Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Over-Soul, poets, and awkward school dances

It is an overcast morning that reminds me of my year in Pennsylvania some time ago.  I am looking forward to the return of my Florida sunshine.  Just returned from breakfast with a good friend, and I am mindful of the joy of sharing our journey with kindred souls.  I've found such souls in unexpected places.  Three thoughts on this day, as has become customary:

1. I have been mulling over Emerson's short essay on the "Over-Soul."  It is remarkable to re-conceive God (as you may wish to name him or her, or not) and to engage in the process of stripping back and closely inspecting the essence that has historically come with ones own spiritual formation.  Finding of God and of the self again.  That we call the process "formation" in some settings is even in itself remarkable.  The great questions evolve: "who is the vessel, and who and what is the potter?" 

2. Rilke has been a good companion in this season.  I ran across comments of Dietrich Bonhoeffer during his imprisonment that Rilke left him cold at the time.  Acceptance that different voices find us at different moments, but honest surprise.  A certain awareness is required for me to receive Rilke and other poetry right now.  It varies in hours and days.  Also making the acquaintance of Rumi and Blake.  I resonate with Thomas Merton's observation to novitiates that the poet today may fill the role of the monk of old.

3. Constant change as the only true constant.  I'll leave you with a piece of writing from recent months:

old wooden floor

one of the clearest memories
of my boyhood
is of an Indiana gymnasium
as a first grader

where an otherwise unremarkable dance was had
and seemingly everyone
could let go in a way
that I could not

they danced

and I held on tight
did what I could do
walking the perimeter
watching from the edge

and it was only years later
that I could let go and dance
and even then only with the help
of Jack
or Jose
or some other or another

I let go now
with my kids, when I can
usually after dishes
forgetting the serious man
I think I must be

we dance and twist and yell and laugh
if only I'd do it more

I'd like to help that boy let go in that Indiana schoolhouse
grab his hand, pull him out there
make a fool of myself, make him laugh

perhaps he'd say the same of me

but maybe the truth is
he showed up
but showed up to dance with all his soul, nonetheless

Friday, February 20, 2015



a chance encounter
in the space around five pieces of German glass

in a great hall
full of light

soft countenance
at peace, finally

a banner as blue as spring sky
below a gentle smile
confident pose

the song of precisely
forty angels
all about
her angels
unseen, everywhere
they'd always been

found in that moment
of new acquaintance

and as one walked away
the other stayed
all the while smiling
angels singing still

five pieces of German glass

Wednesday, February 11, 2015



a young woman

made an observation
                                               so striking

that notice was unavoidable

and in that moment
perhaps in a fit of arrogance

one observed that at her age
her wisdom must have been borrowed

and the muse reminded
that all wisdom is borrowed

and it occurs
that perhaps this is true
of all things timeless

even love

an awareness of what is God
the small spaces between
profound words
and gentle glances

it is all borrowed

every bit of it

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

lambs and lions

Tension is in the air.  Largely thanks to the virility of social media, law enforcement and the public seem to be gazing at each other even more suspiciously than usual. 

One Gulf Breeze police officer recently made national headlines when a blatantly dangerous and intoxicated driver sped off, dragging and injuring him during a routine traffic stop.  It was a very good case study of community working together to both come to the officer's aid and assist in capturing the driver.  

At the same time, it seems that the public is increasingly fumbling its way to the aid of its own fellow citizens in cases of abuse by government. After much publicity and outcry, two Albuquerque police officers were recently charged with the especially brutal murder of a mentally ill homeless man.  We might never have known of the tragic events had they not been captured on video.  If you haven't watched the interaction, it can be quickly located and is very much worth taking in. It serves as a haunting example of a flippant and immoral utilization of deadly force by law enforcement in modern America. 

The Washington Post recently reported the maddening story of two Maryland parents who were threatened and harassed by police for allowing their children to walk one mile from a park to their home.  The parents, part of the "free range" parenting movement, believe in the utility of children spreading their wings in a world that is empirically safer than the one they grew up in.  The father, a native Russian, has a unique perspective on intrusive government. I share in their frustration at government attempting to dictate the manner in which they should raise their children, even if the couple’s methods might be different than my own.  Perhaps I’d be more inspired to trust government in this arena if it could collectively accomplish far more simple tasks, such as balancing budgets.

