Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Diving into the Ocean

There is a risk, when a book is written in the first person, of assuming the story is autobiographical. The reader imagines that the thin letter I is a sort of doorway through which the author is peeking. Neil Gaiman has written several short stories and graphic novels which are written in the first person, and I suppose the narrator of each of those tales shares some things in common with the author, but I don't suppose any of them are autobiographical in the same sense Henry Miller's or Charles Bukowski's novels are.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Mr. Gaiman's first adult novel written in the first person (also his first since 2005). I suppose it to be one of his most personal novels — it was written for his wife, Amanda F'ing Palmer — and I suppose the narrator to have many traits in common with the author. But I doubt it is autobiographical, not in the traditional sense.

Like many of his fans, I was introduced to Neil Gaiman's writing through The Sandman comics. I was working at the Infernal Bookstore, and a coworker loaned me the Seasons of Mists set. This was an excellent place to begin reading this series, and led me to read the whole series from the beginning. I then went on to read many of his other comic series, graphic novels, short stories, and novels.

The Sandman comics made me aware of some common themes in Mr. Gaiman's work: the nature of identity; what becomes of the old gods; and the betrayal of innocence. There's a degree to which Ocean touches on all three of these themes, but the emphasis is on the betrayal of innocence.

Innocence is betrayed when a child is traumatically exposed to adult concerns. Child abuse is an obvious example, famously explored in The Doll's House portion of The Sandman. The trauma in Ocean is the suicide of a lodger. This trauma sets the main action of the novel in motion.

I hardly know how to classify this novel — fantasy, horror, or myth. There are fantastic elements, the most apparent being that the ocean of the title actually appears to be a regular farm pond. The lodger's suicide creates an opening, of sorts, for a horrific and malevolent being who tempts humans with money.

Then there are the three women who live by that pond which may be an ocean: daughter, mother, grandmother. They are a mythic type readers of The Sandman will quickly recognize: maiden, mother, crone: The Fates. This distaff trinity pre-dates the Christian trinity, so often seen as male-dominant. This feminine trinity has many names: as the Fates, they both give life and end it.

I believe Neil Gaiman to be one of the best authorities on myth since Joseph Campbell. So I think he uses “the three-faced goddess” intentionally. The narrator is reflecting on the events which followed that initial betrayal of innocence. The narrator ultimately examines his life.

Myth, as Campbell would say, causes us to examine our lives. Myth can become a sort of pilgrimage, where the reader journeys with the main character and recognizes a new strength, or realizes new meaning, through the journey.

Gaiman creates this mythic space in many ways, primarily by his use of detail — or lack of it. The first person narrator, for example, is never named; thus, the reader is more likely to identify with the narrator. Likewise, we're never told such details as what he looks like, even what color his hair or eyes are. All we know is that he is seven — not too young, perhaps, for a country boy to encounter death, but certainly too young to be exposed to a suicide.

There are, in fact, very few named characters in the novel – only those three women, the Hempstocks; that malevolent force (which takes the name Ursula Monkton); and three cats (two kittens of unknown gender and one tom). The reader becomes more involved in the story by filling in these blanks.

The houses are described in fairly general detail — with the exception of three rooms in which the narrator sleeps. I've read that many readers picture their own house when imagining the narrator's.

This is a bit of a spoiler, but for me, the element which solidifies this as myth rather than horror or fantasy is a sacrifice. This sacrifice is not ritualistic, but more in the nature of a soldier sacrificing her/his life for a fellow. This element causes the narrator to question whether he has lived a life worthy of that sacrifice.

For myth to serve as pilgrimage rather than a diversionary story, the reader must exert some effort. As I say, the author has left some details out; it's up to the reader to fill them in. The reader may be intellectually aware of certain mythic tropes — the Fates, the ancient evil — but it's best to set that knowledge to one side; it's best to allow it to play a quiet counterpoint to the story. The pilgrim reader will allow herself to walk along with the narrator; may find himself seeing his own reflection when the narrator looks in the mirror.

The reader who has thus identified with that unnamed narrator, who has allowed himself to be vulnerable to the rhythmic beats of the novel, will likely find himself asking whether he has lived a life worthy of such a sacrifice. Perhaps, more than any turn of a calendar leaf, the pilgrimage through this mythic novel will lead to a resolve to live such a life.

Idée d’jour

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.
— Carl Sandburg

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Dark veins intertwine
and stretch into hovering
grey clouds.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Stout gritty coffee
grey pink sky slowly
develops into morning

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Haiku: 10.XII.13

Bitter evening
inhale waning sun
exhale moonlight

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Idée d’jour

We invent nothing, truly. We borrow and re-create. We uncover and discover. All has been given, as the mystics say. We have only to open our eyes and hearts, to become one with that which is.
— Henry Miller

Friday, November 29, 2013

Turn back, o death

Turn back, o death,
husband your reward
while I dream of refuge.

This is my variant on Dave Bonta's "erasure" poems. Dave has set himself the task of creating a poem a day, derived from Samuel Pepys' diary through a variant on the cut-up method.

I wondered if I could do something similar. As this idea was percolating, a group at church was studying the Book of Ruth. Most Bibles are printed in twin columns, and I wondered what would happen if my cut-up drew words and phrases from across the chasm dividing the columns. The above is the result of the first experiment — with one or two words added.

Breaking the rules? How can I break the rules when I'm the one making them?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Finding the Healing Path

They met when the blush was on the rose.
Sam's voice was strong; his hands soft as stone;
he was gentle; he was kind. His heart was fire.
Sara was laughter generous as water.
When the bottom fell out, it fell hard,
hard as hands on bluing flesh.

Miriam lived in the delight of flesh
and honored the passion of the rose.
John loved the feel of wood, hard
yet warm. Who knew when stone
consumed his heart, when she became water
who could not quench his fire?

Barry lived for the honest fire,
Mara wore the brands on her flesh.
Her dark wounds flowed like water.
His dark hand fell on the rose;
his dark face became a stone.
Her body, once so soft, became hard.

The night Julie fled was hard:
when she left, his bed was on fire;
but she had set her face to stone.
She brought her daughter, flesh of her flesh:
her light, her guide, her rose,
whose face reflected hers like water.

Janet left, then returned, like water:
returned, where love was daemon hard,
where petals were stripped from the rose.
She returned, but left again — fire
in her feet, in her hands, in her flesh,
and in her eyes. But her heart — stone.

It's been years since the bruising stone
fell upon her face of water.
Sam was the dagger to her flesh.
Sara ran, though it was hard;
she ran through the night, like fire,
to the healing path, the path to the rose:

The compass rose is the central stone;
the border is hidden fire, the path like water:
flowing hard, healing spirit and the flesh.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Golden Anniversary

Fifty years ago today, I was turning eight years old. I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade, at James Madison Elementary. It's unlikely our class – or school – was given the news that the president had been shot at 12:30 p.m. in Dallas, TX. It's probable I got the news from Uncle Walter, along with the rest of the nation.

