Each time I begin a new blog, I jump into the stream of unconsciousness in apprehension and hope that I will find something real beneath the rapids. Sometimes I try to use a theme that looks and sounds good but in the end it grows stale and I have to abandon it on the bank.
A few days ago, there was a PBS biography “A Place to Stand,” about Jimmy Santiago Baca, a poet author of Mexican and Apache ancestry whose name has been known to me for years yet was unknown to me inside the covers of his books. His entry story is unfortunately not unusual but the outcome is rare indeed, marking him as one of those rare souls who came into this world destined by the sublime alchemist to be forged by fire to a fine metal. Frequently such souls begin among the lowest levels of the social hierarchy.
Jimmy’s parents were addicts who abandoned him at an early age. He foraged and stole to survive. He had no schooling. He rose in the realm of thieves and drug dealers until he was caught. He went from one prison to another and finally ended up in Arizona State Prison deemed one of the worst in the country. It was truly a place of horror where inmates were routinely ground down to a subhuman level. Some were tough and clever and Jimmy learned both good and bad skills from them. The inmates walked shoulder to shoulder with death every day. He learned to be tough without permanently losing contact with his soul. The warden did what he could to keep the inmates from rising above the lowest level of bare existence, punishing those in anyway who attempted to learn or better themselves. Jimmy seemingly by accident discovered words and became enthralled. His reward was to be banished to the dark underground of the prison. But even in this hell he received support from both inside and outside the prison. An amputee veteran of WWII began to correspond with him secretly. This man believed his calling from God was to communicate with prisoners like Jimmy. I have forgotten many details, but I believe he may have come to that calling having himself been a prisoner of war. His dialogue and encouragement was what Jimmy needed to survive and it fed his passion for the magic of words.
Due to this man’s intervention, Jimmy was finally removed from solitary. He continued to write, especially poetry. Words were the fire of life and lifted him above his pain and cage. At first, he had no thought of being published, but eventually began submitting his work to various magazines. The prison didn’t allow him to profit from this but writing was its own reward.
The suffering continued and Jimmy wrote to his benefactor that he was an atheist because if there was a god he couldn’t allow such cruelty and evil. His benefactor then cut off their communication with a letter stating that he could not continue with someone who didn’t believe in god. After that, Jimmy was on his own.
Too often, religious people believe their god is too weak to withstand criticism and loss of belief. I have certainly lost belief many times in this cruel world based on exploitation and greed, but I now believe that a truer picture of god includes our rightful despair and rage at the horror and cruelty in this world. I don’t know if Jimmy is still an atheist or if he now has a more complete view of god, but my own change came when I realized that it was more imperative that god believed in me than whether I believed in god. I am not using a capital G in the word god because my view of god will always amount to less than the tiniest dot of comprehension in the enormity of the cosmos.
When we are born, if we have previously committed to the creative fire, we will most likely have a challenging reentry to this dimension. The white flame of life is our heritage just as it is for our planet that is now feeling a great heat melting it back to a malleable mass ready to take on a more beautiful form. Beauty saves. It saved Jimmy Santiago Baca because beauty is the shape of the divine form in all things from the greatest to the microscopic.
So many struggle and flail in their fear and rage, sinking deeper into the quicksand of pain and evil. In their desperation, they often grab for others and pull these down too like lobsters in a boiling pot while sinking deeper and deeper into the thick viscous lower world. To ascend to power and beauty from such a place is true redemption and a forward to co-creation.
Light and dark exist in a constant dance. However, because dark has no energy of its own it must steal from the light. Jimmy Santiago Baca is not just the story of a man who personally triumphed over a sentence of oppression. It is about the true alchemical process of transforming suffering into brilliance and power.
Our outer world is made of crumbling forms, “things fall apart,” as Yates said. Yet, while no form is forever, and the state of the world is not to our liking, the Master Architect says there is a new design that we see a flashing glimpse of now and then and in order to build this finer form some ”things much fall apart.” In the ancient Indian holy writings, the world goes through many stages of creation and destruction. The world was not once created but is always in the process of creation. After the Kali Yuga, the darkest age in the circle of life, our earth takes a deep breath and begins the process of ascension again. It works that way for all inhabitants who pay attention.