In Albuquerque

Salvador felt the world reeling around him, as if it was about to disintegrate and transform into something radically new.

It was a capacity he had developed years ago, shortly after beginning serious meditative practice. Most often his meditation yielded modest results: greater mindfulness and deeper insight into what everyday life seemed to be teaching him. But from time to time, especially when he had been meditating consistently and with deep concentration, he would have disturbing dreams in which he seemed to be living another life in another world –a life and a world in which, even more so that in this one, things were falling apart. He would awaken in a panic. Not infrequently there would soon be disturbing events in the news.

Mostly he had learned just to live through it, using the mindfulness he had carefully cultivated over the years to refocus him on the big picture –the long march through endless lives, the fascinating journey through countless worlds, doing what he could to ripen Being along the way. The grand transformations, that terrifying sense that the world was decomposing and recomposing all around him, and himself with it: these were all part of the process, a result of seeing things as they actually are. Someday he would come to regard them as no more significant than a passing sensation of hunger or thirst.

But old karma dies hard. He struggled to respond to the tension with meditation and mindfulness, and by plunging himself like a karma yogi into the work of teaching and organizing and, increasingly, of pastoral care –this strange work into which he had fallen as into a karmic well. And by most accounts he had done well. Dean for five years at Nizhoni College, he had doubled the number of students completing their classes (albeit only to a still miserable 32%) and introduced new programs in sustainable energy, water conservation, and ecocultural tourism while making the college into something of a sanctuary, however small and remote, for the liberal arts. Many of his old adversaries had become allies and he had a significant following among the diverse seekers which Nizhoni attracted. He had just stepped down to return to teaching and writing –and, perhaps, to find the life partner who had always eluded him.

Sometimes, though, when the tension was especially strong, he needed to withdraw for a while and just wander: to head off into the wilderness or on one of his strange urban pilgrimages into shabby warehouse districts or strips of suspicious looking “bakeries” and “import/export” businesses backing up against old train yards.

This time, as usual, the tension was accompanied by both troubling news and odd developments in his personal life. Doing a final check of his email as he was getting ready to head out on his annual autumn pilgrimage to Chimayo and Truchas, he noticed a news flash about an explosion of some kind at a government laboratory, part of Los Alamos National Laboratory, but located to the West, somewhere near San Mateo, north of Grants. He made of note of it and planned to look into it as soon as he got to Albuquerque, but when he did he could no longer find any reference to it anywhere on the Web. And then there was the case of his missing library book. For months he had been renewing the copy of Umberto Eco’s The Search for a Perfect Language, which he had taken out of the UNM library, hoping that it would turn up somewhere in the junk heap he called a car, where he had put it the last time he headed for the mountains, three semesters ago. But his renewals had run out and now he had to face the music. So he contacted the circulation desk and asked how to pay the replacement fee.

–Replacement fee for what? the clerk had said. We show you with no current books checked out at all, much less any that are overdue or lost.

When he checked his account for himself, he got the same result. Then he looked for the book in the catalog, and it was no longer there. Nor was it available for order on Amazon. In fact there was no evidence it had ever been written.

It was thus that he found himself on a chilly October day, under gathering clouds, wandering among a group of old industrial and commercial buildings off Mountain Road in Albuquerque, Northeast of the Plaza Vieja and just west of the old railroad yard. His mind jumped from one dark image to another as he searched among the machine shops and wholesale merchants for something of interest. He never knew just what he was looking for, but he always found it. Another addition to his collection of odd memories, signs, he told himself, that the world really was the scene of great theopolitical contests, taking place “in with and under” the activities of daily life.

The catalog of these memories was endless: an para-Masonic lodge in Pilsen, in Chicago, across from Pius V, bearing the same name as another he found in the old Mercado central in Juarez: La Sociedad de Los Hermanos Illuminados de la Estrella Roja, the “Universal” Bakery on Interurban in Richardson which turned out to baking something other than bread (he still didn’t know what, but there seemed to be a Yemeni Connection), or that old laundry (!) in Chinatown in San Francisco which had returned his clothes packed in annotated copies of Zhou Dunyi’s Explanation of the Diagram of the Great Ultimate, written in what a friend told him was an obscure Yunnan dialect. There was, it seems, something about these “liminal districts” as Salvador called them, located at the edge of the ordinary, which brought together the sacred and the outlawed.

Salvador was not surprised, therefore, when he noticed up ahead of him, just beyond the Martinez Metalworks, a sign for the Boszormeny Bakery.   The name, he thought to himself, is vaguely familiar –a Magyar word, but remembered from his research on the Ismaili movement.

This place, it seemed, actually did bake bread and Salvador was hungry, so he followed his nose and entered the place. There were a few cases with what looked like fresh loaves of rye bread, confirming the Hungarian connection. But there was also some fresh pita. Beyond this there were a few shelves of spices, including packages of hawaij, a Yemeni spice mixture. And there was a deli case selling sable bellies and smoked tongue. Salvador felt like he had walked into some kind of Rahu induced culinary fantasy. He would stock up here for his trip north.

The unusual and fresh displays of bread, spices, meat, and fish nothwithstanding, however, this was not an ordinary commercial space. Most of the shelves were empty. One held an eclectic assortment of religious tracts –everything from the glossy New Kadampa Movement catalogues that were now omnipresent in Albuquerque to several which bore what looked like a Druze star. There was also, interestingly enough, a copy of the Shas journal Day to Day. There were aging computers scattered here and there, including several which looked like they were still running DOS. And when Salvador peered behind the counter, into the workroom in the back, he saw that the kitchen, while still functioning, had been retrofitted as an office, with several laptops running what looked like MMORPGs and MMORTSGs.