From my point of view, there's been a lot of Kennedy talk the past couple of weeks. The media is mining all the gold it can out of this anniversary, with documentaries, made for TV movies, books, and radio specials by the score. I'm mature enough now to recognize an unfortunate coincidence. Just like the death of that other “Jack”, C.S. Lewis, or the fact that I share my birthday with several other luminaries (e.g., Hoagy Carmichael). Just an unfortunate coincidence.

But I was already a sensitive kid. I was an abused child, and I now believe that led to an anxious and fearful nature. My parents divorced when I was about five; my mother (the abuser) won custody for a time. My first six years are mostly lost to my memory, which is likely a blessing.

So I took the coincidental connection rather hard. There were at least a couple of years I chose not to celebrate my birthday. Though I've gained perspective, maturity, and a thicker skin through the years, some old emotions are stirred by the media's frequent reminders.

I am celebrating my birthday this year. I am making the choice to focus on the love and well-wishes shared by friends and loved ones. Still, I think it's a good thing I've taken the day off — if I descend into a “dark mood”, only my cat and I need endure it.

Idée d’jour

Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
— John F. Kennedy

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Idée d’jour

The gift you offer another person is just your being.
Ram Dass

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


One is for the compass rose
two is for the stone
three is for the innocent
longing for a home.

Four is a family;
five in anger rages;
six keeps the peace;
seven is for the sages.

Eight contains infinity.
Nine has left the room
Ten is the eternal dance
between the earth & the moon.

One is for the compass rose
one is for the home
two is for the doorway
two is for the stone

Three becomes a family
four contains a fire
five counts the nightingale
with a song sweet as a lyre.

Six is rolling rivers
seven stars mark the sky
Eight describes eternity
which nine then multiplies

Ten is another number
another secret sign
Ten is the keyhole
whose meaning is left to find

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Idée d’jour

Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.
— Claude Monet

Friday, November 15, 2013

Idée d’jour

Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads.
— Marianne Moore

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Idée d’jour

If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful after all.
— Michelangelo Buonarroti

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Idée d’jour

Poetry should please by a fine excess and not by singularity. It should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost as a remembrance.
— John Keats

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Idée d’jour

Awareness can be best achieved and honed through working outside.
— Lionel Aggett

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Saturday excitement

I had some unplanned excitement yesterday.

I decided to visit the American Banjo Museum in downtown OKC, as a research trip (I'll soon be reviewing a chapbook of poetry centering on the banjo and it's history). It's a charming two floor affair in the Bricktown area — immediately east of Lincoln Blvd and the railroad tracks — and covers the history of the instrument from Africa to the present.

I returned home for lunch, then resumed my journeys with more traditional Saturday errands — the Belle Isle Library to pick up a copy of Jeff Buckley's Grace; a visit to OKC Music and Sound; a jaunt to Akin's, a local health food store; and, finally, the grocery store.

I reached into the deep pocket of my mackinaw to pull the shopping list out of my checkbook. My pocket was empty.

Of course, I panicked. I had the shopping list fairly well memorized, so I went on shopping and paid with my debit card.

I took the groceries home, all the time hoping I had taken the checkbook out when I had eaten lunch. No such luck.

I called the Banjo Museum, and the nice lady at the front desk looked in the vicinity of the desk. Wasn't there. The obvious answer was to retrace my steps.

I had parked about three blocks away that morning, so I parked as close to that spot as possible on my return. No checkbook.

I walked through the whole museum, even the men's room. No checkbook. There was a little movie theater where movie clips which used banjo prominently on the sound track were displayed. The front desk lady suggested it had fallen out there. I hadn't sat down in there, but I was desperate. No checkbook.

Next stop was the library, which was 38 blocks south and about a half mile west. As I was driving, the penny dropped. The front desk lady's suggestion had a whole new application.

My checkbook had fallen out of that deep pocket of my red mackinaw into the rear passenger floorboard behind the driver's seat.

Hallelujah, with Ukulele

I recently read a biography of Leonard Cohen (I'm Your Man, Sylvie Simmons) which mentioned — off-handedly — that he plays uke. So it seemed a charming match.

I'm currently reading The Holy or the Broken by Alan Light, which is an exhaustive study of the growing popularity of this song. Aside from a discussion of record sales — a necessary evil — he talks about how each singer's interpretation brings something new to the song.

My interpretation, as is often the case, is a syncretic blend of other interpretations that have spoken to me. My aim is mix moments of innocence (an element of the Buckley interpretation, according to Light) with moments experience (Cohen's original and John Cage's cover).

Friday, October 04, 2013

Idée d’jour

The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance, the wise grows it under his feet.
— J. Robert Oppenheimer

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Idée d’jour

The corporate grip on opinion in the United States is one of the wonders of the Western world. No First World country has ever managed to eliminate so entirely from its media all objectivity — much less dissent.
— Gore Vidal

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Only Love

I continue to test the theory that serious songs are especially appropriate for the ukulele. The ultimate test will be a Leonard Cohen song (coming soon), but this Neil Young song is also a good proof of concept.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Idée d’jour

No battle is ever won .... They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.
— William Faulkner

Friday, September 13, 2013

Idée d’jour

Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want.
— Joseph Wood Krutch

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Haiku: 24.Aug.2013

Dragonfly squadrons
buzz fresh mown lawn:
prophets of solstice

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Day of the Labyrinth

We are waves on God's ocean, ebbing and flowing from the Presence, playing hide & seek with the divine spirit.  We meet the pilgrims we need on the Way; often, we find ourselves meeting them at every turn.

I rose early Saturday morning, and began mowing the lawn as soon as it was fully lit by the sun (shortly after 7).  I have a mulching mower.  I mow as Padre taught me, in a concentric circle.  It grows ever more inward.  This circle reminds me of the labyrinth; it is almost a prayer walk - although I'm more goal-oriented than fully prayerful.

Later that morning, I went to a labyrinth workshop.  This ancient form dates to the pre-Christian era; most of us know the name through the tale of Daedalus and the minotaur. It had a resurgence in the Middle Ages, when it was no longer safe to make the longed-for Jerusalem pilgrimage.  Twenty-two European cathedrals were designated labyrinth cathedrals; making the pilgrimage to these cathedrals and walking those labyrinths was held to have the same spiritual benefits as making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The labyrinth, we are told, has a resurgence at times of transition, such as this profoundly noisy millennial era.  Contrary to Thoreau, most people today lead lives of noisy desperation.  We bombard ourselves with multiple stimuli in a cacophonous stew of images, voices, music, and print.  Our minds chatter more than Monkey, and we long for peace.  We are fear-filled, and long for comfort.  We are bold individuals, making our bold way alone in this ever-changing landscape, and we long for community.

There are times we must tap into the Great Silence that is beneath all things.  The labyrinth is one of many spiritual tools which help us get in touch with that Great Silence.  It can be a means of deep healing.

