Monday, February 18, 2013

February 18, 2013

This past Sunday, the Unitarian Universalist Covenant Fellowship, which meets here in the bookshop the first and third Sunday of every month, had a most unusual guest "minister." I place "minister" in quotes. because I'm not sure she would consider herself a Minister (with a capital "M"). This Unitarian Fellowship of mine has unusual offerings on Sunday. Last month it was "Singing Bowls." We had a fine Baptist preacher, too, and many ordained Unitarian ministers, real ones.
     Sophia Dilkusha McGuire is a "real one" all right. She announces herself as "Representative, Guide, and Teacher, Sufi Order International." She called her "sermon," "message," – I'm not sure what to call it – "Splendor Amidst the Everyday." She spoke in a whisper, at least to my 77-year-old ears, but what I heard seemed unusual and unusually interesting and soulful. Unfortunately, a lot of her murmurings–in a sweet Scotch/Irish soprano voice–were instructions. It was embarrassing not to know what her instructions were. My neighbor turned to me and said, "I like how gentle your eyes look." Obviously, we were to do something like that . . . Ms. McGuire's instructions. Inspired, I said back, "I'm glad you're here." My neighbor was one of the few, local African Americans who have braved our informal Sunday "services" "observances" – I'm not sure what to call them, "Worship Services"? – said her name was, "Joy."
     Noticing everyone clutching their throats, I did too. Another whispered instruction. Turned out it was our hearts (I think) we were supposed to touch.
     I found all this touchy-feely stuff very nice. It made me feel–as I'm sure it was supposed to–touchy feely myself! I liked Ms. McGuire's appearance and loved her soft, sweet voice. Just as there's a distinctive "Sufi Script" typographically, there's a special Sufi way of talking: extremely mellow and whisperish, caressing each word, repeating platitudes. "God walks beside you," said in this way, over and over, becomes less of a cliche. You think, "Maybe God is walking beside me?"
     I noticed that when we were instructed to "Repeat After Me," Tammy wouldn't say the "G" word. Reminded me of that joke about Unitarians:
     "Why does it take so long for Unitarians to sing a hymn?
     "Because they have to check every word to see if they're willing to sing it."

Dilkusha McGuire began her thing with, "We see with our eyes.But we see with much more. We also see with our heart . . . with our soul." I thought that was a simple idea lovingly expressed–I didn't remember ever hearing that from The Pulpit before–not that my bookshop has a "pulpit." Dilkusha stood right in front of the soda pop glass door refrigerated unit. No pulpit.
     One of my oldest friends and former 4-year Unicorn worker (1970–1974), Patti Field, became a "Representative, Guide, and Teacher" for a Sufi Community in Charlottesville, Virginia when she left our Unicorn work community. She changed her name to "Zakira," which is how she is known to this day: "She who is searching for God," . . . Zakira. I bet Sophia McGuire has at least one, probably two, name changes. That "Dilkasha" doesn't sound kosher. I bet it means, "Brings God to Your Supper Table," or something like that. "Sophia" of course means "Wisdom" in Greek. That's probably a made-up name, too. Funny how many people in my lifetime have accused me of changing my name to . . . Brilliant!
     Reminds me of an early Jewish immigrant joke popular in the 1920s on the Borscht Circuit. An old Jewish man goes to Court and asks the Judge to allow him to change  his name.
     "What's your name now?" the Judge asks.
     "Goldberg," the old man replies in a strong, foreign, Jewish accent.
     "Okay. What do you want to call yourself in the future?"
     The man beamed. "O'Reilly!" he exclaimed.
     But a short time latter the old man came back to Court. He asked the Judge if he could change his name again.
     "You're Mr. O'Reilly now," the Judge remembered. "What do you want to change that to?"
     "O'Shaunnessey!" exclaimed the old Jewish gentleman.
     The Judge was puzzled. "But why do you want to change your new name, O'Reilly, now, to O'Shaunnessey?"
     "Well, Your Honor," said the petitioner. "These days, everyone asks me, What was your name before it was O'Reilly, and I have to confess it was Goldberg. But if I change O'Reilly to "O'Shaunnessey . . ."
     "I get it. I get it," said the Judge. "Okay, you can change your name again."