Salvador brought his merchandise to the counter, acting as much as possible as if he was an ordinary customer (Who were this place’s ordinary customers? Did it have any?). Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a black haired woman in her early twenties appeared: possibly a Persian or a Central Asian Turk with some Sogdian ancestry, but more likely a Sephardic or Mizrahi Jew.

Salvador knew the drill from this point on. She would ask briskly what he wanted, obviously surprised to have a customer at all. He would point to his merchandise. She would process the transaction, suspiciously. Then he would leave. Sometimes he would be followed for a while. Once or twice he had been mugged within an hour after such an encounter, with only his ID stolen. And once he had been stopped by some “police” who had asked to see a driver’s license, and then apologized, saying that they had made a mistake, but only after carefully copying down his name and address. It was all part of the game. It confirmed to him that what he was uncovering was real, even if he was not in a position, at least at this point, to ascertain what it was.

This time, however, it was different. The young woman was cordial, even flirtatious.

–What brings you to this part of town? she asked him. She had a thick Israeli accent.

–I was visiting the Cappilla in the Plaza Vieja and decided to take a walk. My nose brought me here.

She smiled skeptically.

–Who are your regular customers? he asked rather boldly.

–People like yourself, she said. Liminals.

Salvador was clearly taken aback.

–My name is Gevurah, the young woman said extending her hand.

–Salvador, he said, reciprocated reluctantly. Then, recovering his composure he added:

–I hope that your judgment is not too harsh!

The young woman blushed, then, teasingly, added”

–It can be, I fear.

Then, not knowing what to do next, Salvador gathered up his merchandise, and turned to leave. Much to his surprise, she came around the counter to open the door for him. In the process she touched him lightly on the shoulder and smiled again, saying:

–Come back.

–Thanks, he said. I will

He was no more than half a block away when an old woman emerged from an alley and handed him a piece of paper. La Capilla. 2200. Be there. Then she vanished. He reached for his wallet to secure the paper there.

It was gone.

Published by:

Anthony Mansueto

Humanity is the desire to be God (Sartre, Jean Paul. Being and Nothingness, 1943/1993: 556). Being finite, we are aware of the infinite and seek it without limit. Being contingent, dependent on other beings for our existence, we seek the power of Being as such and seek it absolutely. Human history is fundamentally the history of this seeking, and of the distinct ways of being human to which it has given rise. Precisely because we are finite and contingent, our seeking takes place under definite material (physical, ecological, demographic, built-environmental) conditions which shape the ways which emerge, as well as the social structures through which we pursue them. As something set apart we call this power of Being the sacred but it is, in fact, the warp and woof of the world in which we live, driving secular projects as much as those which understand themselves as religious. My work is centered around an effort to engage the sacred analytically, interpretively, normatively, creatively, and practically. My scholarship is centered around an effort to restore theoria to its original sense as an encounter with the sacred which is empirical, analytic, interpretive and normative, and specifically to understand the diverse ways (including secular ways) in which humanity seeks (to be) God in the context of the material realities out which they emerged and the structures through which they operate while engaging these ways normatively, contributing to the transhistorical deliberation around what it means to be human. As an artist I work first and foremost with narrative, telling stories which, blending elements from magic realism, science fiction, and fantasy, highlight humanity’s engagement with the sacred. But I also create paintings, photo collages, and illuminations and am experimenting with alterealities, games which actually change the world, and which engage all these elements in an interactive context. And I work in the medium of food, creating alchemical cuisine which at once encodes meaning and transforms those who consume it —especially in community. My scholarly and creative work aims at charting a new way of being human, at making the sacred present to people in their day to day lives, and at helping people situate their lives and their decisions, individual and collective, in he context of the ultimate aims of human life. My practical engagements with the sacred cross the boundaries between teaching and mentoring, leading and organizing. As a teacher, it is my aim to cultivate free, creative human beings and engaged citizens with a mature spirituality who have the ability to make rationally autonomous decisions regarding questions of meaning and value, to understand their particular calling and how to realize it, to build and exercise power in service to the common good, to learn the difficult spiritual lessons that come from both success and failure in our lives, and thus to pursue and progress along the way they have chosen. In addition to teaching in formal academic and community based settings, I mentor individuals using a process which integrates deep listening with both traditional spiritual disciplines and secular insights drawn from organizing and business strategy. I cultivate both scholars and practitioners, and challenge my students to cross the boundaries between these two domains. As an academic leader I have worked to promote liberal education for students from working class and ethnic minority communities, to make the institutions I serve into centers for deliberation around questions of meaning, value, and public policy, and to restore (nonconfessional, pluralistic, but still normative) engagement with the sacred to its rightful place in the academy. I see this academic leadership as an extension of my broader work as an institutional organizer helping organizations and institutions find their way, and working to build, conserve, and transform them in service to the Common Good. My work as an organizer has also included significant contributions to interfaith dialogue, deliberation, and organizing, from building financial and institutional support for interfaith organizing through catalyzing public deliberation around questions of meaning and value across diverse spiritual and civilizational traditions. I bring to this engagement a substantial record of publications, including nine books and numerous articles in both scholarly journals and journals of public opinion setting forth my vision and strategy, decades of experience teaching the liberal arts to students from working class and ethnic minority communities, a history active civic engagement, primarily in interfaith dialogue, deliberation, and organizing, and a range of institutional leadership roles in the academy including department chair, program director, dean, and campus leader with responsibility for all community college functions for a large rural area. As I continue my formal institutional engagements as an academic administrator over the next several years, I am also looking to build support for my creative work and a consulting practice mentoring individual leaders and organizations across the academic, religious, and civil society sectors. Supporting my work through Patreon is a way to contribute to making this possible while getting a glimpse of my creative process, free or discounted artifacts from my alterealities, and the opportunity to benefit from my mentoring and consulting practice at much reduced rates.

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