Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Dancing to #PrayForPulse

Dancing Prayers.  Photo from Circles of Faith
I want to dance with queer friends tonight.
I want to cry in the arms of tender men.
I want to dance prayers so vibrant the Holy Spirit switches genders
at least three times
as she carries our prayers to Orlando. 
I want to dance across the binaries 
separating healing and self defense,
spirituality and politics,
nurturing and fighting for our lives.
I want to dance prayers
that corrode American borders,
prayers that will become martial arts
if anyone tries to harm our Muslim loved ones
and will sound like Stonewall
if anyone tries to stop us from dancing

Thursday, May 12, 2016

From the Desert, Under Constantine

Here is my chapbook of poetry titled From the Desert, Under Constantine.  When I wrote these poems, the struggle to prevent U.S. colonization of Iraq was prompting me to question everything I knew about America, Christianity, and religion.

I assembled the book as part of my senior Capstone in creative writing at Brown University in 2005.

It is a testimony of Christian mysticism vs. Christian empire: a series of deserted, fertile perceptions that never fit into the legacies of European Christendom. It explores how spiritual ancestors from the Egyptian and Syrian deserts left behind texts that were edited by rain, moths, and sunlight, their gaps opening multiple possibilities. Similarly, our fragmented perceptions will leave our descendants with worlds where many worlds fit.

This book won an award from the English department at Brown.  I had meant to find a publisher for it, but I was too busy participating in social movements the past 11 years.

I am publishing it here for the first time, in honor of my mentor C.D. Wright who recently passed away. May she rest in poetry.

I read from this book at an ecosexual open mic the other night, and I realized how relevant it still is.  I was onto something that I wasn't able to fully embody at the time, something that is starting to come into fruition now: a revolutionary, sensuous Christian practice, full of ecological love.

Creative Commons License
From the Desert, Under Constantine by Mamos Rotnelli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://aromaoftheworld.blogspot.com/.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

RIP Father Dan Berrigan

photo from David Scott
Your nonviolence was insurrectionary love

That set the war machine ablaze

Not liberal pacification

Of other people's rage

Pray for us sinners

More afraid than you of the cage...

From May Day eve,

All the way to God,

Holler back at us through the haze

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Spirituality is the Weed of the Masses: A Healing Session with Karl Marx

What do marijuana and spirituality have in common?

People self-medicate with both of them to get through life in this messed up capitalist society.

Karl Marx predicted this back in the day.  If we could have a session with him, what would we discuss?

My video and essay below explore these questions.  These are the fruit of several years of reflection and writing.  I hope you enjoy them!

Spirituality is the Weed of the Masses: A Healing Session with Karl Marx 

If you're stressed out and anxious you're not alone.
Poster from the Occupy movement in 2012

Most people are anxious.  And that's because capitalist society is stressful as hell. Many of us are trying to heal from real traumas in our lives, while our society keeps traumatizing us and everyone around us.

Millions of us are self-medicating to deal with this stress.  Some turn to weed.  Some turn to spiritual / religious practices. Some turn to both.

Both are coping mechanisms; both are self-care and good medicine.  Both can also become addictions.

 To heal from our traumas, we need to connect with each other; we need to embody love.  And ultimately, we need to free ourselves from the systems of oppression that keep traumatizing us.  Both weed and spirituality can help us procrastinate and avoid these challenges.  Or they can help us face them gracefully.

To explore these contradictory realities, I'm summoning the ancestral memory of Karl Marx, the 19th century communist philosopher who famously compared religion and drugs ("religion is the opiate of the masses").

Growing up Catholic, I always hated that comparison because I thought he was making fun of religious people like me.  Then I realized that a lot of stoners turn their smoking habits into religious rituals. I've seen people share and pass weed as if they are the holy apostles breaking bread. Maybe Marx wasn't trying to put down religion; maybe instead, he was compassionately perceiving the religious aspects of drug use, and the addictive aspects of religion.

What if he had reversed the metaphor and said that opium is the religion of the masses? For a lot of people today, would that religion be alcoholism?  Or getting stoned? Or watching Netflix?  And why do people do these things in the first place?  Doesn't it come back to the same issue Marx was analyzing: how capitalism makes life feel like it's not worth living, and how we all strive for some sacred substance that can elevate us above all the bullshit, whether it's the Holy Eucharist or some good kush?
If you and your friends could have a session with Karl Marx, what would you talk about? 
I have a feeling that Marx came up with his drug metaphor because he liked to kick it with factory workers.  He learned how they coped with their brutal and alienating jobs, for better and for worse.  He coped with his life as a poor refugee by chain smoking cigarettes and writing obsessively.  Imagine if he could kick it with you and your friends today, after a long week at work or school.  Imagine you're doing whatever you do to relax: singing in a gospel choir, passing a blunt, or meditating out in the woods.   What would your conversations with the old man reveal about religion, drugs, spirituality, anxiety, and capitalism today?

This essay is an exploration of what I would add to such a session,  based on my own experiences, research, and conversations with fellow members of the working classes - and people who skip classes to smoke ;)

Through my entire life I've had close relationships with people who have survived trauma and are coping with it through religion and / or weed. Now I teach in a program for youth who have dropped out of high school, and many of them are highly dependent on weed to cope with their own traumas.