There were over 60 people present for this labyrinth walk. My group had eight people. We were told to remove our shoes, for two reasons: the space was holy, and the labyrinth was cloth – an exact replica of the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral. People were guided in at respectful distances, yet there were several times groups would cluster; the circuits were relatively thin (I estimate 4-5" in width), so the pilgrims would often need to side-step each other.

A labyrinth is a long winding path. You often think you are nearing the center — you could easily step right into it if you jump the designated path — then find yourself led far away from it. I applied two types of prayer that have been fruitful tools in the past – walking and breath (they are closely related). As I walked, I was mindful of the length of my pace; I was intentional as I rolled my weight onto my toes. I was acutely aware of my breathing.

I've been working the past several months on childhood wounds – most of which are hidden from conscious memory (I know of them through reliable reports). As I walked the circuits to the center, I repeated this prayer with each breath:
“Grandmother God, I bring my woundedness to you.”

A wooden floor was beneath the canvas labyrinth. Even the wood prayed as we softly walked the circuits.

I was acutely aware of a burning sensation near my heart – not indigestion, but the prayerful heart burning the disciples experienced on the Emmaus road. I was aware of the tears burning at the well of my eyes.

This tearfulness was quite pronounced when I finally reached the center, which was trimmed with fleur-de-lis. Each pilgrim stepped into his or her own alcove – we were still close enough to touch. I was in the west-most alcove. Within a few moments, a woman stepped into the ESE alcove. She was crying.

I prayed for discernment: was this private grief, to be shared with God alone? Or, would she welcome comfort? The spirit led me to her. I gently put my arm on her shoulder. She drew me close, and nuzzled her head into my right shoulder. My tears were strong. My heart-fire was strong.

As I walked out of the labyrinth, it seemed I met this woman at every turn. It seemed meant to be: Nothing romantic, just a reminder that I was not alone on my pilgrimage. I had a new prayer:
“Healing Spirit, descend upon me”

Grandmother God, I come to you with open hands.
I come to you with tender voice.
I come to your embrace.
Wrap me in your healing blanket.
Teach me your compassion.
Let me drink your life-giving waters.
Grandmother God, I come to you beloved.
I bring you my wounds:
with your tender kiss, I become whole.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Summer Morning

7 o’clock: mowing
through nostalgic
morning dew.

Prayer, 17.Aug.2013

Grandfather Great Spirit, we give thanks that you bring us together at this time in your sacred circle. We give thanks for the turning of the year. You are the source of renewal. You guide us to the road of forgiveness. You build us anew to serve the nations. Day and and day out, you lead us on the path of atonement. Give us courage for our path. Set us on the good road. Strengthen us to forgive as we have been forgiven. Grandfather Great Spirit, make us humble in judgment, generous in giving, tender in mercy. This we ask in your Holy Name.

Inspired by presentation on the Sundance

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Through the Lens, through the Screen

I imagine I see the world through the viewfinder of this camera. Bright sun light gleams through. Hints of yesterday's clouds. Fresh-trimmed grass. The dry street. The darkened windows of the rental house across the street.

I imagine you, reading these words, peering into these mysterious pixels, trying to imagine you see these things as well. Imagining you see my face. Imagining you hear my voice, even as I imagine it while typing these words. I imagine you, with your coffee or tea, your morning radio, your sliced fruit, your inviting house. I imagine you, man & woman, friend and relation, drawing by this screen as our grandparents drew around the radio or tv. I imagine the community we are, the community we could be.

I imagine your voice. I imagine your warmth, your smile. I imagine your patience and your tolerance. I imagine you in California, in South America, in Michigan, in Ulverston. I imagine you strolling by this space, looking through all these words.

I remember, as a child, walking past window displays as Grandmother and I would walk down the street. I remember fascination with small animated villages, trains running through faux snowscapes. I remember the eerie faceless manikins. I often walk neighborhood streets, daydreaming of the dining room scenes, of the secret stories unspooling behind those doors.

That's how I imagine us: People passing by these electronic spaces, peering into each others' windows. Me, I don't leave much room to view between the blind slats. I keep my voice low, unless I'm singing.

Automatic writing, originally posted on Facebook

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Prayer for our walk

Grandfather Great Spirit, we give thanks that you bring us together at this time in your sacred circle. You are older than all need, older than all prayer. You created all things, all life comes from you: all creatures who walk the earth, the wings of the air, and the bright green things. Day in and day out, forever, you are the life of all things. You have set the powers of the four quarters to cross each other. The good road & the road of difficulties you have made to cross; and where they cross, the place is holy. Grandfather Great Spirit, join us in this circle; embolden our spirits, and strengthen our voices. This we ask in your Holy Name.

Adapted from Black Elk Speaks

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Idée d’jour

Stop. Breathe. Allow yourself the luxury of doing nothing for a moment, or an hour, or even a day. It is in emptiness that inspiration will appear.
— Carole Katchen

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Idée d’jour

Lots of people talk to animals.... Not very many listen, though.... That's the problem.
— Benjamin Hoff

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Idée d’jour

Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in Australia.
— Charles Schulz

Monday, July 22, 2013

Idée d’jour

A gloss on Descartes: Sometimes I think: and sometimes I am.
— Paul Valery

Friday, July 19, 2013

Idée d’jour

No snowflake falls in an inappropriate place —
Zen saying

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Happy Birthday, Woody!

A day early, but this is the day I had time to record, edit, and upload the video. I did a version in my study, but recording it in the shadow of the arbor in my backyard seemed so more appropriate.

Dear Daily Mail

I don't claim to be the biggest fan of Amanda Palmer's music, but this fun one-off is quite charming, and right on target. As a male raised in breast-obsessed America, I have (at times) been guilty of the crime perpetrated by England's Daily Mail rag: the objectification of women, the judging of a woman by her appearance rather than by her character.

I recommend you watch the video soon, before YouTube pulls it down. Hint: it ain't safe for work.

Idée d’jour

When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.
— Robert M. Pirsig

Friday, July 12, 2013

Idée d’jour

Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it.
— The Dalai Lama

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Idée d’jour

The sunrise, of course, doesn't care if we watch it or not. It will keep on being beautiful, even if no one bothers to look at it.
— Gene Amole

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Idée d’jour

Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Idée d’jour

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.
— Henry Miller

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Idée d’jour

Earth cannot escape heaven, flee it by going up, or flee it by going down; heaven still invades the earth, energizes it, makes it sacred.
— Meister Eckhart

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Out of the Wilderness, II

There was a new light shining in my eyes
when I woke on the wilderness' edge.
I had been dreaming of a rose in bloom,
fiery petals dancing before my brow.

When I woke near the wilderness' edge,
it was as if a tomb had been opened.
The fiery petals danced before my brow
and my hands were cleansed of blood.

It was as if a tomb had been opened
when I took my first steps into the light.
My hands had been cleansed of the blood
that I'd gotten from a broken wine glass.

When I took my first steps into the light,
there were those who did not recognize me.
Though I'd gotten, from a broken wine glass,
these desert scars, they still didn't know me.

