Tuesday, September 29, 2015

enneagram, Irish poets, and ethereal light

It has been a great couple of weeks.  The weather wants to cool off and the mornings are full of the potential of fall.  Three thoughts on this very rainy Tuesday morning, as has become customary.

1.  Pensacola had the very good fortune of welcoming bestselling author, Ian Cron, for a workshop and book signing last week. Cron met with a group on Thursday and presented on the Enneagram, a personality typing system which may go as far back as the mystic Evagrius Ponticus.  It is a remarkable tool, and Cron did a masterful job of interweaving story and personal history throughout the presentation.  Thanks to Quint Studer, Scott Remington, and Eric Stevenson, for their efforts in getting Cron to Pensacola.

2.  In conversation, Cron made mention of the work of the late Irish poet, John O'Donahue.  I'd listened to a wonderful interview of O'Donahue several months ago, and was moved by his comments on the aesthetic.  He masterfully described beauty as a fundamental part of the interior life.  I am slowly making my way through his work, Anam Cara, and it resonates deeply. 

3.  As I was making my way back from Santa Rosa county yesterday, I was captivated by a rainbow.  It was the most vivid and complete example I'd ever seen.  It took me back to Parris Island, when at the age of seventeen, I was in the midst of a troop movement with my hosts from the Marine Corps.  It is not the most spiritual of places.  There is an overwhelming amount of gray and military green - but I recall looking up to see a lovely rainbow in the distance.  There was an overwhelming and accompanying sense that everything was going to be just fine.  I am increasingly mindful that the aesthetic, whether it be natural or man made - grabs us by the shoulders and shakes us into the present.  And that is a good thing.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

retreat, identity, and Louisiana lace

The first time is unforgettable.  I've just returned from Manresa.  In attendance were five friends, three of whom were on their first retreat.  It was exciting to share it with them. 

I've had to deal with identity theft over the past year.  Numerous calls from credit card vendors and fraud protection.  It's not a fun way to spend free time.  At the welcoming talk Thursday evening, we discussed the pull of daily life.  And I was again reminded that there is great difficulty in giving ourselves permission to deeply rest.  The fact that I could not turn my phone off completely for four days is a testament to this reality!  But the weekend gave me a needed  opportunity to reflect on identity and daily life. 

A photo.  And a poem that dropped out of the ether for my good friend Chris.


a poet accompanied me today
on a long walk
among oaks and moss
and an elegant late summer sun

searching for words
to close his musings

that which perhaps
all poets seek

freedom marred
nights robbed of clarity
obscured by attachment, inordinate
grace even too lovely to tame

oh, to be moved
as easily as this lace
for but the most gentle zephyr
sets it dancing

uttering the words
that words would be
if only they could 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

cathedrals, dolphins, and battlefields

It is a sunny Sunday here in Florida.  Tax preparation awaits me.  Which is less than inspiring.  Thus, three thoughts, as has become customary.

1.  I found myself in Mobile yesterday morning for a meeting, and then made my way to the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.  It is a curious thing how certain spaces in time burn themselves into our consciousness. I can vividly remember an afternoon visit there when I was an undergraduate.  I was interning downtown and stopped in the church to pray after lunch.  I don't particularly remember a great deal from that span of time otherwise, but I do remember sitting in that cathedral.  Slowing down time somehow opens it up. 

                                                           2. I made my way over to Fairhope and
wandered around and stopped in on a writer's workshop.  Picked up a collection of essays by Marina Keegan and set up under a tree next to the bay and read until my attention was drawn to a dolphin jumping out of the water.  Moments later, I heard someone on the pier yell, "shark"!  Got me thinking about how often we misidentify the beautiful things in our lives.  I considered taking off my loafers and swimming out into the bay.  Now that I think of it, why didn't I?

3.  I'll leave you with a poem that dropped out of the ether a couple of weeks ago as I returned from a trip to Pennsylvania, where I toured Gettysburg with friends.


afoot a great accidental battlefield
pocked by it all

where much suffering
soaked the orchard, field, and air

the blind eagerness
of the youth of all times, naive, fever

and the souvenir laden lass
in tow behind mother

the guide
hopelessly numb to the whole thing

a spectacle
of the hallowed

where was the spirit, she
in the evil struggle?

hell on earth
right here on this very dirt

if the kingdom is at hand
dark flames first occupied

the very lungs
of beast and man

grand time as the only redemption
covering our foolishness 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

chess, poetry, and noticing

Click for OptionsIt is a lazy Saturday morning. We managed to make it to chess club with about sixty seconds to spare.  I have the ephemeral Jonsi & Alex piece, Boy 1904, on repeat as I soak this space in.  A curious combination of the smell of cheap pizza and kids playing chess.  Smiles on many of their faces, and my youngest daughter looking like she's contemplating a great unknown.  Three thoughts on this day, as has become customary:

1.  I finished Anne Lamott's small collection of essays this week, Small Victories.  The most memorable thing I took away was her recitation of the step which occurs before any change can happen in our messy lives.  It's not the first step.  She called it step zero.  Basically: I've had enough of my own pain.  I shared that little piece of wisdom with some like minded friends last night who all nodded and laughed, as I had, in recognition of it's piercing affect. 

Click for Options2.  I stumbled on some otherwise unheralded poetry this week, and I was reminded of Thomas Merton's observations to his novitiates.  Don't worry about whether art is recognized as the goods by the experts.  The only question is this: does it move you? 

3.  Social media and the deep desire to be noticed.  A battle to be remarkable in a sea of spectacular depictions of the grand ordinariness of common life.  It reminded me of a run I had maybe a year or so ago around the time that I'd been able to personally articulate the need to be noticed for perhaps the first time.  And out of the blue came the oddest looking character I'd ever seen.  An old man coming down a long stretch of dusk road on a beach cruiser, no shirt, sporting dark sunglasses and a white beard.  Maybe God himself.  And he looked directly at me and raised his right hand, the way that Indians did in the cheesy shows I watched as a kid, before they said "how."  And I took it as a sign that the only one we need to be noticed by is always paying close attention to us.

I'll leave you with a piece from a couple of weeks ago.

the expedition

a small trip
for bananas and chicken noodle soup

wandering the isles
considering what else I might buy

when upon a meeting I stumble
between a nervous father, young son
and grandparents, I suspect

a camping trip!
meat, paper towels, the dad says
"and we have chocolate," from a squeaky voice, confidence in his declaration

in the parking lot, as I sit
in my stinky old diesel truck
the truck that embarrasses Gracie
when I pick her up from school

I spy the father open the trunk
of an old Buick
and next to the bags of provisions
sits the box of a brand new camping tent

and they depart
for some place of great mystery

time that will constitute
soul mortar for this and somehow every
father and child

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.