Tuesday, January 13, 2004

waning moon waits

waiting for moist streets
opening like raven wings
waiting at broken window

watching trees draped with hearts
lining early morning dew streets
watching cats cross waning moon

counting words, counting ducks
wading, laying eggs, ready
for flight. counting

the morning, ready for flight

Alienation of Time

Eternal swinging of loose clock
hands like mirrors of broken
emptiness as in an endless lake
or swift-legged horse of life
dream in nightmare
unknown for time.

A bleeding heart of time
drips on the face of the clock
as it hides in a nightmare
which has been broken
by the reality of life
shown in ripples of a lake.

The cool, calm lake
does not obey time
which rules our puny life
like a King Kong-powered clock
that has shatteringly broken
into the cumulative social nightmare.

Four horses stamped the nightmare
when their four riders become a lake
of unknown, yet broken
keepers of the vanishing time
inside of a melted clock
who will not realize life.

It is the theory that life
is no more than a circling nightmare
like an endless pirouetting clock
which drops ripple-reflecting in the lake
or a dream of dissolute time
whose hands are broken.

Our own defenses have broken
so that the shelters are no longer life
but a meager vision of time
that creates screaming nightmare
under a hidden lake
behind the shattering lost clock.

The clock is broken
like a waving lake of reflective life
which is no more than a nightmare of time.
A few days ago, I promised (or threatened) to post a poem I wrote in high school. I wrote this in the fall of 1974, after I had seen an exhibition of jewelry designed by surrealist painter Salvador Dali.  Just as Dali worked in a hyper-realistic style, it seemed appropriate to do my "surrealistic" work within a formal structure; in this case, a sestina.

In the spring of 1975, I became aware of a poetry contest offered by the Poetry Society of Oklahoma open to high school students. With Padre's encouragement, I entered.  I received a very nice note from the judge, who was impressed by my attempt to write a sestina, and was happy with that.

I don't recall what the competition was like at my level, but I did win first place for my division.  Re-typing the poem now, thirty years later, I'm painfully aware of flaws in the prosody.  I'm very aware of times I added a word that was unnecessary, or jerry-rigged word order so I get the "key words" to fall in the proper place at the end of the line.

Still, I don't have the heart to muck around right now & "correct" the work of my younger self. How can you see my growth as a writer without seeing the indiscretions of my youth?

Monday, January 12, 2004


  1. Mitchell:: mendacity
  2. Mercury:: Mars
  3. Cycle:: yearly
  4. Engagement:: estrangement
  5. Alternative:: ending
  6. Gang:: warfare
  7. Emotional:: blackmail
  8. Skinny:: dip
  9. Hypochondriac:: heartache
  10. Insecure:: longing
See original word list here.

Ideé d’jour

A man has to live with himself, and he should see to it that he always has good company.
— Charles Evans Hughes, jurist (1862-1948)

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Ideé d’jour

The men of old took all they really knew with them to the grave. Their words are only dirt they left behind.
— Chuang-Tzu, quoted in The Little Zen Companion

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Subliminal Poem

vintage clothing arrayed
longing leering sneering specimen plate
wearing a mock turtle t-shirt
like a bag of sh*t on fire
Friday stepped into freedom
with cruel intentions
observing insufficent evidence
for her existence; he was optimistic, she was pessimistic
but her grin was from Cheshire.
Applying the random words offered earlier under Subliminal, where I challenged myself to write a poem using said words. Tried to approach l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e poetry, but was lured away by narrative. C'est la vie. Maybe next time.

The Fox

long snout
crazy clever

twisted dark
paths of my

breaks through
to shy ventricle
of heart

musty love house
for eggs

goes higher
looks through my eyes
i see as fox

weary crafty mask
smelling sky
for new spirit
Inspired by "foxy" poems at Dr. Omed's Tent Show and Ms. Candide's Thistle & Hemlock. Trying to convey quickness of fox through the short lines. Good experiment, plus it moves me away from the religious obsession.
By the way, in case you did enjoy the Lectio Divina, I will post one now & again. Just not every single day. In reading over the past few, I think I was moving from emotion to intellect, and I really wanted that discipline to focus on emotion. So, I'm taking a break from it from a while.

In other words, back to our regularly scheduled occasional poetry.... Who knows? Might post a couple high school poems, just for giggles.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Down from the Mountain

The time comes, at last, to come down from the mountain. I was on Winter Break Monday, December 22 through Friday, January 2. This has been my first full week at work.

A post-dated entry under January 4 reflects some of my reservations about returning to work: living according to someone else's schedule, following orders, so on.

Not that I don't like my job. But I realized, about the time I originally wrote that entry, that my break had been a sort of religious retreat. Thanks to my whimsical choice to do daily Lectio Divina, I started each day with a religious emphasis. Which naturally affected my outlook. Coupled with spending my time as fancy dictated (most days), it really was like time at a monastery.

So: what's it been like? I woke up at 5:30 or 6:00 almost every morning during break. This week, I've been lucky to wake up at 6:00. Which means that I really haven't had time to do the Lectio as well as I had been. Nor have I had the time to do any sort of poetic "word doodles" (as I called it about a month ago).

What writing you have seen here has been "squeezed in" during work. Or, as I run out the door. Which, I suspect, has affected the quality of the writing.

Oh, I expect I'll get back into a routine - my goal is to wake up at 5:30 and do some sort of writing which will ultimately be shared in this space. But I do miss the luxury of writing at home, with a warm cuppa by my side.

Or Am I ...

Way to go, your alter poet is Jack Kerouac, who is
by FAR the coolest!

Who is Your Alter Poet?
brought to you by Quizilla

Not too hard to get the result you want, once you know what the possible results are.

My Alter Poet

Your alter poet is Thomas Stearns Eliot. For you,
life rocks pretty hard!
Who is Your Alter Poet?
brought to you by Quizilla

I doubt this will come as little surprise to the Rt Rev Ven Dr. Omed, who has been aware of my Eliot fixation since my senior year of high school.

Things I wrote around that time, and into college, did sound a lot like re-tread Eliot. Think my poetic voice is a little different now, but who knows?

There is some irony in the fact that Eliot converted to Christianity relatively late in life, and my entries have been mostly religious in nature for the past couple of weeks.

Well, what do you think? Is there another poet you think my work resembles?

Ideé d’jour

The men of old took all they really knew with them to the grave. Their words are only dirt they left behind.
— Chuang-Tzu, quoted in The Little Zen Companion

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Self Reflecting

Dave Pollard recently made a statement on his blog "How to Save the World" which caught my attention.  His entry (linked in the previous sentence) has to with what he believes are the ground-breaking ideas concerning the "blogosphere".  Implied in the entry are suggestions for ways to increase one's readership.

The statement which caught my attention came in item number three:
focus on a few subjects and address them profoundly and creatively, instead of talking a bit about everything under the sun; and believe: persevere until your message finds its audience.
Naturally, I asked myself whether I have fulfilled this goal.  In other words, can a reader rely on the same topic(s) being addressed in this space on a regular basis?

Basically, I have used this space for three topics: (1) politics; (2) self-published poetry, and reflections on poetics; and (3) religion.  This latter has received the most attention the past two – three weeks, but I have occasionally addressed politics or poetry during this period. Additionally, the "Meditation" part of my Lectio Divina series is most often a poetic reflection on the reading in question.  Which I hope counts as a "two-fer".

My only concern is that I may have lost some of the readers who came primarily for the poetry or the political discourse, and find themselves turned off by the current religious emphasis. 

Given my mercurial nature, I take it for granted my focus will shift away from religion fairly soon. Will I lose the readers who appreciate the religious discourse, but disagree with my politics?

I'd appreciate your thoughts.  Take a moment to leave a comment below. Or, if you prefer a more private means of communication, e-mail me at jacsongs@juno.com.

dark morning

The morning is shadowed
by a time clock.
I've lost my moorings.