There were those who did not recognize me
until we sat and broke bread together.
These desert scars, they no longer own me,
for a Breath has given me a new life.

When we sat and broke bread together,
I had a vision of a rose in bloom.
A loving Breath gave me a new life
where a new light was shining in my eyes.

19.III.85; published in The Pilgrim, April 1986

Saturday, June 22, 2013

On Sadness

Sadness is cousin to grief
a haunted space
echoing what is lost

This past Thursday, I went on a guided tour of the Washita Battlefield (with friends from my church). We know the place because Magpie lived to tell the tale. A ranger told the tale, she told it well: How Gen. Custer sent four divisions to attack from each of the ancient sacred directions. "No women and children," Custer said, remembering the massacre at Sand Creek. Our guide pointed out Custer's knoll, where he surveyed the scene just before the attack. Where he would have heard reports on missing men. Where he would hear women and children were being killed, contrary to his orders.

The ranger told us she knew of some Native Americans who were sensitive to this space — who felt echoes of the lost lives. According to family lore, I am fifth generation Comanche. Perhaps it was the ranger's suggestion, perhaps it was the heat of the day and the exertion, perhaps it was my prayerful heart, intimately trained for contemplation. I felt it: I felt my heart burn. I was aware of the echoes of loss.

I keenly felt it as we crossed the field where the Cheyenne lived that winter, along the banks of the once mighty Washita. I keenly felt it as we passed the trees where people had left prayer cloths in the sacred colors of red, yellow, black, and blue. I felt it as we placed our own prayer cloth near where the ponies had been killed. I felt it as we climbed out the rise, back to the park center.

Sadness is a haunted space. Sadness is not the absence of happiness; not exactly its dark brother. Sadness is less than depression, but it may lead to depression with time. Sadness & grief are cousins: they often come together, but I don't suppose sadness is only caused by grief. It may have many kin.

There's a moment in the second movement of Henryk Goreck's Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) that, for me, bespeaks “Joyous Sorrow.” How can that be? I think that is the moment when you perceive the hopeful light on the dark's horizon. In the context of the symphony, it is the moment a mother grieves the death of her child — yet there is the suggestion that life goes continues. The mother's song concludes:
“And you, God's little flowers
May you bloom all around
So that my son
May sleep happily.”

Sadness is cousin to grief
a haunted space
echoing what is lost

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Idé d’jour

When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask why people are hungry, they call me a communist.
— Helder Camara, archbishop (1909-1999)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Idée d’jour

Congratulation: The civility of envy.
— Ambrose Bierce

Friday, June 14, 2013

Idée d’jour

The big thieves hang the little ones.
— Czech proverb

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Idée d’jour

A hungry man is not a free man.
— Adlai Stevenson

Monday, June 10, 2013

Idée d’jour

Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.
— Carl Jung

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Ill Omen

Mowing my lawn's courses
a bold grackle crosses my path
Begone, ill omen!

Friday, June 07, 2013

Idée d’jour

The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the oceans was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.
— Daniel J. Boorstin

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The Disciple

This past Sunday, a friend said I most resembled a disciple of all the people he knew. We were both in our worship-related vestments — I was wearing a floor-length white alb with cincture; he was wearing a verger's chimere. These vestments are intended to obscure our modern individual identities, and help all participants to experience kairos (timeless time, or "God time").

With that white alb and cincture representing the garb of the first and second century (C.E.), and my long face, long body, and thinning hair. I suppose I might have resembled a painting or icon of one of the disciples. Of course, I assume he meant I physically resembled a disciple.

He didn't compare me to any particular figure. After all, we know so few of the disciples' names. I could have been a nameless follower at a distance. I could have been one of the several outsiders (centurion or Samaritan) who sought out the Master.

I am, indeed, a follower at a distance — by about two thousand years. I am a bit more than a student. I strive to take on the discipline of the Master, to the best of my ability.

What is that discipline? The Master said: “You shall love God with your whole being, and love your neighbor as yourself.” I sometimes call this the “Law of Love” - a "Law" which is much more challenging than the hundred some-odd laws of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Having a list of dos and don'ts is pretty clear-cut; an injunction to love is more challenging.

From this, and from the Master's actions, I draw some inferences. I don't think the Master had much patience for unthinking obedience to rules and regulations. Time after time, he valued compassion over social or religious norms and traditions. The Master never shirked from service, but was also intentional about caring for himself, especially by frequent respites for private prayer.

I don't claim to be a good student. Not only do I have bad days, I have frequent bad weeks and months. The point is not to make a list of my daily offenses (though that might be helpful); it's even less to list others' offenses. I strive to become more like the Master with each day.

I might look like a disciple of the first or second century. If so, my goal should be for my actions to be in harmony with that appearance. It's not enough to look like an disciple; I should live like one as well.

Idée d’jour

The more I think about it, the more I realize there is nothing more artistic than to love others.
— Vincent van Gogh

Tuesday, June 04, 2013


Crack of lightening
Blast of thunder
The shaving mirror trembles

Sunday, June 02, 2013

‘Create in me a clean heart, O God’

Ps. 51 (BCP)

Lately, my heart has become polluted. Just as our air has been polluted by car exhaust and factory smoke, so has my heart been deceived by the temptation of immediate gratification. It has been hypnotized by the popular song. It has been seduced by advertisements.

And I have been dumping wastes on my heart: resentment; self pity; and a rapacious ego.

We have learned, of late, how difficult it is to clean the pollution caused by the dumping of industrial wastes. And I know how hard it is to clean ego-wastes from my heart. For humans it is impossible, but all things are possible through God.

So I pray that God create a new, clean heart in me. And I consider two thoughts which comfort me in this process. We have heard that faith without works is barren. I now believe there is a corollary: works without faith is death.

And that faith is that it is not I who act, but Our Lord who acts through me. With thanks to God, “Whose power, working is us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”

Originally published in October 1986 Pilgrim

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Work in Progress

So. After a burst of creative energy, it may appear that I've gone underground again, so to speak. But that's not the case. I've been writing a rhymed quatrain every day for the past week, and posting it on Facebook (my friends know who I am) and Twitter (@jacsongs)

Most quatrains got "liked" by folk on Facebook. And I've toyed with the idea of a “crowd-sourced” poem where only the verses with the most "likes" survive the editing process. This might not be the best poem for that experiment; at the moment, it seems like plot less doggerel.

Well, plot less because I had no idea what the plot might be — or even if there were a plot — when the work began. The quatrains came to me in that estival space between sleep and wakefulness — which is not to claim they illustrate remembered dream imagery. I transcribed them in my little red notebook (a faux Moleskine), then typed them onto those social media sites.

The quatrains appear below, as they originally came to me. I've marked through one verse, because it doesn't seem to belong in this poem at this time.

