Poem – Second Hand Truths

One day back in February while I was in Moscow (Idaho) after my hermitage, my dear friend George Callihan and I were sitting out front of a coffee shop smoking and drinking coffee. The day was quite bleary, and rain would drizzle and then threaten a downpour every now and then. We decided it was the perfect time to co-write a poem. Anyone who knows either of us will quickly laugh at how well this captures the ethos of us both. We took turns writing the stanzas, though there was some sharing of ideas on certain stanzas. Perhaps you can decipher which voice is me and which is George. On second thought, they may be too similar for you to tell. 🙂

The cold and wind and rain was grey,
outside the coffee shop,
We sat upon our chairs and smoked,
And hoped the grey would stop.

We looked around for sight or sound
Or anything with breath,
But we saw none, so here we sat,
And here we toasted “death.”

The metal chairs were fitting,
Though they laughed at our vain boast,
For they matched the blackened lungs
We used to realize our toast.

My yellow hat, your duster coat,
My friend we’re quite a pair,
Though passers by were soaking wet
We didn’t have a care.

Ah yes, it’s true, we sat and smoked,
And smoked and sat with flair,
I think the girls could not resist
The joy of our despair.

For as they passed each one would turn
And look with some disdain,
Although we knew they only wished
That they could feel our pain.

For pain, both you and I know well,
Can oftentimes be sweet,
And in their hearts the girls know too
And wish to take a seat.

We’d offer them a cigarette
And though they would refuse,
We’d tell them it’s the only way
To cure their black and blues.

They’d laugh and call us cute
But still their words betray their game:
For happiness masks true despair,
True sorrow births great gain.

Intrigued yet unaware they left,
They didn’t understand:
The truths we freely offered them
Were only secondhand.

And so we watched and smiled,
At all that passed us by,
Our offerings of truth and smoke
Accepted by grey skies.

Poem — Walking Stick

One last poem from the mountains.

I stop pushing my way,
For a moment,
Through the near waist-deep snow
And gaze around at the trees.
My eyes come to rest
On the stick in my hand:
My walking stick.
There are a number of strange
And oddly beautiful
Carvings across my walking stick,
Chewed  out paths by termites
Which I found after peeling the bark off.
They somehow remind me
Of Native American mound structures,
Twisting into the outlines of
Creatures both familiar and foreign.
Time to push on through this blasted snow.

 

Blog Redesign and Reflections on its History

This blog has long been overdue for a facelift (well, more like a severe facial reconstruction surgery). I’ve updated the theme and fixed things up a bit today. I’m sure no one besides me cares, but it was too painful for me to look at any longer, so I sat down today and polished things up. Now you can read these posts on your phone! The joys of pervasive responsive design.

Guys, I’ve been doing this for a long time. Like over 10 years. The earliest post in the database is from late 2007 — but the first 62 posts are copy pasted from my original blogspot, which I started January 2007. And omagosh I just checked and that original blogspot is still there! Holy cow I posted a lot that first year. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you can see 14 year old very slightly mustachioed me… I used to be pretty good looking if you can ignore the mustache. Guess things have gone downhill since then. Ah well. At least I now have a fairly sizable beard to cover up my aging face.

As I’ve spent a day updating this blog I’ve re-read some of my old posts through the years and it has brought me to reflect on how I’ve changed and how I haven’t. It’s fascinating that the basics of how and what I think haven’t changed much, they’ve only become more nuanced and refined. It’s cool to have a record that goes back this far of my thought life, and I wondered a few times today what my kids (if I ever have them) will think if they ever read the archives of this blog.

Thanks to those readers who have subscribed and who have continued to slog through my unpolished postings on this blog.

 

I hope someone’s listening,
And Oh I know I can’t sing,
But it means the world to me
If you listen…
So I’m giving you all that’s left
Of me after all this mess
I’ve opened my heart I hope you see
A little bit of beauty.

Poem – With Everything

This was a response to the last poem. I decided I ought to try my hand at answering my question.

I stand solitary, yet not alone, on the ridge.
A great lake of deeply green pines
Covered in last nights pure white snow, sweeps below me,
Surrounded by ponderous, grave, purple mountains,
Drenched in the golden beams of the early morning sun,
Ascending from behind my ridge into the dancing blue sky
And exchanging familiar glances with the mountains,
Latent with something I cannot put my finger on.
All is quiet.
Perhaps if I had better ears I could hear the melody,
The hymn swirling from among the trees below
And echoing from atop the mountains afar.
And yet.
And yet…
Somehow, somewhere deep in my heart I feel the same song beat.
I stand together.
With everything.