Our second President, John Adams, once observed that, “Fear is the foundation of most governments; but is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men, in whose breasts it predominates, so stupid, and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.”  Fear is an awful and powerful emotion.  As we’ve become increasingly dependent upon government to keep us and our children "safe," often out of fear, more and more power and deference is given to government under the auspices of necessity.  "We can only protect you if we have wide ranging power.  And to that end, do not question our power or the manner in which is it carried out." Russian thinker, Vissarion Belinsky, observed once that he was prepared to destroy half the earth with fire and sword "in order that mankind might be happy."  What do we say to one another in this great land, as governed and governing, as to what we are willing to sacrifice in the name of peace and security?  

One conclusion is that much of the recent backlash against law enforcement is a grossly ill articulated but long overdue rejection of condescending and sometimes abusive authority. The French Revolution serves as a great historical example of the messy manner in which harshly governed people will eventually react, often with blood on their hands.  Our own political tradition is rooted in the deep and divine recognition that mutual respect must be engendered and developed by both the public and authority.  Today, the public is taught to respect government and law enforcement.  And such it should be.  Buddhist monk and luminary Thich Nhat Hanh has written in his masterful work, Keeping the Peace, that mindfulness and compassion training by those in public service can go great lengths in cultivating an attitude of service, peace, and mutual respect.  This does not eliminate the reality that there will be difficult individuals for all of us to contend with.  But the attitude and heart with which we come into those unavoidable interactions is ripe for close examination.  

Several police departments have recently released rather charming videos of their officers singing to popular music in their patrol cars.  They will bring a smile to your face and have reportedly been released under the auspices of humanizing law enforcement.   And they perhaps make the point we've been hearing from those they serve in both word and sometimes very unfortunate action: "We the public are people too."    

Friday, December 19, 2014

men, grumpy monastics, and noticing

I sat with a group of men this week who shared openly about their struggles with relationships.  It is always a remarkable experience to see men open up in a culture which constantly teaches us that we cannot fail, we must conquer, and show no weakness.  Brene Brown tells the memorable story of meeting a man at an event once who commented that it was convenient that she didn't research men.  And then he quipped that his daughters and wife would rather he die on his white horse than fall off of it.  I don't know that it is true that as men, those around us feel that way.  But perhaps we do feel that way about ourselves, that we'd just about rather die than admit failure and weakness.  Men all too often are trained from a young age that vulnerability and feelings are pejoratively feminine.  Which makes it all the more remarkable when men are able to open up about the trouble spots in their lives.  Three thoughts on this rainy Florida morning, as has become customary.

1.  We are all looking for that dance with the divine.  I've been immersing myself in New Seeds of Contemplation, and I have been thinking about Merton's own experience with the need to connect with the feminine, notwithstanding his self elected isolation and commitment to the monastic tradition.  My reflection on Merton's experience has been colored somewhat by reading about the grumpy monastics of Mount Athos this week.  Into focus comes the being of balance and the inevitable need for its actualization.  Asceticism cannot remove balance as a categorical imperative; existence. And there is the curious rejection of the need for balance in our traditions, even in the one sided narrative of the "immaculate conception."  What is the relationship between asceticism and fundamental balance?

2.  What is contemplation?  I read the first section of New Seeds a half dozen times, and I am comforted by Merton's observation that anything we say about it must almost necessarily be taken back.  That it is perhaps more a state of granted awareness which comes perhaps as nothing more than a deeply realized state of grace.

3.  One of my goals for the upcoming year is to notice more.

I'll leave you with a small piece from New Seeds:

For the contemplative there is no cogito (I think) and no ergo ("therefore") but only SUM, I Am. Not in the sense of a futile assertion of our individuality as ultimately real, but in the humble realization of our mysterious being as persons in whom God dwells, with infinite sweetness and inalienable power.