Monday, June 24, 2013

Tantra in the West

One of my good and treasured friends, Birrell Walsh, has become quite an author in the past few years. Besides a book of poetry and popularized version of his doctoral dissertation on prayer and healing, he has now produced four books in his series Tantra in the West. I want to recommend all or some of them to you.

Sister Clare's Lover was the first. This tale is set in San Francisco and follows the life and loves of a 'confused-by-life' priest.

"Father Matthew Shalgry, a priest who himself has been silenced for his writings, is asked by his archbishop to find Sister Clare, the mysterious author of *The Love of Christ.* It is a highly sexual poem and secretive devotional practice that is sweeping through the convents. He will find the practice, and lose his heart, in this encounter of Catholicism and ancient tantra." 

Next came Illuminating Four Cities: A Recipe for Catholic Tantra. If you have read The Years of Rice and Salt by another of my favorite authors Kim Stanley Robinson or if you enjoyed the film Cloud Atlas last year, I can strongly recommend the tale told in Four Cities.

"Father Shalgry has loved a woman honorably, and she is gone. Now he must find meaning for what has happened. His best friend, ex-Sister Marta Vasquez, owns a tavern. In one long night of storytelling at her bar, he recounts visions of other worlds and of his connections with his beloved there. Then, at a fire on the longest winter night, it is time to bring those visions into this world." 

The third book in the series takes an acute turn into Birrell's convex, concave, convoluted version of heaven and earth. In the weirdly titled Philanthropic Horse is Haunted by Gravity, we explore heaven, earth and other realms both far and near. 

"A visiting lama asks a young stallion if he wants to help. It means carrying the dead to the river of rebirth, climbing cloud mountains to a monastery of many species, raiding Hell itself, and joining a tantric circle headed by a tigress. On the last peaks, where the lightning strikes, he must face death to bring light to his lost love and the heavy, suffering earth." 

Last month the fourth book in the series appeared - Shepherd of Wolves. For the first time Birrell has taken on the motif of an international thriller. 

"Genocides who would destroy half the world with a GMO weapon plot in Scandinavia. Interpol thinks they put together the strange team to hunt them down - a Danish detective falling in love with an American doctor, a sad priest and a lesbian bar-owner from San Francisco, a Filipino cop from the mean streets of the Mission District, and an agent of Germany's shadowy watchdog agency. But the real team is stranger still, as ghosts and half-human guardians struggle to prevent the ghastly Cleanup Virus; and history itself shimmers and reshapes." 

When I read Shepherd the first time I had the same reaction I had when I picked up Sister Clare's Lover - I was shocked to find I had a friend who is an accomplished, professional writer. If you are a fan of intrigue or even if like me you aren't, I strongly recommend Shepherd of Wolves but I can't leave this suggestion without adding that reading Sister Clare's Lover first will make the experience even more enjoyable. Being introduced to the cast of characters in Sister Clare makes the story in Shepherd that much more satisfying. I mean who only sees only the fourth Harry Potter film?

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