Poem — Untitled

Another poem from my retreat into the mountains. You’ll see a progression in these poems as I get further into the quiet.

I’ve sung so often
Of love and heartbreak,
loneliness and sorrow,
Pain  and grief,
And the ecstasy of melancholy.
In fact, I think that’s
All I’ve ever sung of,
For so many years.
Why do I never write
Of peace?
Of light and life,
In a way that is not
Tinged with sadness?

Poem – Beauty

I figured I’d share the poems I wrote during my retreat into the mountains. I’ll post them in order.

Beauty.
It surrounds me.
I don’t want to escape it,
But sometimes,
Too often, I think,
I forget.
The numbing waves of worry and calculation
Cover my soul,
And I forget the sharp,
Blissful ache of beauty.
But occasionally
A lull in the waves
Brings my head above the water,
And I gasp in a breath,
A cutting breath of beauty.
And I remember
That I don’t ever want to forget,
And forget why I ever forgot,
And hope, probably in vain,
But hopefully not,
That I won’t forget again.

Ponderings from Solitude

I wrote a journal entry collecting a few of the thoughts I’ve pondered during my three weeks alone. I present it to anyone interested below straight from the notebook.

Coming into this hermitage experience I expected it would take a few days, maybe a week, perhaps even 2 weeks for me to internalize a little bit, just a little bit of quiet. It seems it took about 11 days for the quiet to settle in a little. On Wednesday the 1st I mapped out my activity-based (as opposed to time-based) schedule for the mornings, which seemed to work very well. On Thursday I hiked up the ridge for the first time, also while it was snowing, and was swept away by the beauty. That night, I lit candles, also for the first time, and sat in bed for maybe 30 minutes. No thoughts of past conversations and embarrassing moments, no thinking and struggling over future decisions about work and the sea, no machinations about how and if I can fulfill longings I have: just quiet. Nothing in particular, in fact nothing at all except the room I was in and the candlelight and the silently falling snow outside. Blessed rest of the heart. I was present, there in that moment and only in that moment. I realized this rather quickly and my heart jumped within me for joy. A smile spread across my face so big that it made my eyes squint, and it wouldn’t go away. I reminded myself not to get excited and jump out of the experience itself.

Here I meet two temptations I myself have to battle constantly. The first is to not be present in myself for an experience of great joy and light. As soon as I realize that I am experiencing something wonderful, which is usually very quickly, I have a very strong compulsion to step outside of myself and enjoy observing myself having a great experience. This removes me directly from the experience because I am trying to analyze the state that I am in meticulously. This is a great hindrance I face to being truly present in any moment.

This leads to the second struggle, and I think this is probably what causes the first. The reason I compulsively analyze myself and my states is because I am always (also compulsively) trying to recreate past moods that I’ve felt which I like. I try to get back to a particular feeling that I had in the past in order to feel complete, in order to feel OK, in order to be in a state of happiness or wholeness. Note that these moods I re-create are not necessarily “happy” in the more common modern sense of the word, that is feelings of lighthearted positivity, indeed, many times they can be dark or sad — I am quite fond of melancholy, as anyone who knows me well can attest. Because I am either stepping back and analyzing a feeling or mood and the things that surround the mood or feeling that could potentially be causing it, or else I’m trying to re-live or re-create some past thing, I’m never actually present.

I read in New Seeds of Contemplation the other day

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of the unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity, and love.”

This in conjunction with the two aforementioned compulsions I have just described (for the first time concretely to myself) leads me to an important truth. If I had the freedom, love, and spontaneity to see it, every moment is a unique gift from God. There is no need to grasp at experiences to try to save them, there is no need to try to get back what I “lost” to the past. Truly what I should be doing is cultivating good soil so that not a single seed of the present is lost.

I cannot believe how well these thoughts are flowing together, because this leads me to yet another thought I have been pondering in my solitude: seeds. I think this thought is inspired by elder Zosima in Brothers Karamazov, for he talks about seeds as well.

“Only a little tiny seed is needed: let him cast it into the soul of a simple man, and it will not die, it will live in his soul all his life, hiding there amidst the darkness, amidst the stench of his sins, as a bright point, a great reminder.”

