Imagine having a frank discussion with the Divine like Jelaluddin Rumi recounts above in his poem?
Imagine the Divine answering back?
Imagine that you are not imagining the responses - no hallucinations - no pharmaceutical aids - no delusions.
Straight up conversation.
Mind blowing right?
But - how could you ever be certain that you just weren't simply imagining Divine responses?
I once asked Father William Meninger, a Cistercian Monk, how I could know that it was really God speaking to me or if I was simply talking to myself. Father Meninger at the time was an imposing figure. He was a big strapping guy. No spindly little Cistercian, he. Hearing my question, Father's face darkened as he leaned into me and growled "Well - you can never just *know*" With that, he spun on his heels and walked away.
He might not have liked my question - but I sure did like his honesty.
Some folks say that they converse with and experience the Divine through the people they come in contact with or through encounters with the natural world. I can appreciate their point of view - but in my own life when I try to make those substitutions - those proxies - I start remembering and channeling Zen Master De Niro's short Dharma talk "This is this."
Maybe my heart is so shuttered and stony that not even the creator of the universe can penetrate it. Maybe that's why it's been over 50 years of dial-tone.
Maybe I just need to shut up about all this and accept my lot in life...
The Psalmists could not have written a better Lamentation.
This is a poem that looks right into the Abyss and doesn't end with some saccharin assurances to take the sting out of things.
Such a comfort.
~ Wendell Berry ~ (via Whiskey River)
James Parker and The Pilgrims - That was the headline for a packed (and rocking) reading last night at the Brookline Booksmith on Harvard St in Brookline.
The Pilgrims are a group of homeless men and women who have been writing for two years now - sharing their poetry and essays in the literary magazine "The Pilgrim." James Parker is a contributing editor to the Atlantic magazine. Among many other things, James helps the authors develop their voice, shape their work, and get it ready for publication.
Together - James and the Pilgrims form what is better known as the Black Seed Writers Group out of The Cathedral Church of St Paul in Boston. Last night was the Black Seed Writers' second annual public reading.
What a night. Poetry. Stories. Humor. Protest. Laughter. Tears. Anger. Joy. Such lovely, tender, fiery, writing delivered so beautifully by the authors themselves.
You can see more pics from the reading by clicking here.
The Black Seed Writers Group is part of the MANNA (Many Angels Needed Now and Always) project at the Cathedral. Read more about MANNA in this great Faith and Leadership Article.
You can support the Black Seed Writers Group by subscribing to their literary journal "The Pilgrim", published ten times a year. Sign-up for an annual print subscription (only $25) is dead easy. Simply designate your $25.00 gift to the "Monday Lunch Program" on the Cathedral's giving page.
Walking is like
dissolves the circle
into motion; the eye here
and there rests
on a leaf,
gap, or ledge,
sight touches seen:
stop, thought, and
reality snaps back
in, locked hard,
the self, too, then
caught real, clouds
and wind melting
into their directions,
breaking around and
over, down and out,
~ A. R. Ammon ~
(via Whiskey River)
when i visit with the gnarled,
they try to claim me as one of their own,
one who by fate, by karma, by will of the gods,
grew twisted and stunted -
the result of decades trying to suck
life from acid, stony ground.
while i welcome their adoptive kinship,
i tell them i am not like them.
not really, anyway.
"i am a man and can change with circumstance." i say.
bent limbs quiver a response -
dead leaves fall around me like rain.
When I Am Among the Trees
When I am among the trees,
pine carcass perched on
by the sea.
- and then -
- and then -
- and then -
starring in a heroic
- and then -
- for an instant -
A Ritual To Read To Each Other
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
For it is important that awake people be awake,
~ William Stafford
St Kevin and the Blackbird
~ Seamus Heaney 1939-2013 ~
And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so
One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
and Lays in it and settles down to nest.
Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,
Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.
And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time
From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth
Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,
A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.
They Suffer for Us
In war so many come
you hardly notice one,
but a little child killed by a bomb
and borne away,
that image lasts for a while.
These times have taken our world
and turned it into a play,
your soldiers cursing, and ours,
and certain great people
being brave and principled and sure
They are different from us, the great
I mean. It is hard to be right
all the time, as they have to be
no matter what happens. And we,
to repay their suffering for us --
We cheer when we die for their tears.