It's still dark
when I reach the door.
True north sleeps in the back yard

and dawn awaits the call
of the Full Wolf Moon.
The north-east sky slowly opens

like a stolen letter.
I've lost direction
so travel in the familiar

circles of this labyrinth
under snow-grey clouds.

Living Waters

Reading. John 7:37-52

Living waters
ever fresh, ever flowing
Water from a fresh running stream
Cool clear water
free of chlorine or silt
Tastes better than tap or bottled water
I may walk commerce aisles
I may wander cubicle mazes
I may feel parched in the cold desert
Yet the stream burbles up
from the depths of my spirit
In a quiet moment
I seek this stream
rediscover it between clock ticks
I take a healthy draught
drink til my mouth overflows
and water runs down the sides
I am refreshed
moment by moment
I am renewed
with each passing second
I am reborn
as I claim the spirit within.

I give thanks for the water
I give thanks for the bread
I rejoice in my maturing
I rejoice for the diadem on my heart
I honor the approaching Buddha
I honor the devout atheist
I bow to the sunrise
I drink in its setting.

I stood by the water
and drank the wind
blowing across the lake.
I give thanks that my spirit was refreshed.

Am I called to help others recognize the stream within them? Or am I to serve only as an example?

Grant that I may spend this day wading in those spiritual waters.

Ideé d’jour

Speech is blasphemy,
silence a lie.
Above speech and silence
there is a way
— I-Tuan, quoted in The Little Zen Companion

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Taking the Name in Vain

Brother Dave recently sent the text of this editorial, in which Ray McGovern compares the current impulse to say that God smiles on the Presidency of Busch, and all he does, to the same impulse in Rome, Nazi Germany, etc.

An excellent example of this comes courtesy Pat Robertson, who apparently has joined Oral Roberts in the "private conversations with God" department. Here's my favorite quote
"The Lord has just blessed him,'' Robertson said of Bush.  "I mean, he could make terrible mistakes and comes out of it.  It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad, God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him.''
Well, gosh, who needs more than that?

I know people who believe God is intimately involved in human affairs, and that nothing happens without it being part of God's will. I do not count myself among them. I don't believe the Holocaust was God's will. I don't believe God sent terrorists into the World Trade Center's Twin Towers to teach America a lesson about abortion and homosexuality.

That image of God reflects an Old Testament view. God is either sending the Israelites to smite some neighboring tribe, or God is using some nation to whomp up on Israel because it has been apostate. It's a fairly petty image of God, and not one I can buy into.

God did not jerry-rig the Florida election; Jeb and his election board did that all on their own. God did not put Busch into the president's chair; the Supreme Court did that, in an action that resembled deus ex machina. God did not send troops in Afganistan or Iraq. Georgie-Porgie needed no help in those ill-considered actions.

We have freedom of choice. We can choose to continue as we are, or we can help choose a new direction by electing someone else. Just as we daily having the option of choosing good or evil, we have a choice what direction our country will go for the next four years.

Good may be brought out of evil, with God's help. But it is up to each one of us to ask for that help. And frankly, I suspect God is a little more concerned with each of us as an individual than as nations. In general, I suppose God watches the folk who think they are in charge, and has a good, long laugh.

Which reminds me of the comment I heard lately, that God created humanity because s/he was bored. In otherwords, we're God's sit-com, soap opera, and Survivor program, all rolled up in one.

Lectio, 7.Jan.04

Reading. Col 1:1-14; John 6:30-33, 48-51

"May you lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and grow in knowledge of God." (v. 10, RSV)

Sometime last week, I asked what action, if any, belief implied. Paul's answer to this seems to be that people who believe will perform works pleasing to God. This will be "good work" which bears fruit. In the Gospel reading, Jesus says the bread of God will give life to the world.

An application of this would seem to be that that which is life-affirming is of God. As we work to enrich the lives of other, we do work pleasing to God.

As we grow in knowledge of God, we grow in understanding of what we are called to do. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of our spiritual gifts, and of how these gifts are intended to build up the community of faith. I would suggest further that these gifts are intended to feed the whole world, not just our insular community of faith.

St. Francis reportedly said: "Preach always. When necessary, use words." In other words, preach more through your actions than you do words. Each of us who has recognized the divine burning in our hearts is called to share that fire with the rest of the world. For many people, the only image of the divine they can understand is the one they can see. In other words, you may be the face of God for another this day!

For many, the only body of Christ they can accept is the loving friend who embraces them when they are in sorrow. That is our daily challenge, to walk as ambassadors of the divine in a fractured and hurting world.

May we be always equal to the task.

Strengthen me for your service,
ready to find you in every face
ready to serve justice
   love mercy
   and walk with you
this day and ever more.
So be it.

Contemplation. How may I best recognize my gifts and use them for the healing of the world? Or, at the very least, for the comfort of the next person I encounter?

Ideé d’jour

The world in general doesn't know what to make of originality; it is startled out of its comfortable habits of thought, and its first reaction is one of anger.
— W. Somerset Maugham, writer (1874-1965)

Tuesday, January 06, 2004


Reading. Jan. 5th, Evening — Romans 15:7-13
Epiphany Day (January 6) — Matthew 12:14-21

Most of us don't know what it's like to be adopted.   I have sometimes referred to myself as an orphan, only as a poor way to communicate the fact that both my parents are deceased.  During the times I have been single, I have often been "adopted" by casual friends during the holidays.  As such, I enjoyed the feast, but when presents were exchanged (i.e., at Christmas), I was not generally included.

Mind you, I'm very grateful to those people for including me in their celebration, but did feel a minor twinge of "left out" when I had no presents for folk there (thinking that if I bought for one, I'd have to buy for all), and there were no presents for me.

Very different experience when I was married, or now that I'm dating again. I buy for others, they buy for me.  Really feel a part of.  This feeling quot;part of", though not really associated with material goods, goes a long way toward feeling adopted by my hosts.

Now, most of us take our religion for granted.  But one of the big controversies in the early Christian church was whether non-Jews (Gentiles) would be required to observe Jewish Law.  Ultimately, it was decided that Gentiles did not have to follow Jewish Law.  I suspect conversions would have gone way done if adult circumcision was part of the package.

Paul's image was that the Gentiles were being adopted into the family, through the saving grace of the Christ.  And though he himself had scrupulously observed Torah, he did not believe it was right to require these adoptees to observe it.  For one thing, they would always feel like outsiders; there would always be some little section of law they could be caught up on.

As we know, Paul's ultimate solution was to say that salvation was through faith, rather than through the Law.  So, the Jewish segment of the early Christian community was as "free" from the Law as the adopted Gentiles.

I give thanks for my adoption into the household of faith.
I give thanks for the Law of Love written on my heart.
I give thanks for the freedom to fail without losing.
I give thanks for the grace to always begin again.
May it be ever so.

How may I better welcome the stranger? How can I best love the one who annoys me the most?

Haunted By My Past

Just stopped by Dr. Omed's Tent Show to discover he had posted a letter I wrote him January 1981. I had completely forgotten writing this letter, and it was a real treat to read it again. Considering the border-line legibility of my handwriting, the Rt Rev Omed did yeoman's work typing it up to share with the ether world.

The text is a sort of prose poem, with the repetend "This poem." The text is also my attempt, following my first reading of Kerouac's Dharma Bums to write in Ti Jean's "automatic" style. I believe there are moments I actually succeed, especially as I am describing a portion of my time in Princeton, NJ. Other times, the text seems like a poor imitation of Allen Ginsberg.

You may recall I had some responses to Dharma Bums in this space a few weeks ago. It would be interesting to compare what I said back in '81 to those entries.

Thanks much, Dr. Omed! It really was fun being haunted by this particular ghost.