Monday, February 4, 2013

February 4, 2013 

On February 1, 2013, my friend and fellow bookperson, Michael T. Bohen, 102 South Mendenhall Street, here in Greensboro, North Carolina, surprised me by suggesting, "Al, I will give you one hundred dollars if you will write a book on Dorothy Day."
     I had written ten volumes of journals the previous year, 2012, and Mike buys them as I publish them. But he didn't mean a journal exactly, although he wanted my personal reminiscence of Dorothy, and anything else I cared to say about her. Mike knew Dorothy had been the most important formative influence on my whole life. And he obviously has a high regard for her himself.
     Mike seemed to have in mind what I would call a "chapbook" and he would probably call a "booklet." I enjoyed the challenge of a separate publication only about Dorothy Day. And a hundred dollars, while it may seem "small potatoes" to all of you reading this, is a large sum to Michael and to me. Oddly, my first thought was of Anais Nin being offered money for a series of erotic sketches that became her Delta of Venus. Although I have been offered money before for writing this or that, it hasn't happened very often.
     That was yesterday. I knew at once I would accept the challenge. I have had published at least three little books of prose, all 4 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches, and I could immediately picture the final product, a book, in a small edition, hardbound, maybe with a cover of art work by my daughter, Mariah, just like the other little prose booklets I've produced. Mike said he didn't care if the edition was only one (1) copy, but of course a publisher like me can hardly think in terms of editions of one!

I wish Dorothy could see what my partner, Maureen "Mo" Kessler and I have going here at Glenwood Coffee & Books, 1310 Glenwood Avenue, Greensboro, NC 27403. I know she'd like it. Well, what would she like? That it's a public space. That I live here,  suitably modest dwelling (no kitchen, no hot water, pretty cold, sustainable.)
     She would love the dozens of peace-and-justice organizations that have met here. In our first two years, how many meetings, maybe 200? Gay and Lesbian LGBTQ groups, regional groups from all over the South, state groups like N. C. Warn and Coalition Against Corporate Power. Today the Energy Working Group sof Occupy Greensboro is having an important meeting. The place is filling with activists (and probably half a dozen agents of various government surveillance groups, nothing strange about that to Dorothy Day). Just now, the church fellowship (Unitarian Universalists) had their Sunday worship here. Being the only independent bookshop in Greensboro, we have book signings and poetry readings and writers and artists galore. The Catholic Worker, which Dorothy founded in 1936 with Peter Maurin, had as its mission "Three C's," cult, culture, and cultivation. The cult was The Roman Catholic Church; the culture was art of course but primarily their monthly newspaper, The Catholic Worker; the cultivation was the small farm  C. W. owned, on Staaten Island. We also have gardens. We have culture galore. As for Dorothy's primary mission, people who are destitute, people who are homeless, we do that,too. Mo and I are "Food Not Bombs" occasional workers, and the bookshop has always offered at least one free meal a month to the whole neighborhood. We're in cahoots with Liz Seymour and the Interactive Resource Center (IRC). Mike Bohen himself volunteers at Servant Center.

Dorothy was a writer all her life, a journalist, a reporter, an author. She would have appreciated Unicorn Press, all my journals, a bookshop . . . but, most of all, she would have loved all of this together, the feeding and clothing of the poor, the writing and the publishing, the bookshop and the almost daily public readings. And that's not all. How about our prison library book project? Occupy Greensboro meets here. The anarchist groups, the Wobblies?    Oh, she would have loved The Wobblies! My vow of voluntary poverty she would know all about, because it was she who urged it upon me, the first day I met her, November 14, 1955.
     I'll save the story of how I came to be with Dorothy that first time until I leave this "preface" and begin my booklet's main story. Which is what? Truthfully, I don't know. Until now, I had never thought of an extended writing about Dorothy. Although she appears, in what I would call a deep way, in my just-published Spiritual Journal (available from Unicorn Press). She is one of three people who influenced me the most in my life: first of all, Dorothy Day. Next in importance, Thich Nhat Hanh, whose first five books in English I published (1967–1975). Thirdly, Thomas Merton, and I published five books of "Father Louie" also, as well as much literary and religious ephemera of this Cistercian frair/priest. Each one of them generously led me to a real life, a life which, without them, would hardly have been worth living, so important have them been to me. But of the three, it was Dorothy who had the greatest influence on my inmost living. Profound as Tom and Nhat Hanh are, without Dorothy I find it hard to believe my life would have amounted to anything. Even with her enormous influence and significance upon me, I can still hope that to dust I shall return and no one will be the wiser.