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.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

On Prayer, Pt. Two

Imaging Prayer
I do not claim any special expertise in prayer. However, I have done some study in this area, and hope to share some of the fruit of that study. This past Sunday, a group of about ten people gathered to explore praying with images. These images may be exterior (i.e., an icon) or interior (i.e., one's imagination).

When using exterior images, one may use icons or other works of sacred art. There are some elements which make icons unique: icons are themselves created in an attitude of prayer. There is a very formal approach to the creation of an icon, which requires a lifetime of study. Many works of sacred art in the western canon were created in an attitude of prayer as well, but all icons were created with this attitude.
It must be remembered that these images are not an end in themselves. They are merely instruments we may use in our quest to commune with the divine. I think of icons as a sort of window on the divine. Just as we do not confuse a window for the tree we see through it, neither do we confuse an icon for the divine Other we seek.

The first method of using one's imagination comes from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. In this method, one reads a Biblical passage, then projects herself into that scene using her sensible imagination. Which is to say, the practitioner would imagine himself in the scene engaging all five senses.

The second method involves transferring the scene to the present. This practice is similar to St. Augustine's theological practice. Perhaps a description of this Sunday's session will be illustrative.

In most Protestant denominations, the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Advent was Luke 3:7-18. Take a moment to read this passage, which concerns the preaching of John the Baptist. For those who would project themselves into the scene I asked: What did John sound like? What did the river look like? Smell like? Was the crowd noisy or quiet? Imagine you are John the Baptizer — what are you feeling? Are you yelling or speaking normally?

For those who would transfer the scene to the present, I asked: who would John the Baptist be addressing today? Who are today's vipers and hypocrites? Where would he be preaching? What would he look like today?

I allowed five minutes for this exercise. The first person to share said he imagined John in downtown Detroit, preaching to the pimps, child pornographers, and bankers. The next person imagined himself in that time, and could hear John preaching. The person who especially touched my heart had pictured John as a variation on Saddam Hussein — she could see that sort of dedication inspiring good as well as evil.

Try this at home, and share your experience with a trusted friend or spiritual advisor. If so inclined, share your experience with me as well.

Next week — Physical Prayer.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Current Events

Try as I might, there is no escaping the big headline news: Saddam found like rat in hole. The other image that occured to me, since Saddam reportedly considered himself a successor to Nebuchadnezzar, was Wm Blake's image of that historic despot — bent over, crawling on the ground like a wild beast.

I take little pleasure in his capture. His status as leader was initiated and maintained, until about a decade back, by the United States. If he was a cruel and evil despot, it's largely the fault of the folk who got him in power and helped him maintain power.

I was asked how his capture would affect our lives. I doubt his capture will affect the lives of people in America very much at all. One may hope that his capture will decrease attacks which are inpired by those who wish to see him restored to power, but at this point I doubt many of these attacks are so motivated.

I have yet to see any convincing evidence that Saddam was responsible for 9/11/01 in even the most remote fashion. I have yet to hear or see any evidence that convinces me that Saddam was a valid threat to America or our nearby allies. No doubt he wanted to be a threat, and would have sought WMD given the opportunity, but neither of these desires were reality at the time of our attack.

For a more complete and detailed editorial on this topic, see this Statement on Recent Developments In Iraq.

Ideé d’jour

Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.
— Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
"Harmony of thought and word and deed" seems to me as good a definition of integrity as any. It's the major goal of my life.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Teaser: On Prayer

This Sunday, I will lead a forum on what I call "Imaging Prayer". I expect to report on this forum in this space by Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Stay tuned!

Ideé d’jour

Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.
— Phillips Brooks, bishop and orator (1835-1893) [best known as the author of O Little Town of Bethlehem]

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Wistful winds

when wistful winds
rise up from concrete canyons
when water wades
from river, wood, and cloud
slowly spirit steps
across solstice threshold
where moon scythes the cold
divides the north & south
spirit paces between north & south
wanders the narrow hall of light
the door ever open, ever locked
she passes through the jambs
she pries through northern star keyhole
her foot's silhouette describes
the southern cross' mystic line
Your correspondent is experiencing an adrenaline high, which tends to make me chattier than normal. If you'll scroll down the page, you'll note there have been some changes to "6:45 a.m."