~ William Stafford ~
My country gears up for another bit of heartbreak.
We have forgotten the deadly folly of our past mistakes.
We ignore the depths of our ignorance.
Soon we will launch multi-million dollar missiles into another country so that they know we are serious about them not killing their people.
The great wheels are in motion.
There seems to be little I can do. Prayer, after all, has not worked in this arena for millennia. I could go hold a sign somewhere and bear the drive-by derision of my war-loving fellow citizens. That hasn't helped slow things down either. And so - in times like these - helplessness, hopelessness and a deep sadness are faithful companions.
What does help is hanging with William Stafford - poet and CO in WWII (and almost lynched for his troubles).
Watch our smoke curdle up out of the chimney
into the canyon channel of air.
The wind shakes it free over the trees
and hurries it into nothing.
Today there is more smoke in the world
than ever before.
There are more cities going into the sky,
helplessly, than ever before.
The cities today are going away into the sky,
and what is left is going into the earth.
That is what happens when a city is bombed:
Part of that city goes away into the sky,
And part of that city goes into the earth.
And that is what happens to people when
a city is bombed:
Part of them goes away into the sky,
And part of them goes into the earth.
And what is left, for us, between the sky and the earth
is a scar.
~ William Stafford - Los Prietos, 20 January 1944 ~
The Way It Is
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
~ William Stafford ~
The very most successful among us know that you need a Mission Statement (along with an elevator speech, a cover letter, and all sorts of other gimcracks and gewgaws) when you set out in a new direction. Otherwise how will you know - like George the Lesser did on that bright shiny day aboard that aircraft carrier - that Mission has indeed been Accomplished?
I imagined (I have lots of time for imagining nowadays) chatting at length with Eiléan today over cups of red sour hibiscus tea. I told her I was out and about and unencumbered by the burden of gainful employment. I talked at length about the kinds of things I loved in the world. After a while, I knew I was rambling so I switched gears to the more practical..
I said that I had beginnings of an elevator speech and a cover letter and was really wracking my brain for a Mission Statement, because everyone who is anyone has a Mission Statement. She thought for a bit, rummaged in her bag and took out a well-worn book. Opening it to a page near the end, she read the verses below. "There's your mission statement boyo." she said. While I certainly relished the beauty of her vision, I thought it might be aiming a bit too high…and said so.
She told me that Mission Statements - especially those written by poets - are likely to be more of a best version of our future lives, a fuzzy, notional, rough-sketch, if you will, for what the heart desires.
"It's not a goddamned blueprint fer chrissakes!" she admonished.
When all this is over, said the swineherd,
I mean to retire, where
Nobody will have heard about my special skills
And conversation is mainly about the weather.
I intend to learn how to make coffee, as least as well
As the Portuguese lay-sister in the kitchen
And polish the brass fenders every day.
I want to lie awake at night
Listening to cream crawling to the top of the jug
And the water lying soft in the cistern.
I want to see an orchard where the trees grow in straight lines
And the yellow fox finds shelter between the navy-blue trunks,
Where it gets dark early in summer
And the apple-blossom is allowed to wither on the bough.
“I have lived at Cold Mountain
These thirty long years.
Yesterday I called on friends and family:
More than half had gone to the Yellow Springs.
Slowly consumed, like fire down a candle;
Forever flowing, like a passing river.
Now, morning, I face my lone shadow:
Suddenly my eyes are bleared with tears.”
Do Not Think Me Gentle
Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.
~ Wendell Berry ~
(via Whiskey River)
Run as fast as you can.
Run as far as you can.
Away from anyone you meet
Who is unable to be
And meets everything
In this glorious strangeness
Boredom and familiarity.
They have already decided
To try and keep the strangeness
At bay by saying
"Hmm", "Yes" and
"Right…… I know.."
Living in a barren land
They want you to
Live there with them.
Don't do it.
day by day
and fail to find
for what everyone carries
through this valley of tears.
instead i judge others
for how they bear their lives.
lord help me lay this down;
for sweet judgment
sours on my tongue,
turns to acid in my heart,
and hollows out my chest.
i am devoured from the inside out.
(Thanks to Father Greg Boyle SJ for food for thought)
Eager to please
Scenes of perfect desolation are treasures,
Rust, black mold, bent wood, broken glass.