Added to the Blog-Roll

Just added three sites to the "Regularly Visited" list to your left:
    Correction, by Matthias, is a journal concerning his journey toward the ordained ministry in the Methodist church. His blog hardly needs my endorsement, as he recently received a plug from the very popular Real Live Preacher. But "Correction" is a blog I read whenever he updates it. He also has a list of Christian links which are on the liberal end of the scale. I enjoy reading these, when I can, as they help me feel less lonely in this Bible Belt wasteland
The other two links are poetry related:
  • Jill Jones' Ruby Street is just getting started, but looks like it will be good. Jill is a native of Australia, and brings that unique cultural perspective to her sense of poetics. Plus, Jill was kind enough to blog-roll this space, despite the fact that I've been focused on religion the past couple of weeks.
  • Stick Poet Super Hero, by Michael Wells, has the most intriguing title of the blogs I regularly visit. If he has explained where that title came from, I missed the post. I've made reference to Michael's blog before, especially in connection with his "Blog Sweeps Week", and felt it was past time I included his site in my permanent blog-roll.

An Epiphany Tale

You had been born to be king. You were the heir-apparent, well-beloved of your father, as well as the people. You had been trained in the ways of a wise ruler by your father and his counselors. All was prepared for you to assume the throne when you came of age.

One summer, your father sent you to tour the north countries. While you were gone, your younger brother, L'i Ching, spread rumors against you among the court and people. "Your son thinks you a doddering old fool," he told your father. "When my brother becomes king," he'd say to the people, "he will seize your inheritance and send your young men to die in the southern mines!" And he said to the counselors, "My brother will have no use for you. He plans to rule by the stars!"

You had been born to be king. But now the counselors would no longer speak to you. The people were plotting to kill you before you ascended to the throne. And your father accused you of many things, full of fury, and sent you from his court in disgrace. You supposed you would die in the western wilderness.

For three months, you wandered with no direction. You ate roots, fruits, and berries, as the court horticulturist had taught you. You had several meals with strangers who found your face to be friendly. On the fifteenth day of the fourth month, you gained a traveling companion with a sun-darkened face and curly hair. He told you of a king who was coming to his native land, one who would be king over all other kings. This was indeed good news; perhaps you could persuade him to speak to your father to restore your good name. Perhaps you could once again come into your own.

You walked together for several months, speaking of many things. You walked with him to his destination, where he drew a map which would guide you the rest of the way to his native land. Now your main concern was what sort of honor gift you could offer this great king.

Fourteen moons had glided through the night. The fourth night of the fourteenth moon, you had a curious dream. A woman as large as the sky appeared before you; in her right had she held a brilliant star, in her left she held a bitter herb. "What would you have of me?" you asked. She handed you the herb and said, "This is your gift." Then: "Follow. Follow the star."

When you awake, you found the herb growing nearby. You gathered it into your satchel bag. You trusted the dream. Somehow, it seemed such a gift would persuade the great King of Kings to help you come into your own once again.

A new year had begun. You had come to a great sea, and saw the star shining in the south. It seemed to hover over a small town. It certainly did not seem like a royal city.

The star now shown like a hundred stars over a cave. Within, you found some unwashed shepherds and common cattle. Beyond them knelt an impoverished and frightened couple. She was about seventeen; her hair was long and stringy, her garment was tattered, and yet she seemed the most beautiful woman you had ever seen. He was twenty-one; behind his scraggly beard, his eyes were filled with a sad wisdom.

Between them is the child, wrapped in torn pieces of cloth and lain in a manger filled with hay.

You had been born to be king. What do you do?

You kneel before the child. You hand the gift of the bitter herb to the mother. You have come into your own at last.

[I wrote this for a church newsletter. It was published in the January, 1986 edition of The Pilgrim, newsletter for St. James' Episcopal Church, OKC, OK]

Monday, January 05, 2004

Definition d’jour

Namaste (Namastay), from sanskrit
I bow to the divine in you


This week's word list
  1. Vintage:: clothing
  2. Longing:: leering
  3. Specimen:: plate
  4. Mock:: turtle
  5. Sh*t:: fire
  6. Friday:: freedom
  7. Cruel:: intentions
  8. Insufficient:: evidence
  9. Pessimistic:: optimistic
  10. Grin:: Cheshire
Challenge:  write a poem using these words.


Reading.  John 11:17-44

I don't know how long I lay dead
I do remember I had denied you
more than three times
But still you called my name.

In the midst of the darkness
you called my name
I had been rejected by my friends
and she who once said she loved me
yet you called my name
I had been exiled to the wilderness
yet you called my name
I had chosen to dwell
in the precincts of the land of Nod
yet you called my name
My face was a scandal
my name was a warning to children
yet you called my name

"Come forth," you said,
and I still walk
closer to the path of light
for you called my name.

Life Giver
I give thanks
for daily new beginnings.
Redeemer of the Lost,
I give thanks you have called me.
May I rejoin society today
fully alive & fully empowered
to walk in your Way.
May it be ever so.

Jesus' aside to the Father is an interesting narrative device. I wonder if this inspired the notion that we should pray for special requests as if they are already in progress or have already happened.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Ideé d’jour

Sayings do not correspond to potential. Words do not set forth actualities. Those who accept words perish. Those who linger over sayings get lost. When you have caught the fish, you forget the trap. When you have gotten the meaning of the words, you forget the words. We use a net to catch fish; the fish are not the net.
— Ku-Shan, quoted in The Little Zen Companion

Second Sunday after Christmas

Readings appointed for the principal service:  Jeremiah 31:7-14; Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19; and Matthew 2:13-23

"Those who go out weeping will be consoled."
But what consolation was there for the mothers who lost their babies to Herod the Great's jealousy?
Were the eyes of their hearts opened, rather than merely broken?
It's a hard reading, that speaks of death and dreams.

I do not have words to respond to respond to this tragedy.
It is a hard lesson, that life springs from death.
Train me to see your path,
even in darkness.
Grant that I may feel your hand guiding me
especially as I confront my darkest questions.

How to affirm life this day.

Yesterday's Lectio

Reading. John 6:15-29

Meditation. "How might we work the works of God?"
"Believe on him whom God hath sent." (KJV)

I believe, help strengthen me
where I do not believe.
How to walk with faith?
That the air be filled with your presence.
I believe.
I seek to walk
with the Heart of Creation
I seek a tree's wisdom
   a flower's knowledge
   a wolf's cunning
   a cardinal's song
My heart opens to you
and is filled with your glory
My eye seeks you
in the heights and in the depths
My eye expects the Celestial Rose
and is suprised to find you
walking beside me
My ear strains to hear your voice
coming across the water
telling me to come walk.
But your voice is neither thunder
nor stillness; nor yet
the beating of my heart.
Your voice instructs me
to simply walk in this moment
holding ever in heart how I have been fed

The only work required is that I believe. What does belief imply? What action, if any, follows belief?

Bread of Life

Reading.John 6:41-47

Meditation. "Bread for the life of the world"

Coming down from the mountain
aware of my cave's security
now I must face the hustle bustle crowd
now I must complete tasks
not of my choosing
Now I'll be held hostage
by time's chains
no longer free to follow
my heart metronome

Friday, January 02, 2004

Feeding of the Five Thousand

Reading. John 6:1-14

This is a Bible story which remains with me from my early Sunday School days at Christ Methodist Church. I remember how the role of the child was emphasized in the picture book which was a de facto midrash on the passage. I imagine every child who hears this story imagines herself as the child who shares his food.

Set against the homely picture of the child with his/her picnic is an "otherworldly" image of Christ. In this passage, for example, he comes from the mountain (a place set apart) and returns to the mountain. Jesus seems almost like a Zen master when he asks Philip a seemingly impossible question.

This miraculous feeding (and its parallel stories in the synoptic gospels) brings to mind the gift of manna in the desert during the Exodus. The fact that twelve baskets are left over is significant, as it echoes the twelve tribes of Israel. The psalmist tells us the children of Israel fed on the "bread of angels". The manna was also inexhaustable. This inexhaustable food supply also reminds me of Jesus' promise of "living water" (see Jn 4: 13ff).