Tea Bag Wisdom

Self-respect is the fruit of discipline.
— Abraham Heschel (1907 – 1972); from tab of Good Earth ® tea bag

6:45 a.m.

I'm listening to John Fahey play America
in all its pre-fascist glory
before the tide rolled out

I'm thinking about Frederick Buechner
how his words shined
back when belief was a luxury

I'm thinking about wrestling with the angel
in the early morning hours
when I still lay a-bed
She whispered of days
when angels consorted with men

I'm thinking about the day
living in the belly of the beast
breathing infernal desires
of the Whore of Babylon
the perfume of her daughter Diana

Now Ares' footprint is firm on the soil,
for he is the royal consort,
and the Ghost of the Flea
delights in pyre ash

Most of all,
I'm thinking about you
and the hour
you will stand at my door

Matthew 23:26

Cleanse my heart, Gracious One;
with your healing light
burn away all falsehood.
Shine the light of your countenance
upon my faltering heart
reveal each pocket of hypocrisy
each hint of pride
or superiority
or aesthetic.
These I use to hide from you
and from my fellow travelers.
Teach me the way of true compassion.
Open my eyes to see your face
in each face I meet.
Scour my heart, Patient Lover,
drive away fearful shadows
that my hands may perceive your touch
in each hand I clasp
Daily clean my heart
Daily draw me closer to you
Daily may I walk
in the way of justice, mercy, and faith.
For I pray in your Holy Name.

So Be It.
See Matthew 23:13-26. See also a'Kempis, Imitation of Christ, Book Two, Chapter Two, "Of Lowly Submission".

Early Watches

In the early estival watches
he ponders the inner rose
which burns before him

he smells the rosary
on his fingertips
and explores the sacred cave

the house breathes
around him; he
wants to sing

he wants to sing
for the frost dancing
in moon-dimmed starlight

he wants to sing
give thanks for the cave
and for the early estival watches

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

night cat

small night cat drew
a white blanket across our city
last night

today, her clear blue eyes
shine from east & west
from north to south

she curls herself
around our houses
purrs in her sleep

waits for the noisome
day dog to depart
so she may return to prowl

Who Reads "Love During Wartime"?

The table below reflects visitors to this web-log between 9:48 a.m. and 11:11 p.m. yesterday (9.Dec.03). This is reproduced from Site Meter.

Visitors, December 9
Domain Page views Duration Time 2 0:07 11:11:50pm 2 0:04 10:51:56 pm
yale.edu20:018:29:32 pm
ppdi.com20:014:44:47 pm
ppdi.com417:464:04:28 pm
ppdi.com36:502:43:16 pm
Level3.net20:081:45:38 pm
mo.us20:001:38:50 pm
ppdi.com424:2211:46:39 am
uscourts.gov20:0111:44:31 am
txucom.net20:0111:22:36 am
mo.us20:019:48:08 am
Sometimes, I can guess the person behind the ISP — I know a couple of people who subscribe to AOL who read this blog, and I only know one person who subscribes to Cox who reads this blog.

I am curious about the person or persons who log in from ppdi, which is apparantly a pharmaceutical company. Wonder how they learned of this space, and why they come back.

I will confess that I'm a little nervous about the listing from Sure hope I haven't written anything sue-worthy. Or, perhaps worse, something that will send me to Guantanamo. I do have kin-folk who live & work in the Washington, DC area, so maybe that's the connection.

Feel free to introduce yourself, as Matthias did. Leave a comment, or drop me an e-mail. Let me know what you like here, what you'd like to see more of (or less of).

