work, likely from China. Various vertebrae. The scapula of a seal. A cat skull. A marmot skull, a fox, a raccoon. The fully articulated skeleton of a tropical snake. There was flesh here. There was living.
Dog tags. Tin. Some notched, some not. WWII, Korea, Vietnam. Unknown men, long gone. Closer to true identity now. Perhaps there is some power within them, some force I can harness.
Sea shells, acorns, owl pellets, Zippo lighters, bullet-casings, fossils spanning epochs and formed during catastrophic events, crucifixes, old rosaries. All objects of a peculiar faith. The talismans of a writer. Hand-worn things that bridge the divide between the living and the dead. They are, to me, proof of existence beyond myself. Beyond time. Toy soldiers, .50 caliber Confederate slugs dug from the hard-packed mud of Fredericksburg, pinecones, old photographs bearing unknown faces and graced with captions in floaty script, cigar boxes, envelopes stuffed with cancelled stamps, comic books, baseball cards and ticket stubs from games actually attended. The things I carry. The things I hold. Not on my person, but in my hands, sometimes, before the writing begins. During the writing. Little brass keys and thick foreign coins. Connections, proofs and signs. I am nothing without them. They help me to connect, to believe, to imagine other lives and also my own, once I am gone. Without them I am nothing.
How do you channel the un-seeable? How do you create a link between the unknown and the barely understood? How do you reconcile living? Writing as living? Writers look to printed words, and objects. They hold them, read them, take them into themselves. You write to understand living.
For me there must be a physical connection to the mystery of this life. A grounding. Small, fleeting answers to great questions. Who I am? What I am? What do I do with pen and wood pulp and ink? Combine them. Create living artifacts that require no translation, no guesswork. I Lived. Construct a conduit between the living and the dead. That which was and that which is to be. And this is how it is with the snakes. This is what a Holiness man does with his serpents. He connects to his God.
A Kentucky preacher, Pentecostal, arrested just last week for trafficking snakes.
Dozens of snakes confiscated. Donated to a local reptile zoo. These snakes were the implements of this manís faith. They represent his link to his God. Holiness Pentecostals, Sign Followers as they are called, believe in what Jesus says regarding faith and the Holy Spirit. He said that those who believe are protected. He said that those whose hearts are true can, when filled with the Holy Spirit, withstand venomous bites and the consumption of deadly poisons. I believe this to be metaphor, but it doesnít make a difference what I believe. I have my own bizarre rituals of faith. The Holiness people believe this to be literally true. Theirs is a religion marked by a visceral connection to God and that the Holy Spirit is the manifestation of God. When they handle serpents or drink poison they are proving to themselves that God is there, with them, in their flesh. Proof of God. Imagine. This is beautiful. This is sane. Wanting this, now, in this world, makes perfect sense. Are you with me God? Are you there? Touch me. Hold my hand, stroke my head. Protect me from death because, sweet Jesus, I am so damn scared of living.
Why must we take away their snakes? Why is religious serpent handling illegal? Why not let these people alone? They are simply trying to connect with God. They are trying to find some meaning in a life which has become increasingly besought with violence, hate, greed, selfishness and fear. If a snake can do this then let them keeps snakes.
Snakes Ė the very symbols of sin, the darkness, the duality of manís spirit, a reptile, primitive and cold-blooded, from a wholly different world, a different time, before the onset of man, a creature sleek and simple and perfectly designed to fit its niches, a beautiful product of evolution, but also a creature so misunderstood and cast so undeservedly into a role of malevolence. This organism is a perfect conduit to faith. Because it is a metaphor for man.
Pentecostalism is the fastest growing branch of Christianity in the world. Not the snake handling variety but the tamer, safer version that simply focuses on the Holy Spirit. And itís no surprise. In how many other places can we find a visceral connection with a higher, benevolent power? Pentecostalism so named for Christian Day of Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Easter, and in the Book of Acts, that first Pentecost marks the beginning of the Christian church and faith. On that first Day of Pentecost, the bible says, the Holy Spirit reveals itself as an omnipresent helper and spirit of truth. It was the Holy Spirit who appeared to Mary and the apostles on the day of Pentecost to affirm the resurrection and their faith.
The Holy Spirit. You donít have to believe in Jesus or God to appreciate the notion of something inside and all around us that we can feel. And if you pay attention you can feel it, without snakes, without bibles, without mass or worship or prayers. You donít need religion to feel connected, looked after or loved. You donít need miracles performed from above when you have miracles performed here, all around you every second. The continuous unwinding and reforming of DNA, the birth of a child, a spiderís web, the human mind.
ďMy religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.Ē
ďThat deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.Ē
This is my idea too. God is nature. God is the universe. And I can feel it, without my tangible crutches, my scrounged and collected implements of faith. But I want those things, as they are the comfort food of my soul. I want my bibles and my bones and my snakes. Because simply seeing them reminds me that I am not alone.
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