So, a lot more is going on here than satisfying physical hunger. The crowd perceives this miraculous feeding as a sign that Jesus is the Prophet (i.e., Elijah), and wished to make him a king like David or Herod. The problem with a temporal leader, is their reign only lasts a season, and only affects the part of the world they rule. Jesus recognized that he was called to people of all times and places. To allow himself to become a leader of this people in first century Israel would have limited his influence, and would have only have a political influence.

Such an end would have only have fed a certain people for a limited time. By continuing on his path as itinerate preacher, Jesus was able to influence people of many times and cultures.

You prepare a banquet
at the seat of my heart;
You present bottomless platters
filled with the the bread of angels.
I give thanks.

In the early morning watches
you silently teach me;
Although the line between night & dawn is yet faint,
you train my ear for your Word.
I give thanks.

You are high on the mountain;
You are sitting across from me.
I give thanks.

You lead the Way;
You walk beside me.
I give thanks.

You place honey on my tongue
that your Word ever be sweet;
You fill my lungs with your Spirit
that I may sing.

And I sing.
I sing thanksgiving.
Let it be ever so.

How may I best feed my spirit this day? Where shall I find the bread of angels, to satisfy my heart?
What you are, that you are; neither by words can you be made greater than what you are in the sight of God.

If you consider what you are within, you will not care what men say of you.  Man looks at the contenance, but God on the heart (I Sam, 16:7).  Man considers the deeds, but God weighs the intentions.
Thomas a'Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book II, Chapter 6.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

New Year's Wish from Bill Shakespeare

I wish you all the joy that you can wish.
— William Shakespeare, playwright and poet (1564-1616)

Feast of the Holy Name

Reading. Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:15-21

My name is blessed
My name was given me
while I was being knit in the womb
My name has a purpose
which guides my feet
in paths of truth & beauty
My father heard my name in a dream
he heard my name
as if whispered through a veil
My mother heard my name while spinning
She heard my name whispered by the yarn
as it flowed through
her long slender fingers
She heard my name
and said yes
then stored the moment
in a tender chamber of her heart.
My name is blessed
may I grow into the fullness of my name

Blessed are you, o Lord,
for you knock thrice
before entering
Blessed are you
for you bring new light
into this house
Blessed are you
for you supply
the humble tools to build a new year
Blessed are you for you
   open the eye
   cleanse the ear
   prepare the heart
that I may be clothed
in holiness and righteousness
as I confront the dark
and the lying liars who serve the dark
Blessed are you
close to hand
but also alive in eternity
Be my companion this day
and forevermore.

Contemplation.There is the name your parents gave you, and the secret name you hold in your heart. This is the name which will lead your pilgrimage into the coming year. What tools do you have to confront negativity, lies, deceit, and violence? What tools do you need? Your name will be a good clue. Recognize your gifts and use them; humbly admit your weaknesses, and strive to strengthen them.

See Ephesians 6:14-18 for a variant metaphor on clothing oneself to confront "the forces of darkness".

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

On Prayer


  • Michael and Norrisey: Prayer and Temperament — Different Prayer Forms for Different Prayer Types.
    The Open Door, Inc., 1991

  • Paulsell: Rules for Prayer. Paulist Press, 1993 (Out of Print)

  • Vennard: Praying with Body and Soul. Augsburg, 1998
  • Lecture by the Rev. Donald Owens, former chaplain of St. Anselms of Canterbury, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK
  • Lecture by the Rev. William Spaine, former Vicar of St. James' Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, OK

Additional Reading

  • Anonymous: The Cloud of Unknowing

  • Anonymous: The Way of the Pilgrim

  • Brother Lawrence: The Practice of the Presence of God

  • Thomas Merton: Seeds of Contemplation

  • St. John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul

  • St. Teresa of Avila: Interior Castles

  • Angnes Sandford: The Healing Light

  • Evelyn Underhill: Abba: Meditations Based on the Lord's Prayer. [Note this text is included in the linked item]

Today's Lectio Divina

Reading. John 5:1-15

The words and concepts which stand out for me in today's reading are: obedience, healing, and Law versus love. This last is hard for modern readers to understand. Why were "the Jews" so upset by the man picking up his pallet?

Most Christians are familiar with the Ten Commandments, and are vaguely familiar with the fourth commandment: keep the Sabbath day holy; the text in Exodus amplifies this to say that we are not to labor on this day,
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it.
(1928 Book of Common Prayer)
Most of us consider that we have fulfilled that Commandment by not going to our regular day job on Sunday. But the Pharisees, and many today as well, take that injunction to do no labor very literally and very seriously. In the time of Jesus, it was even "illegal" to drive an animal-drawn cart on this day — to do so would have caused the animals to labor. A handful today will not even drive a car to church, but will walk instead.

About the only persistence of this understanding of the holiness of Sunday in modern America are in certain "blue" laws. For example, here in Oklahoma it is illegal to sell hard liquor on Sunday. Once upon a time, all businesses were closed; today, it's only liquor stores and bars (even bars within restaurants). Originally, this was an application of the injunction against labor on Sunday. Today, I suppose, it preserves the "holiness" of the day by preventing people from easily getting intoxicated.

My interpretation of today's story is that Jesus considered the healing of one person to be more important than the Law or the traditional application of the Law. So, our challenge today is to ask how we may have allowed our application of Biblical Law to get in the way of healing. Are we prepared to drop our understanding of a given Biblical Law in order to be healed? Do we bar others from our faith communities because those others do not observe Biblical Law? Do we shun the stranger because s/he does not adhere to social norms?

Blessed Jesus, Divine Lover,
open my eyes
to see you in the heart
of each person I meet.
Blessed Jesus, Perfect Teacher,
open my ears
to hear your Spirit
moving through the world.
Blessed Jesus,
touch my hands and my feet
to feel you in the rose petal
to feel you in the sandy beach.
Blessed Jesus, open my nostrils,
let them discern the you and not-you
among the oleaginous smells of the city.
Blessed Jesus, open my mouth
and I sing forth your praise;
may I taste you in my morning coffee
as much as in the wafer & wine.
Blessed Jesus, Divine Healer,
   open my third eye
   open my inner ear
   open my secret heart
that I may perceive you in the soft place
where the light & the darkness divide
where the trees meet the sky,
clapping their hands,
where the horizon of this world
meets the infinite reaches of your eternity.

Contemplate. When have I made the Law, or tradition, more important than love and healing?
oleaginous (o-lee-AJ-uh-nuhs) adjective
1. Containing or producing oil; relating to oil.
2. Marked by excessive and false earnestness; ingratiating.
[From Middle English, from French oleagineux, from Latin oleaginus (of the olive tree), from olea (the olive tree).]
Copied from A Word a Day

Ideé d’jour

Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.
— Meister Eckhart, theologian (c. 1260-1327)

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

On Prayer, Part Four
Contemplative Prayer

The following is based on a presentation made by Jim J—, MD
Jim began his presentation with some history. First, some personal history of how he first learned of this prayer form. As a true child of the 60's, Jim first encountered the concept of contemplative prayer through the Beatles:
Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream
It is not dying, it is not dying

Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void
It is shining, it is shining

Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being
“Tomorrow Never Knows,” John Lennon, Revolver, 1966
Note that Lennon later claimed this text was inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The Beatle better known as "the religious one", George Harrison, later wrote:
Try to realize it's all within yourself
no one else can make you change
And to see you're really only very small
and life flows on within you and without you.
“Within You, Without You,” George Harrison, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, 1967
Both these texts were inspired by Eastern mysticism, and introduced Jim to the idea that God was all-present (imminent).

The major world religions all have some form of monastic tradition — even the Jewish religion had a monastic tradition until about the 12th century. These traditions have encountered an experience of the divine which was beyond words (alogos); that is, not speakable. At the same time, these traditions have affirmed the truth that the divine is imminent; that is to say, currently around us and capable of being experienced and perceived. Contemplation is the attempt to experience that which is beyond words by being fully present to the moment.