Tuesday, December 09, 2003


The second part of my series on prayer will appear early next week. In the meantime, this "blog" will return to its standard regimin of occasionally good poetry and half-formed (or half-informed) political opinion. The following is a draft toward a (hopefully) better poem.
30% chance of rain
70% chance of dry

fog rises from sleepy hollow trees
bare-armed trees
raise their hands in prayer

a near-by roof blazes bright
white concrete spot light
while the next building
is shrouded in gray
rankle the cottonwood
descend the terrace
the terra cotta grenery
of happenstance conversation
in the long narrow halls
contrasting cranial distortion
on the ocean redefining
the letters behind the words
the ideograms behind the letters

On Prayer, Part I

Verbal Prayer, Continued
After my presentation, which is reflected in the entry below, I asked the attendees to break into four groups. I had already arranged for people to be facilitators of these groups. The goal was to share, as much as comfortable, personal prayer practices and disciplines. I asked that the focus be practical and concrete. For example: did one pray certain times each day - if so, how often? What names or titles were used for the divine (God, Jesus, etc)? Were certain intents always considered in the same order?

The following list reflects the responses which came out of the groups. These responses confirm my notion that there are almost as many ways to pray as there are people. Although I believe you will note some common features as you review these responses.

Group One focused on "practices we use to encourage ourselves to pray":
  • morning solitude; carving out time in the day before the chaos kicks in — no noise, no distractions, no others
  • walking the dog and praying favorite prayers (e.g., Psalms 3 and 51)
  • "observing the day", that is, sunrise, sunset, weather, nature (one said s/he "smells God in mums")
  • displaying icons that inspire prayer and meditation
  • informal conversations with God throughout the day, regardless of time or place
  • participation in prayer-related groups or ministries; for example, at church or in a 12-Step program
  • practicing meditations on gratitude to increase awareness of blessings
  • taking advantage of any opportunity to pray, including secular situations (e.g., traffic, workplace, etc.)
  • we have a God who loves to be read to
    • Episcopalians are "people of the book," who are accustomed to using prayers or psalms from the Book of Common Prayer
Group Two:
  • most pray in the morning, a few at other times
  • expressing gratitude in prayer helps one be aware of more things to be grateful for
    • prayer encourages gratitude, as gratitude encourages prayer
  • discussed why Episcopalians are uncomfortable with leading public prayer
    • one theory offered was that Episcopalians see prayer as intimacy with God
    • thus, public prayer would be a sort of "public display of affection"
Group Three:
  • most pray intermittently during the day, but mostly at night
  • offer brief prayers throughout the day, but still set special time apart for "focused" prayer
  • use prayer beads (Roman Catholic or Anglican rosary)
  • are encouraged by the example of other denominations (one member lives in a predominantly Baptist community)
  • Many in this group shared the story of being raised as Christians, then drifting away in young adulthood. As they matured, these people felt a spiritual hunger; their childhood experiences encouraged them to return to the church.
  • one person who shared this story also shared that s/he is struggling to re-learn how to pray
Group Four:
  • pray that God will know his/her heart, that it might be at peace
  • find comfort in St. Francis' prayer, "Make me an instrument of your peace"
  • put on armor of God before praying
  • pray that every room you enter be defended from the enemy
  • One person drives to work early every day, taking a picturesque route so s/he may rejoice in God's creation
  • when praying for another's healing, picture that person enveloped and filled with God's healing white light (see Agnes Sandford, The Healing Light)
  • some begin their daily prayer time using a service from the Book of Common Prayer

On Prayer: Introduction

"The yearning to pray is a prayer in itself"
My presentation is not original; it is based on a presentation I heard a number of years ago, given by a person I respect. Furthermore, I have found these categories to be accurate, based on my own experience and the experience of others.

However, what I call "Methods" of prayer are not intended to be exhaustive, but are a means to begin a discussion and consider the breadth of prayer.