Like looking in a mirror,
Kin and comfort.
You're just depressed.
You know, we all end up in the same place.
It's best to keep a cheerful demeanor
And enjoy our lives.
I don't know if my feet are cold.
I don't feel them at all.
I enjoy that.
Does that count?
I have been astonished that men could die
martyrs for their religion -
I have shuddered at it,
I shudder no more.
I could be martyred for my religion.
Love is my religion
and I could die for that.
I could die for you.
- John Keats To Fanny Brawne, 13 October 1819
(via Whiskey River)
I am the dog you put to sleep,
as you like to call the needle of oblivion,
come back to tell you this simple thing:
I never liked you--not one bit.
When I licked your face,
I thought of biting off your nose.
When I watched you toweling yourself dry,
I wanted to leap and unman you with a snap.
I resented the way you moved,
your lack of animal grace,
the way you would sit in a chair to eat,
a napkin on your lap, knife in your hand.
I would have run away,
but I was too weak, a trick you taught me
while I was learning to sit and heel,
and--greatest of insults--shake hands without a hand.
I admit the sight of the leash
would excite me
but only because it meant I was about
to smell things you had never touched.
You do not want to believe this,
but I have no reason to lie.
I hated the car, the rubber toys,
disliked your friends and, worse, your relatives.
The jingling of my tags drove me mad.
You always scratched me in the wrong place.
All I ever wanted from you
was food and fresh water in my metal bowls.
While you slept, I watched you breathe
as the moon rose in the sky.
It took all of my strength
not to raise my head and howl.
Now I am free of the collar,
the yellow raincoat, monogrammed sweater,
the absurdity of your lawn,
and that is all you need to know about this place
except what you already supposed
and are glad it did not happen sooner--
that everyone here can read and write,
the dogs in poetry, the cats and the others in prose.
Please sit down and be comfortable.
Would you like some peppermint tea?
Here. Give me your hands.
Ah yes - I see it...
A bit foggy - but I see it..
Yes. I am certain.
All of these things will happen to you.
Some day - your email will ping.
And you'll get an invitation.
And you'll drive through spitting sleet in the dark.
And you'll get there in one piece.
And your favorite poet will receive an award.
And you'll get to meet her.
And she'll give you a hug.
And she'll sign your book.
And she'll make sure you and your wife sit right down front, where those important people sit -
(even though you're not - important )
And she'll ask you what poems you'd like her to read.
And she'll read them.
And a smile will not leave your face.
And you'll wonder if you're dreaming all this.
And when it's over she'll hug you and your wife together.
And you'll drive home through a gathering storm.
And afterglow will light your way.
Eyes-Shut Facing Eyes-Rolling-AroundPay close attention to your mean thoughts.
That sourness may be a blessing,
as an overcast day brings rain for the roses
and relief to dry soil.
Don't look so sourly on your sourness!
It may be it's carrying what you most deeply need
and want. What seems to be keeping you from joy
may be what leads you to joy.
Don't call it a dead branch.
Call it the live, moist root.
Don't always be waiting to see
what's behind it. That wait and see
poisons your Spirit.
Reach for it.
Hold your meanness to your chest
as a healing root,
and be through with waiting.- Jelaluddin Rumi
translated by Coleman Barks
Delicious Laughter: Rambunctious Teaching Stories from the Mathnawi
Via Whiskey River
By Charles Simic
Go inside a stoneThat would be my way.Let somebody else become a doveOr gnash with a tiger's tooth.I am happy to be a stone.From the outside the stone is a riddle:No one knows how to answer it.Yet within, it must be cool and quietEven though a cow steps on it full weight,Even though a child throws it in a river;The stone sinks, slow, unperturbedTo the river bottomWhere the fishes come to knock on itAnd listen.I have seen sparks fly outWhen two stones are rubbed,So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;Perhaps there is a moon shiningFrom somewhere, as though behind a hill—Just enough light to make outThe strange writings, the star-chartsOn the inner walls.
Tomorrow is the last day of Stone River 2013. For those that don't know, Stone River is my blog that participates in the annual "2013 Mindful Writing Challenge" facilitated and evangelized by the great people over at "Writing Our Way Home."
