In October, Albuquerque’s big sky is filled with balloons and I am like a puppy beneath a ball. The playful, joyful atmosphere of these floating billboards of delight and color take even the grouchiest by storm and inspire a smile. Add to that the native American fry-bread and green chilies everywhere, and you have a recipe for pure joy.
Here the clear, blue sky begins on my farm with one orb – the setting moon (the name of my pottery studio) which hangs white and bright against the blue like a lone headlight shining up from a pond basin. It is the harbinger of hope for a new day and for the sun – that other orb which keeps us warm; grows our food and plants for oxygen while melting water-soaked wood from frozen-to-thawed … miraculously making soil. It is all so amazing really, and balloons seem to speak whimsy and joy even when we are doing some of our greatest suffering; like a commercial for Christmas toys during a horror movie or drama. Jarring. A reminder that some other reality might lay behind what we can see.
I am not sure what I like more. There is the long, dark silence as the balloon pilots and teams unfurl their balloons and set up their baskets. It is still and it is the coldest of the cold of night. It feels like the silence before a liturgy and perhaps it is, in a way. And rather more lovely and fun than most I have experienced. But then, as the sun peeks over the mountains and warmth begins to glow (as do the inflated balloons) each lift off inspires a small, local grassy crowd to applaud their team’s accomplishment – the defiance of gravity.
This feels a lot like meditation to me. When I pray I am defying the gravity of scolding, manipulation and abuse. I am often cold at first and it is deeply still. But there are preparations in my psyche for a loft-off of sorts, in the darkness. And as my mind stills like water stilling from its ripples, there is a new clarity with both the stillness and the light, at which point we can begin to see whatever might, to us, be peace. The lift-off of our hopes and longings in whatever “prayer” or “request of the cosmos” we might release is quiet but involves a small cheer from all those from our past whose tender counsel have brought us to this moment.
It felt, this week, after many mornings of lift-offs at dawn, that I have finally been to something like what I had always hoped church might be. Quiet. Joyful. Colorful. Playful. Equal. Gentle. Wordless; with great coffee and crispy, hot, fried bread drenched in honey and cinnamon. Take. Eat. Rejoice. Giggle. Repeat.