These methods are:
  • Verbal
  • Imaging
  • Physical; and
  • Contemplative
This week, we focus on verbal prayer.  This is a method used by most of those who pray, and is very familiar to us. Examples of verbal prayer include:
  • Prayer Book
    • Episcopal Book of Common Prayer
    • Book of Psalms
    • Roman Catholic Breviaries
  • Memorized Prayers
    • The Lord's Prayer
    • Gloria Patri (from Roman Catholic tradition, means "Glory be to the Father")
  • Original, spontaneous prayers
  • Singing
    • St. Augustine said that singing was praying twice
The Baltimore Catechism of the Roman Catholic tradition also understands prayer to be of four types:
  • Adoration
  • Contrition
  • Thanksgiving
  • Supplication
William O. Paulsell's Rules For Prayer (sadly out of print) seems to suggest that there are as many ways to pray as there are people. So, this presentation does not suggest that there is a right way or wrong way to pray.

If you are struggling to learn how to pray, consider St. Paul's promise in his letter to the church at Rome that the Holy Spirit will provide us with the words we need (c.f., Rom. 8:26). Paulsell's book offers this definition of prayer: "The ultimate goal of prayer is to look beyond earthly things, to see beyond the created order, and arrive at the contemplation of God. . . . We pray to know God, not to give God orders" (pg 7). This may seem daunting at first, but less so in the light of St. Paul's promise.

Finally, consider Paul's instruction to the church at Thesolonica:
Rejoice always,
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God
in Christ Jesus for you
1 Thes. 5: 16-18, NRSV
My hope is this series will suggest ways we may achieve that goal of praying without ceasing.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Must See!

Was led to this Mad Magazine parody. Couldn't wait to pass this on to you folk. The various positions are "priceless".

Poet Dreams

Recently, the members of the Poetry Espresso e-list have been discussing dreams in which they encounter fellow poets. This discussion brought to mind a couple I've had, one quite recent:
Dana (a.k.a. Dr Omed) and I were in a tall building overlooking a public park. Very lovely and lush, quite green too (unlike Okla's current status). I spoke a spontaneous poem. Dana said, "That's quite good, when did you write it?"

OK, so it's an ego dream....

The frustrating thing is, I can only remember a fragment of the dream poem.
The second dream is older:
In waking life, there was a hymn I didn't care for much; might have been "Let All Mortal Flesh". Don't know why. Anyway, in this dream the metaphysical poet John Donne approached me & informed me that he had written the words for that hymn. Having a great deal of affection for Donne (both pre- and post-conversion), I took a 2nd look.

Shortly after the dream, I did indeed take a 2nd look at the hymn. The
one in question had not been written by Donne, but I did find something in it that spoke to me — perhaps because of the dream. There are, in fact, two hymns in the Episcopal 1982 Hymnal based on Donne poems: "Wilt thou forgive" and "When Jesus died to save us".
Speaking of "Waking Life", I give a qualified recommendation to Richard Linklater's movie of the same name. I've seen it twice, and received something each time. It has its own quality of surreal poetry, as well. Not something for a permanent library, most likely, but worth seeing at least once.

Teabag Wisdom

Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art
- Leonardo Da Vinci (from a Good Earth teabag tab)

In Memoriam, John Lennon

You are directed to Dr. Omed's Tent Show; skip the "Nun of the Week" (for the nonce) and meditate instead on the illustrated lyrics for "Imagine".

In the "no shame" department, the copy of Double Fantasy Lennon autographed for his murderer, Mark Chapman, is soon to be auctioned by Southby's. Don't believe in the death penalty, but I might favor a sentence of having to listen to the Monkeys or muzak versions of Beatle's tunes.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Ideé d’jour

Find the door of your heart, and you will discover it is the door of the kingdom of God.
— St. John Chrysostom
quoted in Rules for Prayer, William O. Paulsell, 1993, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ, pg. 7

Greatest Story Never Told

The Real Life Preacher (RLP) has set himself the task of retelling the Christmas Story, and adding in some details the Gospels omit. The first two parts of the story focus on how Joseph felt [note the above link will take you to part two. You will probably want to read the Introduction and Part One as well].