And it is so true, just one word or one expression or one touch from another person can grow to be a mountain of good or of evil within my soul. It is amazing to me that when I look upon myself, the greatest vices (and I suppose virtues but virtues are harder for me to see and I don’t spend as much time deconstructing my virtues, not nearly as much as I do my vices) that I carry are always based on one little thought, always a very simple one. What mountains of evil do I found upon such tiny things is most wondrous. These little seed-lies that I believe are what distort my life, draw me away from God, and make up my ego-self. If I can do the hard work of uncovering these evil seeds and open my heart and make it fertile for all of God’s good seeds, truly I will move mountains inside of me. This ought to be a stern and fearful reminder to me, because I am constantly throwing my seeds into other people by my actions and words: are they seeds of God or seeds of Satan? As elder Zosima remarks in another place:

See, here you have passed by a small child, passed by in anger, with a foul word, with a wrathful soul; you perhaps did not notice the child, but he saw you, and your unsightly and impious image has remained in his defenseless heart. You did not know it, but you may thereby have planted a bad seed in him, and it may grow, and all because you did not restrain yourself before the child.

The things I do and the way I do them, even the expression on my face, is a seed that I plant in those around me.

In turn this leads me to another thought I have been contemplating: my guilt before all men. Elder Zosima’s older brother in his youth before he dies says

Each of us is guilty in everything before everyone, and I most of all

I am very much attracted to this statement, though it seems unreasonable and paradoxical. I feel it must be true somehow, though it makes no sense to my reason. If I am constantly every moment of my life sowing seeds in people, and even in creation around me, then how unspeakable is the mystery of my connection to all that is; to all men I meet, even to those I do not meet and all men on earth, then even to the whole earth and the universe and all creation and God. Think, if I plant a seed in every man I meet, then my seeds will quickly be carried to every man on earth, and from there to all the earth itself, and even to God. Again elder Zosima observes this truth:

My young brother asked forgiveness of the birds: it seems senseless, yet it is right, for all is like an ocean, all flows and connects; touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world. Let it be madness to ask forgiveness of the birds, still it would be easier for the birds, and for a child, and for any animal near you if yourself were more gracious than you are now, if only by a drop, still it would be easier. All is like an ocean I say to you.

Because I am so integrated into creation, that is why I can say that I am guilty of everything before everyone. It is a hard thing to understand, this guilt, a hard thing to know what to do with. I think that a vastly important truth and reality lies within this statement of guilt, something of enormous import which at the moment I do not see or comprehend. But I will dwell on it and perhaps in time God will illuminate it within my soul. Perhaps this seed of truth will grow into the foundational tree of my life. I hope and pray so.

How many of God’s good seeds have I let die and lost, because I am pre-occupied with some withered shrub of my youth: while God is throwing a multitude of beautiful maple and walnut and redwood tree seeds, beautiful flowers and grape vine seeds into my soul in the present, I am too busy tending a lone dandelion that I am attached to for some reason, and a number of patches of poison ivy. If I would only open my heart and let the past live it’s natural course, perhaps then my eyes would open to the seeds of destruction I cast into all of my brother’s fields, trying to share my dandelions and poison ivy, casting these weeds into their crops. If I would be still and present, if I could see and acknowledge my guilt before all, then perhaps would God’s good seed begin to take root in my soul, and of its own accord spread itself into the lives of those around me, into the whole world, and finally back even into the very heart of God. Let it be so Father.

Into the Woods

Tonight I am heading into the woods for 3 weeks with no electricity or running water in the mountains of Idaho. I want to outline a few of my hopes and expectations going in, so that when I post my journal entries afterwards I can compare to see if things went as I hoped and expected. Maybe writing them out will also help me to achieve them more intentionally. It’s more of a note to myself than intended for other people to read, so please note you may find it a bit dull.

My vague hope is to simply put experience just a taste of silence. I expect that for at least a week I will have a very hard time living with all of the internal noise that is whirling inside of me at the moment (and has been for most of my life). My hope is that the 2nd week my insides will quiet down a little bit, and I’m really hoping that the third week I will experience an internal quiet or peace that I have not experienced before.

I think that I think God lies somewhere in silence, and that is the way most readily available to me to touch him, to experience him.

I have laid out a very strict schedule for myself in 30 minute blocks for the majority of the day. I worry that my attention will not be able to hold for much longer than 30 minutes at a time on one thing, at least not at first. If I am able to strengthen my attention then I will adjust the blocks so that they last longer than 30 minutes, do a little bit of rearranging.