I'm not sure, but I think this poem is a ghost story

I have to get that
said the kettle to the moon
there's a panther in the cupboard
and it may be mauling a spoon
But the phone wasn't ringing
And no birds were singing

She felt someone near her
with her heart of stone.
Nothing there but echoes
No one else at home.
The alarm wasn't pinging
And no birds were singing.

It's like it's often been said:
three can keep a secret
if two of them are dead.

First there's the lightening
then there's the thunder
soon the silence
is filled with wonder

The deceitful truth
stumbles down the hall
knocks down the portrait
of her father's caul
Perhaps someone somewhere is winning
But no birds are singing.

Oh, this and that
said the toaster
Where'd you go asked the lion
Oh, here & there, here & there

The dim figure in the rain
Wet footprints in the hall
Her famous heart of stone
Now feels so very small.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Idée d’jour

At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.
— Jean Houston

Monday, May 27, 2013

Ten Long Years

State of the Blog

I was recently described as a “long-time blogger” a few days ago.  The phrase took me aback: have I really been blogging that long?  And how did Dave know?

A glance to the left quickly answers both questions: there is a rather long archive listing every month I've posted entries since March 2003.  It's rather mindboggling to think I've been doing this for a decade. 

I admit that I've been inconsistent.  I don't post every day.  Sometimes I don't post for months at a time (as witnessed by missing months in that archive list).  Nevertheless, I have accomplished over 2,200 posts, with over almost 50,000 page views.

I've been told my blog would be more successful if I stuck to one subject. Recent evidence suggests that a blog of reviews could receive a fair number hits, for example. But my interests are too widely varied, and I'm not the most disciplined writer. Thus, “Love During Wartime” is a sort of electronic commonplace book, in which I've collected political opinions, religious wonderings, original poetry, music videos (my own & others), original photography, and a wide-ranging collection of quotations.

I began this blog about a year and a half after the U.S. Invasion of Iraq. My posts were primarily political, and displayed a great deal of anger toward President B*sh. For this reason, I gave the blog the subtitle “Chevaux de Bataille and Random Quotidian Thoughts”: “Chevaux de Bataille” roughly translates as "hobby horse"; and “Quotidian” means "daily" (i.e., "ordinary").

I eventually tired of my anger over that miss-begotten war, and realized it had essentially played itself out as a topic. That's when I started posting my poetry and photos, sometimes combined, and my religious musings. I became a member of the RevGalBlogPal list, and through that became involved with the book cum blog Ordinary Time. I was one of many writers and editors for the book.

Through that list I became aware of Project 365, an initiative encouraging bloggers to post a photograph each day for a year. I created a side-blog, Jonah 365, on which I posted an image (photographic or verbal) every day. There was some cross-posting, but most of my attention was on the 365 blog in 2007. The practice did teach me that I could post something on a daily basis, if I set my mind to it.

After that hiatus, the archive list suggests I was reasonably regular until 2011, when I got a new job. It was more demanding, but also more rewarding. Honestly, a lot of my blogging prior to 2011 was done during down times at work (my day job essentially paid for my editorial work on Ordinary Time). Now that every day of every month is busy, I find I have little energy for writing when I get home.

Since then, the blog has primarily been the repository of various quotes — “Idée d’jour” is my bad French for “Thought for the day”. Additionally, there have been a few prayers, occasional poems, and a handful of original videos. Given my time and energy, this may be the best I can hope for.

As I say, I'm not the most disciplined writer. I'm one of those relatively lazy people who “wait for inspiration”. I've wondered what would happen if I did adopt a discipline — writing at least five lines of verse occurred to me about a month after national poetry month (April).

The bottom line is that I'm going to continue maintaining this blog. Don't think I could stop writing; don't want to. Who knows? There may be another decade of blogging in me yet!

White Noise

Fan on my right
purr on my left
predawn white noise

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Who took my box of matches?
It was my box of secrets.
You will not find light,
only fire.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Walk with the Wolf

I've been facilitating a group at my church (St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral) in a study of Barry Lopez's book, Of Wolves and Men. We completed our study two weeks ago, and I have some final reflections.


The book is divided into four sections: The first section is a scientific study of the wolf; the second is based on interviews with Native Americans, who have closely studied the wolf in the wild. Our group used these two sections as a means to attempt a well-rounded image of the wolf. The last two sections have to do with the rationales whites have used to exterminate the wolf: section three is a detailed and disturbing history of American justifications for this slaughter; section four relates the mythic history that might underlie those justifications.

The typical Western view, from the time of Genesis and the Greeks, has been to divide the light from the darkness, to judge things and creatures as good or evil. According to Lopez, America's indigenous peoples consider creatures from a more utilitarian view, wondering whether this creature has something to teach about survival in a given environment.

The Native Americans interviewed are primarily from the tundra (Alaska) and the plains (e.g., South Dakota). Their attitude concerning the wolf depends somewhat on their environment: on the tundra there is less fear because one can see what the wolf is up to; on a grassy plain, it is more difficult to discern what the wolf is doing, so the Plains Indian is more cautious around the wolf.

In neither case is the attitude necessarily of fear; it seems more one of respect. In fact, the Pawnee so closely identified with the wolf that other tribes call them “The Wolf People”.

What would it take for us to respect the wolf? Why must we romanticize it at one extreme, or demonize it at the other?

The Indian Wars of the late 1800s were coincident with a War on Wolves. Wolves were affected by the slaughter of the buffalo, which was enacted to starve out Indian warriors. But wolves were also slaughtered. It seems both the Indian and the wolf were unfortunate impediments to our “manifest destiny.”

Big Questions

When I facilitate these discussions, I like to focus on the “big questions”. In this instance the questions were:

  1. The wolf are close kin with the dog, separated by no more than 15 generations. Why do we love the dog, yet fear the wolf?
  2. Does our fear of the wolf reflect a fear of our own wildness?
  3. If so, is it possible to reconnect with that wildness?
  4. What does our attitude about the wolf say about our discernment of good and evil?

That last question made the group profoundly uncomfortable. I suspect this was because it could lead to a position of moral relativism, that is, the position that humans do not have the capacity to discern good and evil. It might be fair to say we lack sufficient evidence, in most cases, to pass such judgment.

The group was approaching this question as relatively liberal Christians. Ours is a denomination with a strong respect for sacred scripture — our view is that the Bible contains everything necessary for salvation. This respect is joined by valuing tradition and personal experience.

So: we begin with Genesis, of course, where JHWH declares all of creation “good”. JHWH may make distinctions between day and night, but the whole of the created order is declared good; even the beasts that walk the earth. Even the wolf. Then let us jump to this story from the Book of Acts: Peter is asked why he baptizes the uncircumcised along with the circumcised. He replies by describing a vision in which he is offered treyf (food an observant Jew should not eat). He refuses, saying “Let nothing profane or unclean enter my lips.” The voice in the vision replies, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

These two passages suggest to me that humans are not qualified to judge other creatures. If God has proclaimed all creation good, and all creatures worthy, who are we to disagree?