One begins by seeking a master. The path of contemplation is a risky path to walk without a guide. If you currently a member of a community of faith, it would be wise to seek someone who is mature in his or her faith to support you as you begin this discipline. It would be best if this person also practices contemplative prayer, but if no such person is available, it may suffice to find a person who is at least receptive to this prayer form.

Now, it must be affirmed that we humans find it very difficult to keep our minds empty for more than a very few seconds at a time. So, one begins with what Jim calls the "subtractive" method. That is, one strives to screen out most stimula by focusing on only one. For this step, it is good to have some self-awareness as to which of the five senses is strongest for you. The master may facilitate the process of discerning this; a very close friend or spouse may also have insight as to whether you are primarily visual, auditory, etc. Whichever of the five senses you favor is the one to focus on. Jim is primarily auditory, so he focuses on a very simple tune — in fact, a chant from the Episcopal tradition which is based on the breath. I am primarily a verbal or visual person — so I focus on a repeated phrase (as I have previously described) or a simple mental image (e.g., the Celestial Rose burning near the "third eye").

If you find it difficult to focus on one thing (sound, visual, etc), try a common relaxation/self-hypnosis technique: very slowly instruct each muscle of your body to relax, beginning with your toes, then your feet, and so on up your body. When successful, this technique will lead to a very deep state of relaxation, where the Eternal Now may be encountered.

As you become aware of thoughts intruding during this time, take note of them. Early in your practice, you may want to write them down. Typically, people are replaying past events or are planning future events. The former may indicate any number of emotions (sadness, guilt, joy); the latter may reflect worries. In either case, defining the types of thoughts likely to distract you ironically gives you power over those thoughts.

Finally, the physical location you choose is important. A house of worship would be an obvious choice. There are also what the Celts called the "soft places", that is, those liminal physical locations where the veil between this world and next world is very thin. Examples would include the Isle of Iona, off the coast of Scotland, the circle at Stonehenge, and the "songlines" of the Australians. One need not travel far to find such a place — I have heard, on good authority, that Quartz Mountain in Oklahoma is a "soft place." Indeed, any place considered sacred by indigenous people is likely to be a "soft place", where one may be especially receptive to the Eternal Now.

It is possible to create a sacred space in your home. What is important is that this space be set aside in some fashion. That is, this will be a physical area you don't normally enter except to pray. This space won't "feel" sacred at first. But, given a regular discipline of praying in this space and keeping it "set apart", you will begin to be aware of Holiness while you are in this space.

Some wonderful and scary things can happen when you become open to the divine in this fashion. One may lose control of his or her body — for example, I tend to unconsciously rock when I am deep in prayer. One may feel his or heart burn, as Luke describes the encounter on the road to Ephasus. One may encounter truly frightening things. For example, Jim experienced horror, pain, and loss when he prayed on the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre. This is the reason it is very important to have an elder to guide you in the process. This person will remind you that one does not pray to receive signs such as rocking or a burning heart; one prays to encounter the divine.
This concludes my series on methods of prayer. I hope to have the reading list for this series posted by tomorrow morning (Dec. 31, 2003).

Today's Lectio Divina

Reading. John 4:46-54

I am tempted by signs & wonders,
so much so that I often invent them

I remember the wedding
how earth and heaven
were united in one still moment
like a lightening flash

I remember hearing stories
of light filling a room,
of mothers rising from deathbeds

I believe it is possible
I mean, I want to believe

Do I come at the healing hour?

And what I hear
is a sign & a wonder
It is a diadem of light
placed upon my heart
It is a rare pomegranite seed
carried by birds to my child
The child will grow
to be another light
not overcome by darkness.

May I be wary of signs & wonders
May I trust the light in my heart
May I be wary of self-regard
May I trust the Spirit's guidance
May I walk the path
   breath the eternal
   live the Word
Always be born anew
Always begin again
Always walk in beauty

Jesus' response in the cited scripture seems like a nonsequitor: "You won't believe unless you see signs and wonders." And, because it seems unresponsive, it also sounds judgemental. In other words, it sounds like Jesus' is saying: "Geez, you people just won't believe unless I do tricks for you." It's unclear in this translation whether Jesus means people like the "royal official", or people in general. The notes in my Revised Standard version report that the plural form of the second person pronoun is being used in the original Koine Greek. Which suggests that Jesus is speaking to us as well as that official.

The cited passage begins with the comment: "This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed ..."(Jn 4:54, NIV). The writer of the Gospel understands it to be a "Book of Signs", which the reader is asked to believe without having personally witnessed them (see Jn 20:29). This seems contradictory: in one breath, Jesus seems to be condemning our need for signs and wonders; in the next breath, the gospel writer cites this event as a sign.

Perhaps Jesus' statement is not a judgement. Perhaps it is a recognition of the human condition: because of our physicality, we need outward signs and wonders to stir our heart and soul to belief. Humans are physical creatures, and we tend not to accept an experience as "real" unless we encounter it through our personal senses. We hear Sunday School stories, but if these stories are not echoed somehow in our personal lives, we are unlikely to maintain a lively and robust faith.

It is a good practice, which I have learned through the writings of Joseph Campbell, to think of these stories as mythic. That is, stories which echo patterns typical in human existence. My task, in considering these stories, is to make a connection in my own life.

For example: when have I needed healing? When have I experienced it? When have I felt forgiveness? When have I experience New Birth?

So: the task for today is to keep my eyes open for modern "signs & wonders" which alert me to an experience of the divine. The additional task is to believe even if I can't recognize those signs.

Postcard: 29.Dec.2003

Playing solitaire at 3 a.m.
the cards fall as in a dream
I still don't win
I realize not much matches in all this. The pj top clashes against the lounge-pant bottom. The text of the poem clashes against the picture (a rare view of your correspondent). I guess that's what happens when the poet awakes at 3:30 in the a.m. "Official" postcard version of this will be posted early next week. By the way, the picture is currently titled "Portrait of Early Morning Song", and has been subjected to limited editing (e.g., reduction of red eye).

Another Web Publication!

Your correspondent has been published in the latest Virtual Occoquan. This is my second publication in that worthy web-based journal. The poem, "America, the Lost", originally appeared in this space on December 11 with the working title of "6:45 a.m." It would seem I do my best writing early in the morning, confirming LC's opinion that I am a "morning person."
By the way, don't give up hope on the "Centemplative Prayer" post: I've got the notes right here, and will be typing them up this morning. Have a new "postcard" poem to post, and today's Lectio, which I hope to have done first.

In other words, if all works out as planned, you should see the "Contemplative Prayer" post near the top of today's entries, if you come back late this afternoon. Because, you understand, the entries appear in the reverse order in which they were posted.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Teaser: Contemplative Prayer

I expect to have the final installment of my series on prayer posted later today, or early tomorrow. I'll also be posting a reading list for this series.

Yesterday's Lectio

Reading. Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3

aurora of morning
rings my brow
like Yeats' faery fire

gather winter clouds
wrap about my shoulders

a carpet of pansies
guide my feet

i stand between
yesterday and tomorrow
between starlight & dawn

a thin line of light appears
Venus is the opening doorway
celestial fire still proceeding

Mars is in descent
and will preserve his secrets

Venus ascends
dancing with the water-bearer
joined by Diana along the rim
of the Cold Moon's waning crescent

the door opens:
i am the bride
i am the husband

the earth spins:
i am the child
reborn with each passing shadow

i am adopted
of forest, field, and pavement
i am registered
among the lost tribes

i am walking through the doorway
my fleshy armor dazzling
the pen of peace in my hand
the compassionate heart
blazing through my ribs

i depart darkness' wisdom
and enter the light of revelation

Holy Child, be born in me each day
Let me begin anew in each second
Divine Mother,
I give thanks you have adopted me
I sit patiently before your instruction
Spin my nerves through your delicate fingers
Weave my neurons
into a new design
Sew compassion into each pore
I am silent upon my bed
Teach me, Holy Lady,
to be your Holy Child.
So Be It.