This focus on Joseph reminded me of a short story by the folk singer John McCutcheon, The Gospel According to Joe. McCutcheon's story is a little different, as it gives the tale a very modern spin.

John also wrote a song on a similar theme, titled theGreatest Story Never Told; the lyrics are worth a read, and I recommend the cd of the same name.

Who knows what Joseph thought, and how Joseph felt? Well, RLP and John McCutcheon have written pretty good midrashes which help Joseph seem like a full-fleshed human being.

Kudos to Wesley Clark!

This Salon article reports on a speech Wesley Clark gave last night at Daniel Webster College. According to the article, former general Clark criticized Prez. Busch for his "bring 'em on" comment. But here's my favorite quote: Clark "called the Bush administration 'all bully and no pulpit'."

Thursday, December 04, 2003


So, on Monday, I was almost finished with Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums. In it, his character is frequently calling himself (or others) a bodhisattva. He seems to think the main point of being a reincarnated enlightened being is having compassion for one’s fellow creatures — even if they are part of the vast benighted middle class glued to their TV screens. However, as others have noted, this compassion does not seem to apply to women. As in On the Road, women seem to exist primarily as "real gone chick(s)" who serve men — either as Earth Mother home-makers or as sexual companions (or "conquests"). This seems more like a typical 1950s male attitude than that of an enlightened one.

Be that as it may, "Compassion" is a word Kerouac uses frequently.

I have made a pact with myself, in observance of Advent, to decrease my television viewing (perhaps inspired by the negative comments Ti Jean makes). One way to achieve this goal is to stay physically away from the tube; for example, by attending meetings.

Every fortnight, the Benedictine group meets at the Cathedral. This is a group of lay people who are interested in applying Benedict’s rule to their daily life. A few are Oblate Novices, people who have accepted the full discipline of the rule yet continue to live in the world, but most have no more official connection to a monastery than an ordinary layperson.

So as I drive to the Cathedral, Kerouac's "compassion" is echoing in my mind. I wonder if Ti Jean fully understood what the word means. I wonder if I even really understand it. Too often, I suspect, we see the word "compassion" and we think "pity".

Whenever I wonder about a word’s meaning, I consider its etymology. Just checked a dictionary, and the etymology is from Latin: "com, with + pati, to suffer". To "suffer with" is stronger than the common understanding of pity. It is possible to pity without taking action; but to suffer with another would almost certainly spur one into action.

After all, if one is suffering, the natural impulse is to take action to end that suffering. Likewise, if one experiences true compassion for another's suffering, one will take action to ease that other person’s suffering as if it were one's own.

Keep in mind, this meditation is taking place during my 20-minute drive from my warm middle-class home to the Cathedral. I have the non-commercial classical radio station playing, so my mind is not distracted. I walk in the door, with these thoughts still forming and rolling through my brain.

Turns out, the leader of the group has brought a video tape for us to watch. I had to laugh to myself; I had come to avoid watching TV, and now I was going to watch it after all!

The video tape was of an address given by Archbishop Rowan Williams at Trinity Church, New York, in April of this year. Congruent with the theme of our group, Archbishop Williams was talking about the tools Benedict recommends for life in monastic community. Those tools are transparency, being a peacemaker, and accountability.

