Sunday, May 10, 2015

composers, poets, and soul-scape

It has felt like I live in Florida again for the last several days, which has been a good thing.  I remember reading that the desert fathers, the early Christian monastics, valued light for spiritual reasons.  That they lived in a world of literal darkness unaided by billions of light bulbs and screens.  That the rising of the sun was the very real and fulfilled promise of a new day by the great force that holds the cosmos together. I hold that image dear.  Three thoughts on this Sunday afternoon, as has become customary.

1.  Over the last several days, I've taken in a remarkable interview of composer Mohammed Fairouz.  The interview opened with the haunting words of John F. Kennedy's 1963 speech at Amherst College, given in connection with the groundbreaking of the Robert Frost Library:

When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.

These words have come to me on the heels of immersion in Thomas Merton's commentary to novitiates at Gethsemane on the role of the poet in modern society.  He opined that the poet opens the door to the mystical, a role previously reserved in many ways for the monk. I wonder now, fifty years later, if the poet is heard?  Fairouz made the true statement that the artist opens up and grants us access to timeless sacred spaces.  Do we seek those spaces?

2.  I had the pleasure of the company of a good friend from Montgomery this weekend.  We were talking over all of the many things we've experienced together in the last twenty years.  I am ever aware that our soul mates allow us, require us, demand of us - that we move through the valleys and mountaintops with relentless love, enthusiasm, and proper orientation. What a grace that is.

3.  I've been thinking of the concept of the "soul-scape," the very real landscape of the soul.  What great maps the poet and the composer give us for these valleys and rivers.  Terrain completely open and unending. Even in the midst of the very ordinary.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

sunshine and being

The sun continues to be evasive here in Pensacola.  But it is poking its face out and that is a welcome thing.  Enjoying a lecture by Thomas Merton regarding the relationship between asceticism and freedom. 

I'll leave you with a new piece:


deep within the mystery
in the midst of
bramble and relentless vines

crawling, prickly things
rain, and the soft mud rooting the bright lotus
and its many, many petals

is a space in kairos
witness to battles without beginning or end
the powerful and the powerless

a still place seen by none other
than this very now
and there finds home, a great beast of a lion
uncaged, unblunted, majestic

there are no bars
his supple stride is dignity
raw grace, if such a thing can exist

for he is not alone
as near him is the lamb
the soft underbelly, tender and vulnerable
exposed, prey to gleaming jaws and gluttonous shears

the lion and the lamb
an inextricable dance
delicate and mystical

yet know
the lamb needs the lion
no less than the lion requires this softness
of his mighty companion

power is without measure and cause
with no fold
tenderness is with no affect
without that which to cover

what could be utterly crushed
without the protection
and watchful guardian of the one

the softness of the other
invoking the great revelation

Monday, April 13, 2015

thunder, storytelling, and endurance

It is a very overcast morning here, the thunder was ominous last night and kept me company for some time.  I picked up Experiencing Spirituality (Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham), which has captured my attention.  I love the idea of the story singing that which dogma cannot.  I'd been thinking of and about the power of storytelling recently, it was a good thing to stumble upon this book.  One of my favorite stories so far:

I recently heard a story of someone asking a monk, "What is your life as a monk?"
The monk replied, "We walk, we fall down, someone helps us up.  We walk some more, someone else falls down.  We help them up.  That's pretty much what we do."

It seems to call to mind the elimination of destination as the end.  Rather, as the authors make note of (almost apologetically), it is the essence of "be-ing."  It also calls to mind the power of service to our fellows, and gives us permission to accept help when we need it.

I'll leave you with a short prayer that made its way out of the ether a few months ago.


grant me endurance
for the long road

so many days I feel a heaviness of heart
that I fear will overtake me

I desire to be of service
and cannot do so if I am dejected

I implore your endless energy
I insist upon a countenance that comes from you alone

I beg the knowing of your gaze
in gratitude I lift my eyes
to your horizon

in joy I seek you evermore
in confidence I find you

Thursday, April 2, 2015

rise, row, and write

It is a beautiful day here in Florida.  An early rise, rowing, meditation, and now work. 

I'll part with a piece of recent writing.


how do we take our wounds?

how did the world touch us
in a way that cuts deeply

opening a place in our flesh
that seemingly never draws closed
breaking open over and over again
resisting healing

we must go back to the fisher king
understand the wound
mourn for it
feel the pain of the world that caused it
release it, even in tears

it may be hidden
and yet soft prayerful awareness
finds it finally

cold words
fear of the unknown
fear of love
fear of fear
so many symptoms

physician, heal thyself!
it is said

indeed, it is the deep, sticky, soul work
the oars pulled by the lone rower
the poetry which flows out, unleashed
like blood
washing away the wounds

and announcing the arrival
of that deep healing
we pant for, as the deer at the brook
as the parched earth for rain

Divine Master
give us the strength to look deeply
to reach out in the dark night
in all our fear

to find ourselves
to find you

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