How to feed the divine born in me this day.
The reference in the first verse is to William Butler Yeats' "The Song of Wandering Aengus". The reading from Isaiah was the Old Testament lesson assigned for the prinicpal service of the first Sunday following Christmas Day.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Unconscious Mutterings

from Luna Nina
  1. Seeker:: pilgrim
  2. Mirror:: face
  3. Fire:: heart
  4. Goblet:: wine
  5. Empty:: full
  6. Secrets:: lies
  7. Defense:: offense
  8. Hatchet:: murder
  9. Vapour:: fog
  10. Ministry:: homage

A weekly game, discovered through Michael Wells.

Ideé d’jour

The sum of human wisdom is not contained in any one language, and no single language is capable of expressing all forms and degrees of human comprehension.
— Ezra Pound, poet (1885-1972)
I have a great deal of respect for Pound. Whether or not he was insane is debatable, although as a brilliant person he was especially susceptible to insanity. As a purist, and elitist, he was possibly more vulnerable to the lure of fascism. Indeed it's hard, sometimes, to read his poetry, poetics, and thoughts without remembering that he broadcast incredible anti-semitic screeds in support of Mussolini and fascism.

Hard to forgive him that, without believing he may have dived a bit off the deep end. On the other hand, it's hard to forget that he helped T.S. Eliott find his voice, and helped patch together the sprawling mess which eventually became The Waste Land. It's quite amusing, picturing Pound making notes in crayon on a work which would become an epic of the mid-twentieth century.
Perhaps an application of the Pound quote would be my favorite trope, "Many rivers flow into the same sea." Or Blake's great assertation: "All Religions Are One."

Friday, December 26, 2003

Boxing Day Thoughts

Tea Bag Wisdom
Life is an adventure of forgiveness
— Norman Cousins (1915-1990) [author of Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient]
See also Fr. Bojangles' reflections on how we might celebrate Christmas all year long.
The Preacher's Wife reminds us that today is Boxing Day and St. Stephen's Day. Curious we should celebrate the feast of the first martyr in the church the day after Christmas. But, it may echo the let-down Fr. Bo talks about.

How can we "Strike for Christmas on Earth"? Walk in beauty. Breath in the spirit. See the divine in each face. All that Golden Rule stuff that seems so beautiful and impractical. Can we live each day in this coming year as if it were Christmas Day? The skeptic, who sees himself as a realist, would say "no". I agree with Fr. Bo, who suggests that kindness is our natural tendency. "Me-firstism" is taught, and un-natural.

So be it.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

walk the poem

It is time
sweep the porch
clear out the cobwebs

Time to walk the precincts
of this poem
explore the haunted avenues

Time to explore the vowels
the hidden chambers
between the sounds

Sweep your forehead
crawl forth from your womb
awake to crystal blue morning

Stride forth from dead language
feel new sounds echo
from your throat's tender stops

Wander on
through metaphoric avenues
the dazzling porticoes

It is time
this poem awaits

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Poetic Lectio

For some time, I have wondered whether the discipline of Lectio Divina might be applied to poetry. This may seem heretical, but consider: both poetry and religion use the language of metaphor. Religious texts of all the world's religions use this language. From the Tao de Ching to the Koran to the King James Bible — the metaphorical language of poetry sings through.

In his appreciation of the poetry of Lorine Niedecker (Rosebud, Issue 28, 2003, pg. 120) John Lehman writes that we look to poetry "for inspiration and consolation and expression of our feelings. Poems do this through extensive use of metaphor." Wouldn't we say the same of religious texts? Lehman goes on to suggest that we devote twice as much time to reading a poem as we do prose because "we give each line of poetry more 'weight' and each word of its line more significance than we do . . . words of prose." I believe this would apply to our religious language, as well.

Lehman then gives us some direction on "How to Make a Poem [Our] Own":

  1. Read it aloud. Don't worry about meaning or vocal interpretation. Just read, three or four times through. Let the words reverberate through your body
  2. Don't get bogged down in the rhythm or rhyme of a specific line in a poem
    1. note line breaks
    2. note syllabic stresses within a line — what feelings do those stresses suggest?
  3. Note words at beginning of lines
  4. Be sensitive to rhyme and hints of rhyme
  5. When reading aloud, emphasize verbs and interpret verbs with more exageration than normal
  6. Identify the poem's images — be sensitive to ways the poem may appeal to all "the senses five".
So, applying both Mr. Lehman's suggestions, and the classic guidance of the Lectio Divina, I would suggest this manner of reading a poem:
  1. Read the poem, as suggested by Lehman. Read it out loud several times. Make a mental note of turns of phrase, or images which especially strike you
  2. Meditate on those words, phrases, and images. Don't try to intellectually interpret, just hear the words, picture the images, breath the rhythm of the lines in & out.
  3. Respond. Now, write something which plays out those words, phrases, etc. Don't worry if what you write is better or worse than the original work. And, once again, don't try to interpret the original poem as a professor would. Rather, allow those words, images, and so on, to lead you to a place which may (or may not) be very foreign to the original work.
  4. Contemplate the conversation between your creation and the original. How do they intersect? How do they diverge?
Well, I did this to an extent in writing my responses to L.C. Bolivia postcard poems. However, it seems a worthy experiment for me to try more intentionally in the near future. Stay tuned.

"How to Make a Poem Your Own: An Appreciation of the Poetry of Lorine Niedecker" appears in Issue 28 of Rosebud, a quarterly literary magazine.

Ideé d’jour

When nations grow old, the arts grow cold and commerce settles on every tree.
— William Blake, poet, engraver, and painter (1757-1827)

On Prayer, Pt. Three:
Physical Prayer

Note: This presentation was given in an Episcopal Church, and thus will reflect that tradition and its prejudices.

It's ironic: in the Episcopal Church, we are accustomed to using our bodies in worship. Perhaps more so than many modern Christian traditions. Those of us raised in the church are familiar with the formula:
Sit for instruction
Stand for praise
Kneel to pray
Yet, a recent sit-com reminded me that Episcopalians are perceived as stiff and stodgy. So much so, they can't use the technical terms for certain below-the-belt body parts.

How is it possible for us to use our bodies in worship so often, yet still be out of touch with them? I suspect this has much to do with these actions having become rote; we perform them without reflecting on their meaning.

For example, many of our liturgical actions reflect a monarchial view of the deity. We geneflect when entering the pew,
just as our British cousins reverence the king or queen. In this way, we are Sunday monarchists and weekday democrats.

So, I first echo the advice Jane Vennard gives in her book Praying With Body & Soul (1998, Augsburg): pay attention to the physical posture you currently assume when praying, then change it. If you normally kneel to pray, try standing. And before you start saying words, pay attention to your body: how does standing alter your relationship with the divine?

When you feel ill, or at other times, you may pray while lying in bed. Indeed, the psalmist speaks of lying in bed and
calling on God. Perhaps you may perceive yourself to be cradled in God's arms even as Mary cradled the infant Jesus.

In her book, Ms. Vennard discusses how anything may become prayer. This happens through intention and attention. Intention is why we do something: we may, for example, choose to walk for our health. Or, we may chose to walk as a form of prayer, seeing Christ as our companion. Walking may be a way to slow ourselves down, so we may be more attentive to creation.

This last point, of seeing the creator through creation, directs us to how our attention may be "seized" by external stimuli. It may be 'the flower in the snow', or it may be the friend who holds you as you weep. Any moment, any brightness, any darkness, may surprise us — and awaken us to God's presence.
Place your hand in front of your mouth and breath. Do this for a few minutes. Then place your hand on your heart. Be aware of your heartrate in this moment. These are both automic responses we control to a certain degree. That is, we may consciously slow down our breathing, which will concurrently slow down our heart-rate.