None of these seems obviously connected with compassion, but I heard Archbishop Williams' address through that filter, as it were. Perhaps a few quotes from his address will be suggestive:
  • I promise that your growth towards the good God wants for you will be a wholly natural and obvious priority for me; and I trust that you have made the same promise.
  • What Benedict is interested in producing is people who have the skills to diagnose all inside them that prompts them to escape from themselves in the here and now.
  • Benedict regards monastic life as a discipline for being where you are, rather than taking refuge in the infinite smallness of your own fantasies.
  • [we are] standing together before Christ, becoming used to Christ’s scrutiny together. In this way, we both see ourselves under Christ's judgement and see others under Christ's mercy; and we are urged not to despair of that mercy even for ourselves.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Weather Report

30% chance of rain
sky grey, grey, grey all day

never did rain
by afternoon, the sun is a glare
across the west horizon

then night stole on
as we entered the belly of the beast

dark night, no rain

time wants to sleep or
to eat its young or
pretend it's an invention

54° predicted high
low in the 30's tonight

30% chance of rain, he said.
where's my rain?

Worth a Read

Wired News has an excellent article on one of my favorite authors, Phillip K. Dick. Seems he's become flavor of the year, what with the number of his stories and novels that have been transferred to the movies.

The story discusses the paranoia that pervaded Dick's personal life, as well as his fiction, in ample detail. I still have nightmares about the "contact paranoia" I suffered while reading the posthomous novel Radio Free Albemuth. Clearly, his work is not for the faint of heart.

One of his short stories which is in development at Disney, of all places, is "The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford". I don't recall reading this story, but have always been fascinated by the title. Turns out, according to the Wired article, the story concerns a brown oxford shoe which comes to life one day. It being a Phillip K. Dick story, one can safely assume things don't end well.
Been slow blogging of late. The flu has been making the rounds of our corner of the office the past week, and I seem to have early symptons (stuffy head, achy, etc.). I have a couple of ideas on the burner, including the outline for my prayer forum, but things might appear a little feverish for the next couple of days ....

Just like a Phillip K. Dick short story...

Monday, December 01, 2003

alarm buzz

the alarm will buzz again
in ten minures
but, for now, i'm cozed a-bed

i kicked off my sleep pants
at about 12:30 this a.m.
we warm so together

no cotton-candy sky
just sleep around the eye
that's all. cold wakes my feet
as i walk to the shower.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Kerouac on Prayer

"Did you know the prayer I use?"
"I sit down and say, and I run all my friends and relatives and enemies one by one in this, without any angers or gratitudes or anything, and I say like 'Japhy Ryder, equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha,' then I run on, say, to 'David O. Selznick, equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha' though I don't use names like David O. Selznick, just people I know because when I say the words 'equally a coming Buddha' I want to be thinking of their eyes, like you take Morley, his blue eyes behind those glasses, when you think 'equally a coming Buddha you think of those eyes and you really do suddenly see the true secret serenity and the thuth of his coming Buddhahood. Then you think of your enemy's eyes."
The Dharma Bums, pp. 68-69, Viking-Penguin, 1958, New York; © 1958 Jack Kerouac; renewed Stella Kerouac and Jan Kerouac, 1986
I stumbled on this as I indulge my current Kerouac obsession. Coincidentally, I am also preparing to lead a program on prayer for my church. Imagine praying for your enemies, that they are equally a divine manifestation of the coming Christ. Well, I'm pretty sure Jesus would be cool with that.

I'm a little over half-way through Dharma Bums and I keep thinking: Kerouac, during his time as a look-out on Desolation peak (recorded in Desolation Angels) really did succeed in following in Thoreau's footsteps . That cabin, marooned up on that peak, was even more separated from society than Thoreau's cabin — which was essentially in Emerson's back yard.

I also think how often Kerouac's prose lifts up and sings in Whitman's tradition. Whitman was also into Buddha, as many of the Transcendentalists were, so he would have been happy to walk with Jack. Yeah, Ti Jean walked the same open road Whitman walked.

I think of how I've sort of bought into the middle class dream that Ti Jean (Kerouac) rejected. I mean, good grief, I have a mortage and an eight to five job. Yet, I still strive to walk my own path. And confront the beast wherever possible and however necessary.