We share much in common with the wolf: both species are primarily predators (rather than scavengers); both primarily eat meat; both are highly adaptive (wolves are native to forest, tundra, and desert). This commonality does not give humans the right to judge the wolf as good or evil. Where a human may have a complex moral compass, the wolf has a basic one: survival.

Judge Not

We do not walk with the wolf — we have not walked the paths of the forest or plain seeking food and shelter for generations. Lacking this experience, how can we judge the wolf?

This makes me question what right we have to judge anyone. Should we not, as the saying goes, walk in another's shoes first? Should we not practice compassion rather than condemnation, empathy rather than judgment?

Yet I am not fully a moral relativist. I believe I may judge actions, but not people. A person may commit an evil act (e.g., bombing innocents), but I am not entitled to call that person evil. As one striving to follow the Christ, I am called to reserve the harshest judgment for myself, and avoid judgment of others.

All praise be yours, through Brother Wolf, 
dweller of forest, tundra, and desert.
May we be blessed with his devotion, his vision, and his endurance.
May we confront our fear.
May we come to accept the darkness in ourselves 
that we project upon the wolf.
May we come to respect our brother,
learn from him, 
and recognize him as a fellow traveler in your grace.
This we ask in your Holy Name.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Conversation Worth Joining

If I knew where the good songs came from, I'd go there more often.
— Leonard Cohen

What makes a good song? The modern understanding of “song” is the combination of words & music. So, a good song is the perfect combination of words and music. Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah” is an excellent example; especially the line “It goes like this: / The fourth, the fifth/ The minor fall / The major lift” — the supporting musical chords are, indeed, the fourth, the fifth, Am, then F maj.

A good song is also a conversation, or dialogue, between the words and music. I think especially of the songs of Simon and Garfunkle — “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” for example, is possibly the greatest hymn that never mentions God. This contrast can create a sort of dissonance that adds a layer of meaning that could not be found in the words or music on their own.

Dave Bonta's latest, Twelve Simple Songs, are not songs in this modern sense of the word. They don't appear to be in any formal structure that I'm aware of. Each poem is short and lyrical, filling no more than one page each. There's no obvious rhyme scheme or meter. The lines are variable in length, but typically very short.

It's fitting that these songs are one page each, because each is complemented by a photo on the verso. So, just as words and music create a conversation, so there is a conversation between each poem and picture. Indeed, Mr. Bonta describes this as “linked verses in dialogue with photographs about an intercontinental love affair.”

These are in fact love songs, which immediately remind me of Pablo Neruda's Twenty Love Poems. Neruda's poems are also lyrical; most are no more than a page long. Both Bonta and Neruda use nature imagery as metaphor for their beloved. Consider Neruda's lines:

In you the river sings and my soul flees in them
As you desire, and you send it where you will.
(Song III, trans. W.S. Merwin)

Then consider these lines from the last song in Dave's collection:

If my words are fish,
yours are lures,
marvels of ingenuity —
a water-bound being's
dream of flight.

In this instance, the photograph on the verso is of a crevasse: moss-covered boulders with a few small plants sprouting on the left center and near the upper-right hand corner. This may be an ancient river bed, but that's not my first impression. It's clear to me this is not an attempt to illustrate the poem, as in a common high school anthology. No: the reader is free to draw his own connections. The poem has to do with communication — “We play a game / called Mouth & Ear: / one speaks, the other listens.” But it's transcontinental communication — the classic long-distance romance. The crevasse suggests to me both the separation and intimacy implicit in such a relationship.

Song Two, “My parachute knapsack,” is another example of the dialogue between photo and poem. The poem closes with the lines “That's what it was like / being alone.” The photograph is of a pair of boots on a red porch, a white wall behind them and white snow bordering the left of the porch. This is possibly the most “illustrative” pairing in the collection, yet I don't see this as cloyingly obvious. There's no self-pity on either the verso or recto: both speak of being alone, rather than being lonely. Each offer images devoid of sentimentality.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that these poems are available in multiple formats: downloadable PDF; a downloadable MP3 file; an on-line version (which includes an embedded version of the MP3); a video version; and a print edition. The first three are free downloads; the last is available at cost. As Mr. Bonta says, the poems came to him freely, so he feels obliged to share them freely. A rather Franciscan attitude, I hope he doesn't mind my saying.

A few words about that video version: it is narrated by a female voice. She reads it as if it is one long poem, rather than an interconnected series of poems. The video does not incorporate Bonta's photography, though I think it would have been interesting if those images had occasionally flashed as small touches of "zen" (to use the videographer's term). The female voice lets us imagine the other side of that intercontinental conversation; it allows us to hear the words new, with new phrasing, new emphasis, added meaning. The images are primarily from nature, with still shots randomly flashing, against a mildly industrial sound-scape.

This may seem overkill for some “simple songs”. But the simplicity is deceiving. Though the chapbook began as a birthday present for Rachel, the beloved, the fact that all are addressed to “you” allows the reader to participate, to imagine himself as the lover, to see herself as the beloved. It allows us to be part of a greater conversation, between the words and the audience.

It is a conversation well worth joining.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Morning, 23.May.13

It's raining. Thunder. Dawn is eerie peach.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Idée d’jour

Hunting is not a sport. In a sport, both sides should know they're in the game.
—Paul Rodriguez

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Morning Joe

Shall I have another cup of joe?
Let my heart dance a caffeinated tarantella.

The doorway comes into slow relief with cloud-covered dawn.
We hide, but clouds always sneak between the cracks.
That's how the wind blows,
when morning is dreaming
and the dawn hustles behind the stars

How to Write a Poem

Dave Bonta has done something bold in his electronic chapbook, Manual: he has created a set of instructions intended “only [for] those who have no need of it.” There is a great deal of whimsy and play in this collection; at the same time there are moments his instructions read like well-translated passages from the Tao de Ching.

I am reminded of Neil Gaiman's poem “Instructions”, collected in Fragile Things. It also balances whimsy with the imperative case. It also seems basically impractical, given that these “Instructions” are a charming how-to for surviving a fairy tale.

Bonta's poems also have to do with basic survival: how to breathe, how to sit, how to walk. These are things most of us have learned once we got past the age of two. But perhaps not with the aplomb and intention these poems call forth.

How to Mourn

Write his or her name in the snow, get a comfortable chair and watch how it melts: the letters expanding, becoming illegible and finally disappearing into the earth.

Spend time—the only form of currency the dead still honor.

Find the perfect slab of polished granite and release it into its native habitat.

Every year on the anniversary of your loss, take out a small ad in your local paper. Let it remain blank—an oasis of propriety among the ads for legal services and riding mowers.

Become migratory.

Visit caves that have lost all their bats to white-nose syndrome. Stand at the entrance and listen.

Visit mountaintop-removal sites in the Appalachians that have been terraformed to look like Wyoming.

Wear a cowboy hat and squint.

Become addicted to a tear-flavored brand of chewing tobacco.

Bleed yourself regularly with leeches to remove the black bile.