This relates to the Eastern Orthodox tradition Fr. Ron del Bene calls "breath prayer". The best known is described in the
spiritual classic The Way of the Pilgrim: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." My personal breath prayer is more brief: "Lord Jesus, make me whole." The mechanics of this are that I mentally say the first half of the phrase as I inhale, and the second half as I exhale.

There is no particular magic to this phrase; I would recommend a phrase 8–10 syllables long, simply because this is equivalent ot the average human breath. Address the divine in the way most comfortable and meaningful for you, then make a simple request which reflects where you currently are in your spiritual journey.

When I attended a series on breath prayer several years ago, the teacher gave us small sticky dots. The idea was to put dots places we normally look during the day: our wristwatche, our dashboard, our mirror, etc. This "cue" will remind you to say your breath prayer. You may want to consider other cues: waiting on line, or in traffic, etc.

What you may discover, through this constant repition, is that the words begin to lose their literal meaning. That's ok. As this happens, the rhythm of the words write themselves on your heart, enter your psyche, re-shape your soul.

Our group then did a prayer walk, to more fully experience our physical bodies at prayer. This is related to walking a
labyrinth, a tradition which began in the Middle Ages as a substitute for those who could not make the pilgrimage to
Jerusalem. A labyrinth may look like a maze, but it has an important difference: one cannot get lost in a labyrinth, for the path in is also the path out.

For the purpose of our exercise, we walked the regions of the St. Nicholas Chapel, a space about as big as the average suburban living room. We began at the baptismal font, at the rear of the chapel, walked down the alley between the two sets of pews, up around the altar, back down the alley, around a little bend, then back to the baptismal font and our pews. I led this procession, each step being about half the length of my foot (~2-3 inches). I instructed our group to be very aware of the muscles used, the weight shifting from the back of the foot to the ball, and any sense of imbalance.

Afterwards, participants shared their experiences. One lady told us she prayed for God's protection over our group as we walked. A gentleman was reminded of his time serving as an acolyte, how those dignified processions also seemed prayerful. A couple of members shared how walking disturbed their sense of physical balance. Another gentleman shared his realization that human beliefs are ever shifting.
Next week: Contemplative Prayer.

Good News for Lenny

Brother Dave mentioned there had been good news for Lenny today. Well, I wasn't sure which Lenny he was referring to, there being a couple I'm obsessed with.

But I had a feeling he was referring to Lenny Bruce. And, sure enough, Google News led me to this article about Lenny Bruce receiving a posthomous pardon for his obscenity charge in New York. Well, it does Lenny little good, though it's always nice to see "the State" recognize its mistakes. Hopefully, the same attitude will apply to modern day artists such as Eminem. Personally, I'm not a big fan of racist and misogynistic rap music (actually, I think "rap MUSIC" is an oxymoron), but I would not seek to suppress that form of expression.

Interestingly, the other "Lenny" I follow is also in the news: Leonard Cohen has donated artwork to Canada's War Child's annual Christmas card. Here's the original image.

Absolutely no connection between the articles at all. I think it's cool that Brother Dave's off-hand comment would lead me to both places.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Teaser: On Physical Prayer

Part three of my series "On Prayer" is in progress. At this point, it is represented by four pages of barely readable scrawl in a regular size spiral notebook. I shudder to think how long that will be in this space — a couple of screens-worth, I imagine. I shall seek ways to break the text up, in hopes of making it more bearable.

Consider this a fair warning. Lengthy post coming, soon.

Today's Holy Reading

Reading.  Luke 1: 26-38

Most of us don't get angels;
most of us don't get burning bushes
or voices on the mountain.
We don't even get sacred cd roms
plotting our life's path.
Your servant strives to listen.
I lie a-bed in the early morning watches
and await your voice.
But you are silent.
Oh, sure, I feel the burning in my heart —
sometimes I dream I'm on the Emmaus road.
I lie a-bed,
cradle myself in you,
but you are silent.
All I hear is the house breathing.
Well, I also recall the echo of my own voice as I read your word.
Then I recall how others have responded to that voice.
The voice I believe you gave me.
They say my voice leads to prayer.
But you are silent.

Holy Mother,
cradle me in your arms.
Teach me a mother's
unconditional love,
then teach me how to share it.
Son of Man
with the Holy Heart,
teach me true compassion.
High Holy One,
teach me
the secret voice of thunder.

What angels have spoken to you without your hearing them as angels? How do you discern the voice of God?

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Today's Lectio Divina

Reading. Luke 1: 39-56
I read the song of Mary
as I listen to the psalm of Coltrane
Can I speak such language of praise?
Can my heart leap up
like the messenger in the womb?
I am a lowly servant
who is daily being born
I could not stop reading Mary's song
for her voice rises from the page
Her voice sings of my loneliness
Her voice strikes down the pride of my heart
Her voice teaches me strength.

Blessed Lady,
let me be born anew
through you.
Beloved Mother,
store my life in your heart.
Holy One,
hold me in your arms;
I will snuggle your cheek with my own
then will I rest in peace.

Contemplation. Today is the shortest day of the year. We meditate on Mary's short song. We meditate on how the divine is daily born in us.

May we grow in humilty
rather than pride;
in service, rather than strength;
in questions, rather than answers.

Later this morning I will walk the path & breath the spirit. May the door of my heart open and echo the Holy Name.

So be it.
The referenced "psalm of Coltrane" is John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. Listen. Learn. Ponder these things in your heart.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Bolivia Postcard Poems Now On Sale

Now available for purchase, the chapbook of poems L.C. and I wrote while she was in Bolivia for a week. You may have seen these poems on our seperate blogs, but this will be your first opportunity to see them collected in one handy chapbook. The book also includes special "response" poems L.C. and I wrote after she returned.

8½" x 5.5½", 36 pages. Cost per copy is a mere $1.50 American. Order bye-mail.

Proof of Saddam's Involvement?

Back on Monday, in my entry concerning the capture of Saddam Hussein, I reiterated my belief that Hussein had no involvement with the 9/11/01 attacks. My cautious statement was that I had yet to see or hear any credible evidence that he had any connection with those attacks.

A friend sent a link to this article from The Telegraph in which it is stated "Iraq's coalition government claims that it has uncovered documentary proof that Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks against the US, was trained in Baghdad by Abu Nidal, the notorious Palestinian terrorist." My first reaction was one of skepticism, primarily because I had not heard a report on the document. Yet, the article states that Dr Ayad Allawi, a member of Iraq's ruling seven-man Presidential Committee, claimed the document was genuine.

One part of the document which made me especially suspicious was a section titled "Niger Shipment", which relates to the infamous "yellow cake" that was such an issue earlier this year. Seemed a bit too neat to me — like the denouement of a Perry Mason episode. As the old saying goes: if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

Regardless, I decided to maintain an open mind, and to watch for other reports related to this document.

Sure enough, about two hours later, I was led to an article at MSNBC (reprinted from Newsweek) titled "Dubious Link Between Atta and Saddam". This article details how actions claimed in the document are contradicted by FBI reports as well as reports from other U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Those of you with long memories may remember I made a fool of myself not too long ago by citing as true an article about Rush Limbaugh which, as it turned out, originated from the satirical web-site the Onion. Although I could not find anything which substantiated that article, I still posted it as fact. All I can say in my defense is that I posted a disclaimer as soon as I learned the truth.

The point being, I was willing to believe that article because it substantiated an opinion I already held about Limbaugh. And, I assume my friend was willing to accept the Telegraph article as fact because it substantiated an opinion she already holds concerning Saddam's involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

There is, I believe, a lesson here. For me, I need to research stories more thoroughly before I pass them on as fact. For my friend, perhaps she needs to apply a healthy skepticism concerning claims made by the Bush administration. I imagine she was very skeptical of claims made by the Clinton administration; I would merely suggest that she have a similar wariness about the Bush administration.

It's good to know your prejudices, and guard against them. If they remain in the unconscious, you will inevitably be tripped up by them every time.