It is a stressful job, and I've had to really hone my practices of embodied spirituality in order to show up well every day.  I've also had to heal from my own traumas, heartbreak, and anxiety, a process I'm still going through.  I've been active in social movements and organizing for over 12 years, trying to team up with folks who want liberation from all the incarceration, police violence, patriarchy, white supremacy, and anti-Black racism my students and loved ones face, some of the very things folks deal with by smoking weed.  This essay is informed by all of these journeys.

Of course my own experience is limited, and I don't have all the answers. If you're also struggling, I'm curious:  if you, me, Marx, and our friends could have a session, what would we say to each other while we chill together? Maybe exploring these questions can help us learn how to heal together, so we can become dangerous to the system that's destroying all of us in different ways.

My writer's block is finally thawing

coming out of hibernation
When I relaunched this blog in the summer of 2014, I planned to update it regularly.  I didn't realize that I wasn't quite ready.

The revolts in Ferguson and Baltimore were like fire on the mountain, signaling seismic changes in society and in all of our lives. My participation in the movement for Black lives upended my life and surfaced some contradictions I needed to work though.  I didn't realize there were deeper layers of trauma I needed to heal from so I could show up with the necessary discernment and clarity.  I found I still had a lot to learn about how to love. 

The past year and a half has been a whirlwind, and I've had to focus rigorously on healing after my long-term partner and I broke up.  I've been practicing somatics, meditation, and healing forms of play, plus a lot of prayer.  In this process, I lost my ability to write and speak publicly.  It almost felt like the Holy Spirit was asking me to play, pray, heal, and love quietly on the sidelines for a while, to practice while other folks took the field.  And in the process of that fertile practice I've had thousands of amazing conversations with kindred spirits. 

And now, after a lot of discernment, it seems time to start doing this publicly again.  So I just gave this blog a little spring cleaning, updating the main pages and the template, and adding a Creative Commons license so that work here can contribute to the growing media commons.  I plan to experiment and play with more genres and mediums, in addition to the poetry and prose I've been working with, and I'm about to publish an essay I've been working on for several years.  

In short: it's springtime, and it's time to come out of hibernation. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

When the white heckler said "No Lives Matter"

This Saturday I was at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in solidarity with the Baltimore uprising against police brutality.  We were gathered outside the Mariners game at the stadium and I was with a group of friends and comrades, mostly Black folks.  A middle aged white man came up to us and started shouting "what would you do if the police shot a white person?  I bet you wouldn't even care."

I figured he was one of the many white people who like to come up and demand that we chant "all lives matter" instead of "Black lives matter".  I usually  try to talk with these people and pull them away from the crowd so that Black friends won't have to deal with them at the same time they're trying to organize the demonstration.

So I walked up to him, looked him square in the eyes, and asked him "what would YOU do if the cops shot a white person?"  

He hesitated for a second and then said "probably nothing." 

So I responded: "so I guess you don't really care about Black people OR white people then, huh?"

He said, "the police killing people is natural, it's part of population control".  

I responded, asking "what are you some kind of Nazi?"  

He puffed out his chest and started reaching for something in his pocket and with a glare he said "are you calling me a Nazi?"

"You're the one talking about population control" I replied, scanning his shoulders and hands for any sudden movements.  

Then he just grimaced and walked away, like a pile of wreckage from 500 years of disaster.  

I looked around the stadium and thought "cynicism must be America's favorite pastime. "

Noel Ignatiev wrote that before the 1930s labor struggles, workers would have to clean their bosses cars on the weekends in order to keep their jobs.   After the strike waves, that kind of behavior was looked down on as demeaning and your fellow workers would mock you if you kept doing it.  He said that in the future we will look back and recognize white behavior as similarly demeaning.  In fact, whiteness itself is an embodied philosophy of degradation: "I don't want to fight back against my bosses and the rich people who oppress me, I'll accept my miserable lot in life, as long as there are Black people worse off than I am".   

This man, slumping toward the scrap heap of history, could not have illustrated that mentality any better.   

A bit demoralized, I turned around and saw my friend and comrade standing close to me.  They are a young person with pale pink skin like mine, and they've gone very hard in the Black Lives Matter movement the past six months.   I realized they were getting my back the whole time.  When I thanked them for that they just responded "that's what we do." 

Someday, after the revolution, whiteness will no longer matter, and we will all matter to each other.  It'll just be what we do.  


St. Mary of Perpetual Revolution Pray

for Black Lives Matter  

the congregation sings and chants

instead of working and worrying

our lives away - the communion of saints

stays singin’

hosanna  in the highest.

It’s like a beat looped through their bodies and ours,

from creation to  infinity

but still all  freestyling,  perfectly imperfect

the beat is the left, and we’re it’s right hand

singular variations in the multitude of  liberations

brothers, sisters, living, dead

and those who break  the binaries between ‘em

and still harmonizing - or better yet  arpeggiating

each other into higher chords of mutual inspiration

somewhere in that multitude my ancestors are murmuring

at a parish in the heavens called St. Mary of Perpetual Revolution

as the organ beat drops

and they pass the bread and roses

They  might be  praying rosaries

for  the people in the streets of  Baltimore.