Follow a river from its mouth to its source: a spring small enough to empty with one long sip.

Plant a stump.

As you see, Dave combines form: he mixes lyricism with prose poem. He adds in the occasional surrealist touch — "Become addicted to a tear-flavored brand of chewing tobacco." — and drops in a note of political commentary — I find the mention of Appalachian strip-mining quite effective here.

This collection is only available through Dave's web-site, Via Negativa. This allows the author to take full advantage of html tools: he links to Sound Cloud recordings of his reading the text, and to avant-garde videos inspired by his poems. This enriches the multiple layers of possible interpretation already present in each poem.

I read through this brief collection in a few hours. But each poem deserves its own hour. Many of us think of poetry as some code that must be deciphered. These poems are a fine antidote to that fear: they are approachable, friendly (in their imperious way), tender, often whimsical, and sly.

I love dipping into this instruction manual at random. Give it a try: you may learn something about how to wait, how to learn, how to write a poem.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Idée d’jour

He who plants a tree / Plants a hope.
— Lucy Larcom

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Idée d’jour

Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. —
John Muir

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Richie Havens, R.I.P.

I was sad when I heard that Richie Havens died this past Monday (April 22). It's not like I was a big fan; after all, I only own three things – a double LP, Richie Havens on Stage, one downloaded song, and a DVD, The Guitar Style of Richie Havens, which is essentially an interview about his career conducted by Artie Tatum (Homespun Video).

But here's the thing: Richie Havens helped me get my first guitar.

Padre always had broad musical taste: cowboy songs, country, jazz, some classical. He sang and played the guitar. We owned Joan Baez records, along with the Smithsonian Woody Guthrie LPs, and Phil Ochs. So, it made perfect sense that he would take me to see the documentary Woodstock in 1970 or '71.

I was around 15 at the time. I'm not sure I knew the story of how Richie Havens opened that three day weekend after significant delays and set-backs.

All I knew was that Richie Havens was the bomb, as the kids used to say. That rhythm, that soul-full voice, that passion! Recordings don't really do the man justice — you've got to watch how he moves, how his feet dance during the music.

One thing that really impressed me was how he would retune his guitar during a song. Padre had taken me to a few coffee house concerts by then, and I'd never seen a guitarist do that before.

As I say, I was 15, with the same self-centered sense of entitlement that any other teenager would have. It was summer, and I had the house to myself most weekdays. I knew where Padre kept his guitar. And it made perfect sense that I could retune his guitar and pretend to be Richie Havens.

What I didn't know was that the guitar belonged to his father before him. Grandfather Will reportedly performed with that guitar, and led music in church with it. By rights, it would be passed on to the elder son (Brother Dave). I didn't know the guitar was already around 35 years old by that time.

Padre noticed, of course. He didn't punish me. He said he didn't mind if I played the guitar, but he didn't want it to be out of tune when I was done.

Of course, I didn't know what the hell I was doing.

So it came to pass that Padre drove to Driver Music and bought a Silvertone Guitar (a.k.a, the finger-killer) and a couple of teach yourself guitar books. He came to my room one evening — no special occasion that I can recall — handed me the guitar and books, and said “Knock yourself out.”

He did take pity on my fingers some months later, and lowered the bottom bridge. I played that guitar all through high school. I carried it out around in a cheap gig bag. I learned all the folk songs in those two books, then taught myself some finger-picking styles with the help of the first Leonard Cohen songbook.

I never forgot the impression Richie Havens made on me. In addition to the alternate tunings, I was also impressed by how he used rhythm. I've often tried to recapture that, in my own way. I was also impressed by how he joined "Tupelo Honey" with "Just Like a Woman" (see video above). Not an obvious pairing, but a story seems to be taking place under the surface, between the strums, behind the stretched notes.

I now own five guitars, including that one that originally belonged to Grandpa Will. I try to find new meanings in how I bend my voice, in the rhythms I play on the guitar. I even play one medley that tells its own story:

Thanks, Richie Havens, for that first guitar. Thanks for the passion that helped me persevere though the strings dug ruts in the fingers of my left hand and raised a boil on my right thumb. Thanks for the new rhythms you taught us. Thanks for your music, your ever-lasting music.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Tyger

So ... I've just spent the past hour and a half recording, editing, then uploading two videos of William Blake's The Tyger. For reasons only known to my inner Puck, I was amused to play it on the ukulele as well as the guitar. I credit the tune to Allen Ginsberg; I heard him perform it (acompanying himself on harmonium) back in the early to mid 80s.

I'm not sure which version I prefer; I definitely sing a little differently with uke than with guitar. So, I leave it to the wisdom of the cyber crowd: Do you have a preference?

The Tyger, from Songs of Experience, by William Blake.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Idée d’jour

Today I have grown taller from walking with the trees.
— Karle Wilson Baker

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Idée d’jour

Nature doesn't need people, people need nature; ... nature would survive the extinction of the human being and go on just fine, but human culture, human beings, cannot survive without nature.
— Harrison Ford

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Idée d’jour

I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.
— E. B. White

Monday, March 25, 2013

Idée d’jour

Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission – to be of service to them whenever they require it. — St. Francis of Assisi

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Woody Guthrie's America

Well worth five minutes of your time

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Prayer for the Wolf

Blessed are you, Lord God,
creator of heaven & earth;
blessed are you, creator of the denizens of the deep;
blessed are you, creator of the birds of the air;
blessed are you, creator of the beasts of the earth.
Blessed are you, who proclaimed ALL your creation "Good".
Blessed are you, who proclaimed ALL your creatures "Blessed".
All praise be yours through Brother Wolf,
dweller of forest, tundra, and desert.
May we be blessed with his devotion, his vision, and his endurance.
May we confront our fear.
May we come to accept the darkness in ourselves
that we project upon the wolf.
May we come to respect our brother,
learn from him,
and recognize him as a fellow traveler in your grace.
This we ask in Your Holy Name.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Shelter From the Storm

I like to sing in the shower. Have I told you that? Are you surprised to learn it?

I also play with alternate tunes while in the shower. So it was, sometime in 2000, I decided this Bob Dylan song should really be a sea chanty.

I'm back in the St. Nicholas Chapel at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral. I prayed to be worthy to sing this song in this space; I lit a votive (immediately under the BVM).

Monday, March 04, 2013

Idée d’jour

The cat could very well be man's best friend but would never stoop to admitting it.
— Doug Larson

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Idée d’jour

The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.
— Paul Cezanne

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Idée d’jour

You come to nature with all your theories, and she knocks them all flat
— Renoir

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Your House of Light, ver. 2

Some of you may remember the version of this I posted early last year. This is a slightly different tune (sung acapella), with only a few words added for the sake of scansion.

I recorded this with a Samsung CL80 in the St. Nicholas Chapel at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral. The CL80 is really a still camera, so I was curious how well it's movie function worked. I was also curious how the echoes of the chapel would sound.