This year, as in 2012, I was blessed to have companions to share the road with. Thanks Kerry, larry p and Dorothy. You made the trip through chilly January so much better with your generous gifts of stones…those wonderful eye-blinks into your lives.
So - two more day of stones, and then the river will be dammed up. A bright clear pool will form upstream. Next year, on New Year's Day when the dam breaks once more, a torrent of stones will tumble down Stone River.
EpitaphNow I'm not the brightest
knife in the drawer, but
I know a couple things
about this life: poverty
discipline and mystery
The world is not illusory, we are
From crimson thread to toe tag
If you are not disturbed
there is something seriously wrong with you, I'm sorry
And I know who I am
I'll be a voice
coming from nowhere,
be glad for me.
- Franz Wright Walking to Martha's Vineyard - (via Whiskey River)
RTTC Re-post from March 2010
O lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee:
Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry;
For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.
I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength:
Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand.
Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.
Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.
Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.
Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: Lord, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee.
Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah.
Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?
Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
But unto thee have I cried, O Lord; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.
Lord, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?
I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.
Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off.
They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together.
Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.
It doesn't interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.
I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.
(-- David Whyte, from Fire in the Earth, ©1992 Many Rivers Press)
[Poem found on Today at Meetingbrook)]
Scrub Oak said to me:
Spending my life in a mean and bitter ground
As I have,
Sucking poison into my heartwood year after year
From the vinegar thin dirt beneath my trunk
(The very dirt that my roots strain to hold on to yet,)
Has warped me ugly and bent.
How could it have been otherwise?
But then, I see you already know this.
Telling our lives to each other,
The sacred spell broken only by calls of
"time to hit the haystacks you two!"
It came too fast..
That moment when I had to share
You with the rest of the world.
Now I stand alone at midnight
Arms outstretched, eyes closed, head back,
Remembering - and
Sending out my hands
Across this wild dark continent to hold yours.
And I ask "So - how was your day?"
These are the days
of insulted murdering hordes,
of science deniers,
of turning back progress,
of dominating women,
of Hummers and Escalades and F350's,
of Pro Wrestling and The Bachelorette,
of "Shut up or get cut up"
of gated communities,
of have nots,
of sleeping under bridges,
of "I've got mine motherfucker,"
of no jobs,
of no pay,
of no prospects,
of no insurance,
of no net,
of meanness and spite as sport,
of the free market.
of human trafficking,
of endless war,
of fire and ice,
of raking it in,
of killer food,
of blessed oblivion,
of Saint Meth
and Saint Crank
and Saint Coke
and Saint Horse
and Blessed Weed
and Venerable Whiskey
and Holy Wine
and Beatific Benzos
and the entire community of Saints,
of just making it stop spinning,
of just making it stop,
of just getting on with it,
of just getting it over with,
of eating like there won't be a tomorrow,
of God just mailing it in,
of the black lump under the skin,
of smoke on the horizon,
of pre-existing conditions,
of smarter planets,
of growing corn to burn ethanol,
of internet porn,
of torture and rendition,
of remote control killing,
of old geldings running down old nuns,
of roads not taken,
of the dead end.
These are the days.
What is missed?
Or just a sun-faded memory of that thing?
Or just cave-drawn outlines flickering in torchlight?
That hot, endless, last day of summer?
Those salty kisses?
Or just barely conjured, filmy scenes?
What has happened?
Who have I been?
Who has gone with me?
Shake the Dust
~ Anis Mogjani ~
This is for the fat girls.
This is for the little brothers.
This is for the school-yard wimps, this is for the childhood bullies who tormented them.
This is for the former prom queen, this is for the milk-crate ball players.
This is for the nighttime cereal eaters and for the retired, elderly Wal-Mart store front door greeters.
Shake the dust.
This is for the benches and the people sitting upon them,
for the bus drivers driving a million broken hymns,
for the men who have to hold down three jobs simply to hold up their children,
for the nighttime schoolers and the midnight bike riders who are trying to fly.
Shake the dust.
This is for the two-year-olds who cannot be understood because they speak half-English and half-god.
Shake the dust.
For the girls with the brothers who are going crazy,
for those gym class wall flowers and the twelve-year-olds afraid of taking public showers,
for the kid who's always late to class because he forgets the combination to his lockers,
for the girl who loves somebody else.
Shake the dust.