Word for GWB

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.
— George Washington, 1st US president (1732-1799)

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Today's Lectio Divina

Reading. Matthew 25:1-13

Be awake
for the hour has come,
the wedding party knocks at the door.
Be awake
for your life is worth
more than oil.
Be awake for your heart is the door
and your heart
is wiser than a clock.
Be awake
for flowers bloom
where you step.
Be awake
for your fingertips
teach a finer sermon
than your lips.
Even as you lie in your bed
be awake
for your dreams are filled
with the divine presence.

Divine Physician
open my eyes
to see your face
in every face I meet.
Open my ears
to hear your voice
in early morning birdsong.
Open the pores
of my fingertips to feel you
in a stranger's touch.
Open my mouth
that I may savor
your presence among the tea leaves.
Open my nostrils
that the celestial rose
overwhelm my sinuses.
Open the secret eye
which dwells above my nose
and between my brows;
I will see you in dying as well as the fog.
Open the door of my heart:
this is where you live;
this is your rightful home.
   So be it.

Contemplation. Always troubled by the 'unChristian' attitude of wise virgins. They're like proto-Republicans who would say, "We've got ours. If you weren't smart enough to get yours, you deserve to freeze and be excluded from the banquet." I can master all the intellectual resolutions of this — Jesus is teaching by hyperbole. Obviously, we are being cautioned to avoid the behavior of the foolish virgins, rather being instructed to emulate the greed of the wise virgins. And so on.

Yet, every time I read this parable I have to confront that central conflict: those wise virgins are not behaving as Christ tells us to act. That is, elsewhere in the gospel, Christ tells us to share our coat. In fact, he tells us that when we help another, we are serving Him. Clearly, this parable is not intended to be read at the same time as the parable about Lazarus and the rich man. For the rich man in that parable had an attitude much like the wise virgins: I've got mine, too bad for you.
You may wonder where I get these readings. The Book of Common Prayer for the Episcopal Church has a section called "Daily Lectionary", which runs on a cycle of two years. If one follows the suggested readings, s/he will have read the "high points" of the Old Testament in two years, the New Testament twice in those same two years, and the Psalms several times over. I have followed this method, off and on in my life, and have found it to be rewarding. For the purpose of this Lectio Divina exercise, I am focusing on the gospel. Ironically, the current readings are from the Gospel According to Matthew, which has to rate as my least favorite.
Here's a shout-out to Steve & Debra. They gave me the "everything" book in which I am recording these Lectio Divina. The cover has pressed leaves in it; it is autumnal colors (dark greens, and some browns); and fits well on my nightstand. This is a book they gave me for Christmas in 1999 — when I traveled to their home near Lexington, KY to celebrate the faux millennium. Don't know if Debra would necessarily approve of this usage, since she is an atheist. Might be more accurate to say she is a virulent anti-Christian, so much so she makes the Rt Rev Very Venerable Dr. Omed look like a piker. But, there it is.

The book is, as they say, a commonplace book. It may soon see more secular writing in the near future — I no longer try to predict such things. I now dedicate myself to the direction of the muse and the guidance of the Spirit.

Ideé d’jour

A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.
— Mark Twain, author and humorist (1835-1910)

Wednesday, December 17, 2003


About a month ago, I forged a "master" index. This page links to the several pages on which I have indexed the poetry postcards I've created over the past six months. You'll also find a link to my on-line chapbook The Saturn Sequence & Other Poems (pop-up ad warning). There are also links to this page, and to a selection of photographs of the Oklahoma City Memorial.

Island of Lost Poems

In a recent post on Stick Poet Super Hero, Michael Wells wonders out loud what happens to poems we've started and left unfinished. You know, all those scraps we have lying around somewhere that seemed so lovely to begin with and then just seemed to sort of go ... nowhere.

Well, I've got a lot of those. I had this wonderful idea for a poem to commemorate the Challenger crash a couple of years ago. I wrote the introit, did a lot of study on those who died, and the thing just lay flat. It's not that I lost interest, I just came to realize I could never create the poem that I imagined in my head. The idea of the thing had grown like Topsy, and there was no way the reality could match the idea. I know. I've tried with other things in the past.

Well, at least I've got a pretty nice introit, in terza rima form.

Problem was, this sort of thinking had led me to a major writer's block. I kept having these magnificent ideas that never became words on the page. Then, I met the Poet Laureate of Suffolk County, George Wallace, and he talked about his discipline of writing a poem a day.

This was a discipline he had learned in a writer's workshop with William Stafford. It's clear, from Stafford's book of essays Writing the Australian Crawl, that he did not normally write these poems for posterity. Now and again, a poem might come out fully formed, but more often they would require some crafting. A not-so-good poem might still have a good line or apt image that would find a home in a better poem.

So, I have set myself the goal of writing a poem as often as possible. There are days nothing comes to mind — I can't even think of one image or line. That's all I require: one image or line that appeals to me. I let the words flow from there. I have found that the less I plan a poem the better; seems most of the creative energy goes into the planning, and very little gets directed toward actually writing anything.

So: I see an image, mentally hear a phrase, I write it down. As a rule, more words follow that. Let the thing percolate through the day. Send it off to the Poetry Espresso list for feed-back. Publish it here & pray for more feed-back. Come back to it (on occasion) for tweaking, based on that feed-back.

Most of the poems you have seen in this space are the result of that discipline. Many of them I consider "finished". At the very least, I'm honest enough to recognize I'm not likely to do much else with them. A few seem like good ideas toward something else; or there's more I'd like to say. And maybe, someday, I'll come back to those unfinished bits and cobble more on.

But all these "fragments" will remain here, so long as the database which underpins this blog holds out. I'll continue posting these poems, along with my political and religious musings, so long as the muse allows.

I trust the product justifies your visit to this island of lost poems.

Lectio Divina

This is a term which may be familiar to those from a Roman Catholic background. Literally, it means "holy reading". I first saw the term in Kathleen Norris' book The Cloister Walk, in which she mentions its use in the Benedictine monestary she is visiting. She notes what an enriching experience it is, yet sadly does not go into detail on how it is practiced.

Finally, about three weeks ago as I am doing my research on prayer, I read a description in Prayer and Temperament. In essence, this technique seems a practical way to "read, mark, and inwardly digest" (see the Book of Common Prayer, Proper 28, pg 236) sacred writings. In brief, it involves:
  • Lectio — deep reading. One source recommends reading the selection once several hours before your "official" Lectio Divina time. Then, for deep reading, you would read the passage very slowly, and let words & phrases suggest themselves to you.
  • Meditatio — meditating on the scripture. For example, one may apply the forms of imaging prayer discussed below.
  • Oratio — prayer inspired by the mediation
  • Contemplatio — sit in contemplation of all of these
  • This may be explored in more detail in this article titled Accepting the Embrace of God: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina
My entry on Thursday, December 11 titled Matthew 23:26 is the fruit of my practice of Lectio Divina earlier that morning. From time to time, as seems appropriate, I will share others in this space.
Lectio Matthew 24:45-51

Meditation. Who is the faithful employee?
The employee who dedicates
all her time to the good of the whole
and the enrichment of her fellow employees.
I tell you, the wise employer
will make her a supervisor
or train her to be a business manager.
But if an employee belittles his fellow workers
or uses his status to receive sexual favors
I tell you, the CEO will come
when that employee is playing computer solitaire
and will fire him.
That one will end his days living under an overpass.
His credit will be shredded.
His name will be a warning in the street.
He will end his days like the other hypocrites
whose integrity may be bought for a few million dollars.

I give thanks, Gracious Lover,
that you teach me to walk your path
I give thanks your light
shines on my face
May my eyes be so bold
as to evermore seek you
May I see your countenance
in every rock, tree, field, & flood
May I evermore seek to serve you
through all whom I meet
May I evermore grow into your likeness
and be an icon of your presence in the world.
   So be it.

Contemplate. How I may be a faithful follower of Christ this day.