The tune here has a slight Celtic feel, so it seems proper that a Celtic Blessed Mary be by my side

Comments appreciated

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Are You Holy?

Let me share a parable with you, which also happens to be a true story: A priest was leading a group of first graders on a tour of the church grounds. "This,” he would say, “is a room. It has tables, chairs, and other furniture in it. People work in it. I want you to study it very carefully.”

And the children scrutinized the church office. Then they went to the parish hall. “This,” said the priest, “is a room. It has tables, chairs, and other furniture in it.  People do things and work in it. I want you to study it very carefully.” And they did.

And so the tour continued, including the choir loft and the main church. Then they came to the sanctuary. One of the boys started to go in to study it as he had the other rooms. But the priest reached out and stopped him: “You can’t go in there.”


“Because ,” the priest replied, “it's a holy place. Now I want you all to study it very care­fully — from this side of the altar rail — and tell me what’s different about this room.”

So they studied it. They saw about four tables, five chairs, a bench, and even some carpeting. And they knew that people worked or did things inside this room. They couldn’t see anything at all different about this room. Not at all.

“You' re right,” said the priest, “that room is like all the other rooms we saw. But it’s still holy.  You know why?” And the children didn't.

"To remind us that all other rooms are holy".

Later, the boywho wanted to go into the sanctuary asked: “Father , are you holy?”

After thinking for a moment, the priest said: “Yes, I guess I am. Now, can you tell me why?”

And the boyanswered, “I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with that room we couldn't go into.”

The sanctuary reminds us that all rooms (and all places) are holy. We remind ourselves that the sanctuary is holy by not entering it idly. Similarly, the priest reminds us that all people are holy. As Saint Paul wrote, “Don’t you know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?”

Perhaps we are called to treat all places with the respect we show the sanctuary. Perhaps, more importantly, we are called to show others and ourselves that same respect.

The One who indwells the sanctuary of the world also indwells the sanctuary at the center of our heart,. wherein we find the peace which passes understanding.

Originally published in The Pilgrim, July 1985

Woody's Spirituality

I do hear you speak to me, god, but no man hears
I do hear you speak new to me in no man's language
I do hear you, god, talkin' to me in words no human knows
In no known lingo, in no worldly tone
I do hear you god, sing to me above all men's miseries
— Woody Guthrie, from his play "Forsaken Bibel" (sic)
Quoted in the intro of Bring Your Own God by Steve Edington

Monday, February 18, 2013

Idée d’jour

I ask people why they have deer heads on their walls. They always say because it's such a beautiful animal. There you go. I think my mother is attractive, but I have photographs of her.
— Ellen DeGeneres

Friday, February 08, 2013

I Am An Orphan

I am an orphan. I lost my mother when I was six. My father was taken from me when I was seventeen. My brother never truly returned from the war. I do not know if I have any other family.

I am an exile, wandering in the desert. I'm trying to return Home, but I've forgotten where it is. I left the land of plagues almost three years ago.

I had thought the land of plagues was home enough. I never wanted for food, the shelter seemed sound, and the drink was good. Yes, the drink was very good. I had many friends, who seemed like family.

A time came when I began to hunger for something more. When I heard someone speak of “home,” I thought that might be what I longed for. Thus began my exile.

Now I am lost in the World, unsure of how exactly I lost my direction At first, all was well, and my heart burned within me as if Home were very close at hand. Then I took a wrong turn, or got distracted, and now I am lost.

I am an exile. I remember a loaf of bread that seemed enough. I remember a tent that was warm and welcoming and could have served.  I remember a draught of wine which set my heart ablaze. But none soothed my longing, and I was left even hungrier.

I am an exile lost in the World I helped build. I am an exile who has wandered for thirty-some years through this desert. I'm thirsting for a Home I believe is close at hand, although unseen. I am an exile, crying out in this wilderness, “How long, 0 Lord, how long?”

Originally published March, 1986

Idée d’jour

I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.
— Edith Cavell

Friday, February 01, 2013

Idée d’jour

Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.
— Eckhart Tolle

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Idée d’jour

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
Chinese Proverb

Friday, January 25, 2013

Born to Be King

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, Li 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 said 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 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 kingdoms. This was indeed good news; perhaps you could persuade him to speak to your father and 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 to this great king.
Fourteen moons had glided through the nights. 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 hand 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 awoke, 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 regal town.

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.

Originally published January 1986

Idée d’jour

I am always more interested in what I am about to do, than in what I have already done.
—Rachel Carson

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Idée d’jour

Sixty minutes of thinking of any kind is bound to lead to confusion and unhappiness.
James Thurber

Friday, January 18, 2013

Idée d’jour

Time is not a line, but a series of now points. — Taisen Deshimaru

Sunday, January 13, 2013

... darkness is my only companion

“. . . darkness is my only companion.” — Ps 88:19b (BCP)

There are often times in our lives when, like the psalmist, we feel wholly alone. We wander as though in a Wilderness, with no guide; with only Darkness as a companion.

There are many reasons for this dark wandering, but the story I hear most often has to do with self will, or pride. We really are thick-skulled folk, and most of the healthy choices sound too pat or cliched to be true. So we stubbornly try to do things our way.

Perhaps we use the moon as a guide. But the moon is remote and fickle; she is indeed a harsh mistress. And eventually the time will come when we are left with darkness as our only companion.

Or we throw yarrow sticks. Or we become existential atheists. Or we live for the pleasures of the dance floor and the bedroom. Those of us who have lived these sorts of lives know how utterly lonely they can be. When darkness is our only companion, it can be a form of living death.

But there is a light which can break through this darkness. It shines constantly, but it often seems we must be in the Tomb before we can see it. This light is cast by the Lord of Light, who is Lord of Lords.

Those of us who have wandered in the Wilderness with Darkness as our only companion have lived out a timeless story. It is the story of a Man Who Died, and yet lived again. It is a story which seems impossible to believe, yet we must believe because we have lived it — though in miniature.

It is a story we continue to live. It is present and fresh to us today, often with a greater vibrancy than the 6:00 news. And we know that the same Lord of Light who breathed life into the Man Who Died continuously breathes life into us. It is by this grace that we find the quiet space which is filled with a peace that passes understanding.

Originally written & published May, 1985

Idée d’jour

Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.
— James Thurber

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Idée d’jour

It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.
— Robert A. Heinlein

Friday, January 11, 2013

Idée d’jour

I dreamt that my hair was kempt. Then I dreamt that my true love unkempt it.
— Ogden Nash

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Idée d’jour

Laughter need not be cut out of anything, since it improves everything.
— James Thurber

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Idée d’jour

To be capable of embarrassment is the beginning of moral consciousness. Honor grows from qualms.
— John Leonard

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Idée d’jour

Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves for they will never cease to be amused.
— Anonymous

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Idée d’jour

I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.
— E.B. White

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Idée d’jour

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
— Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Idée d’jour

There is always music amongst the trees in the garden, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it.
— Minnie Aumonier