And, finally, I think how sad that Jack couldn't live the dream and follow Buddha to the end of the road. Drinking yourself to death is not the path of Buddha. But, look, that doesn't deny the truth of what he was saying or the truth of his hunger. The hunger for spirit, as they say, will either go for the true spirit, the Great Cosmic Spirit Kerouac and Ginsberg found in Buddha, and others find in Christ or in nature or in the stars; or that hunger will go for the false spirit which generally comes from a bottle. Some of the greatest spiritualists live on skid row.

We'll never hear their prayers, tho' they may be truer than the Sunday morning Amen corner. Thank heavens that traveler Jack Kerouac, Ti Jean, is still in print, so we can read his prayers.
You may have noticed my saying I would be leading a program on prayer at my church. I hope to post some notes from that presentation on this web-log. Yet another direction to go, and I can only guess how it will affect the banner ads.

Ideé d’jour

Let the mystery be.
— Iris DeMent, singer/songwriter

Friday, November 28, 2003

Divine Lover

Divine Lover
Why do you follow me wherever I go
Why do I see you everywhere I look
In church last Sunday
the woman four pews ahead
had hair like yours
The blonde-haired woman
had a head shaped just like yours
And the trees
driving home from church beloved
as the trees clapped their hands
as the trees changed for autumn
the hands they were waving
were your hands beloved
Divine Lover
you were smiling at me
from within the leaves
of the maple autumn glory

Buy Nothing Today

I tell you what, I am thankful for the children in Malaysia who make the clothes they sell at Wal Mart
I am thankful for their sub-standard wages that make it possible for me buy those clothes cheap
I am thankful they have the chance to live the Dickensian dream
I tell you what, I am thankful cars are being made in Mexico, Japan, and Germany,
rather than here in America; export the dream, I say.
I tell you what, I am thankful Halliburton has bought Iraq
cause that'll teach those Emirs in Arabia to keep raising oil prices
I tell you what, I am thankful for Wal Mart — they stay open all Thanksgiving Day
I tell you what, I don't care what it takes
just don't take away my standard of living
keep them terrorists and commies from my door.
Say what? You say my job is next to be shipped over-seas?
Well, you're still going to pay me, aren't you?
Fight the power! Confront the consumerism demon & be triumphant! Buy Nothing Today!

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

I'm Piglet?

You are Piglet
You choose your friends wisely and even though they may be few in number, they are high in importance. You feel most comfortable when you can follow the crowd and let others make decisions. But that's not to say you can't make up your own mind if you need to. Faithful and true, Piglets make the best friends.
Which Pooh character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla
I wonder which pane of the Jo-Hari window these Quizilla quizes reveal and/or reflect.

Ideé d’jour

If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know.
— Louis Armstrong
One of the greatest Zen statements made by an American.


web-foot dawn
stalks up the horizon

the moon ticks slowly
past saturn & mars

black cat stretches
across the lawn
flees down the morning

my words are empty
hollow commanders
chasing after each "a" and "z"

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Haiku: 21.Nov.03

Piebald cat watches
me drive past.  She looks both ways
then crosses the street.
The stained-glass cat comes courtesy of my new e-mail friend, Connie Beckers. More of her work may be viewed at Goddess of Glass.

Connie's work graces several of my postcards. In this instance, I sent her the poem, and asked her to select a pre-existing stained-glass piece which best illustrated it. Here, you may see the final result.
southeast morning sun
varigates the sky in pink shades
behind the new capital dome

birds perch on the rim
of the famous milk bottle,
form the ridges of the cap

i drive this labyrinth
every morning & each turn
reflects a new scene

Ideé d’jour

Why does no one confess his sins? Because he is yet in them. It is for a man who has awoke from sleep to tell his dreams.
— Lucius Annaeus Seneca, writer and philosopher (BCE 3-65 CE)

Monday, November 24, 2003

Ideé d’jour

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.
— Michelangelo Buonarroti, sculptor, painter, architect, and poet (1475-1564)
Yep. That Michelangelo. Wonder if we can adopt the same attitude to words on the page?