This is for the hard men, the hard men who want to love but know that it won't come.
For the ones who are forgotten, the ones the amendments do not stand up for.
For the ones who are told to speak only when you are spoken to and then are never spoken to.
Speak every time you stand so you do not forget yourself.
Do not let a moment go by that doesn't remind you that your heart beats 900 times a day
and that there are enough gallons of blood to make you an ocean.
Do not settle for letting these waves settle and the dust to collect in your veins.
This is for the celibate pedophile who keeps on struggling,
for the poetry teachers and for the people who go on vacations alone.
For the sweat that drips off of Mick Jaggers' singing lips
and for the shaking skirt on Tina Turner's shaking hips,
for the heavens and for the hells through which Tina has lived.
This is for the tired and for the dreamers
and for those families who'll never be like the Cleavers
with perfectly made dinners and sons like Wally and the Beaver.
This is for the bigots,
this is for the sexists,
this is for the killers.
This is for the big house, pen-sentenced cats becoming redeemers
and for the springtime that always shows up after the winters.
This is for you.
Make sure that by the time fisherman returns you are gone.
Because just like the days, I burn both ends
and every time I write, every time I open my eyes I am cutting out a part of myself to give to you.
So shake the dust and take me with you when you do for none of this has never been for me.
All that pushes and pulls, pushes and pulls for you.
So grab this world by its clothespins and shake it out again and again
and jump on top and take it for a spin and when you hop off shake it again for this is yours.
Make my words worth it, make this not just another poem that I write,
not just another poem like just another night that sits heavy above us all.
Walk into it, breathe it in,
let it crash through the halls of your arms at the millions of years of millions of poets
coursing like blood pumping and pushing making you live, shaking the dust.
So when the world knocks at your front door, clutch the knob and open on up,
running forward into its widespread greeting arms with your hands before you,
cluck their solemn tongues
to say we're silly,
that we like silly things,
that we're childish.
and wise decisions
as shield and buckler
from life as it is,
position to take
in light of how
in on the joke
naked, slippery and squalling
On this side
The proclamation comes,
"God Loves You!"
With what evidence is such a
pronouncement on the mind of God made?
All you true believers,
all you settlers,
all you case-closed-this-is-it'ers:
your 'if you'd only think this way's
for one of your own kind.
Buck each other up
in the face of the Void.
You are safe on the other side
of a wide and bottomless chasm.
You have hymns in whole notes,
and sticky sweet pastries with weak coffee.
We live in the blistering
of boiling rivers,
bone dust, blood briar.
On this side, we sing in minor keys.
You can do this too...
at night i close my eyes
and become a tiny animal
curled on my side,
head on a pine needle pillow,
warm under milkweed down,
safe in my den.
the world's great calamities
glide by overhead.
whisper black wings
search for foolish grownups
trying to get through this darkness
in their own skin.
The Poet with His Face in His Hands
You want to cry aloud for your
mistakes. But to tell the truth the world
doesn't need anymore of that sound.
So if you're going to do it and can't
stop yourself, if your pretty mouth can't
hold it in, at least go by yourself across
the forty fields and the forty dark inclines
of rocks and water to the place where
the falls are flinging out their white sheets
like crazy, and there is a cave behind all that
jubilation and water fun and you can
stand there, under it, and roar all you
want and nothing will be disturbed; you can
drip with despair all afternoon and still,
on a green branch, its wings just lightly touched
by the passing foil of the water, the thrush,
puffing out its spotted breast, will sing
of the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.
- Mary Oliver
(via - Whiskey River)
When It Comes
Any time. Now. The next minute.
Years from today. You lean forward
and wait. You relax, but you don't forget.
Someone plans an elaborate party
with a banquet, dancing, even fireworks
when feasting is over. You look at them:
All those years when you searched the world
like a ferret, these never happened - your marriage,
your family, prayers, curses. Only dreams.
A vacuum has opened everywhere. Cities,
armies, those chairs ranked in the great
hall for the audience – there isn't anyone.
Like a shutter the sky opens and closes
and the show is over. The next act
will deny that anything ever happened.
Your hand falls open. It is empty. It never
held a knife, a flower, gold,
or love, or now. Lean closer –
Listen to me: there isn't any hand.
- William Stafford (via Whiskey River)