One of the main tasks I hope to accomplish is the singing of the psalms, once through the psalms every week (more than that actually because some of the songs are repeated daily). I will be following the divine office or liturgy of the hours as laid out by St. Benedict, singing the psalms according to modified Gregorian chant tones to fit the Coverdale translation (the one used in the 1928 prayer book). It may take me a week to get into the swing of following the hours but hopefully by the beginning of week 2 I am settled down into a routine.

I really hope that this is a good experience. I don’t have any particular visions about what that good looks like precisely, I just really hope that it’s good. That I get to experience a rhythm of quiet intentional prayer life.

Anyways, I’m signing off from the whole world now for the next three weeks. Say a prayer for me if you think of it.

Yearning for Beauty

I was flipping through my journal this evening when I came across a piece of poetic prose (or perhaps its prosaic poetry, you decide) that struck me as quite apt. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and studying of the Enneagram lately and it’s interesting looking back over much of my old writing and seeing common threads of some very deep desires I’ve had for many years. The proem (prose+poem) is relatively recent, I think within the last year, though I could be wrong, and I had completely forgotten it. I don’t remember the context of writing it, but it struck a deep chord when I re-read it just now.

A deep yearning for beauty fills my heart
An unquenchable desire for what I cannot have.
But is this thing really out of reach?
Am I truly impotent?
Can my desire truly not be fullfilled?
No.
I must believe that it can;
That or my desire is not ordered rightly.
Is romance out of reach?
Is magic out of reach?
Is aesthetic unattainable?
Is fullfilling toil an impossibility?
The irony is that I cannot have until I let go.
I cannot be full until I am empty.
But God how I hoard useless desires.
I don’t want to fall asleep and wash away
The bittersweet pangs of emotion running
Through my heart tonight.
If I drift into sleep this beauty
That I see in this moment will be erased from my heart,
And all will be black and blank when I wake.
I want to save this feeling somehow.
But I must not hoard,
Must not clutch.
So I let go.
Let what I am in this moment be,
And fully be.
And what comes tomorrow comes,
And I will welcome that for what it is.
I open my hands,
My head,
And most of all my heart.

The Ocean

The steady ocean breeze danced through my hair, and the rhythm of the waves crashing along the shoreline surrounded me as I walked along the beach. The water scurrying up and over my bare feet now and again, erasing the imprints my walk had left behind me. I was rather engrossed in searching for sea shells and any other interesting sea washed paraphernalia that I might happen across; so engrossed, in fact, that I did not look around me for quite some time. I don’t know why, but sometimes I get so engrossed with what is at my feet that I become nearly scared to lift my eyes to what is around me. Once or twice I felt a slight nudge deep down inside of me to look up, which I did, but not with much interest, because I didn’t want to walk by a sea shell that was perfect and miss a chance to collect it.

For some time I had held four or five shells in my hand, and I hadn’t much room there for more. Eventually I stopped walking and turned to face the setting sun and ocean directly. As I gazed out across the vase expanse of water, I was nearly blinded by the blaze of the setting sun. I breathed a deep breath of salt air and stood very still, entranced by the gloriously grand and beautiful expanse that lay before me. The cool water rushed over my feet and quickly receded, forming a little trench about each of my feet, leaving only a little mound at the center where the pressure of my weight kept the sand from being washed away. I moved my feet side to side to even out this little mound, and sank ever so slightly deeper into the wet sand, and ever so slightly deeper into the profound reality of beauty that ebbed and flowed and breathed about me.

It occurred to me that I am too often caught up in the details of life to step back, stand still, and really participate deeply in the world around me. Too busy looking for better shells than the ones I already have to look up and bask in the sacred sublimity of the radiant sun setting over the mighty sea, too busy even to stop and examine carefully the shells that I already hold in my hand. It seems rather silly when I think about it. The details become so much less important when I look at the vastness of life, and yet properly placed within the grand scheme of things they become so much more beautiful and meaningful than they are on their own.

I stood gazing at the water for a long time, all these thoughts running through my mind. Whenever a wave would recede back into the next the sunlight would glitter furiously on the millions of little ripples of water, sinking at last into the sand and the swell of the next wave. I pray that I consistently take the time to bask in the glory and unity of everything around me, working together towards beauty, and that I never get so hung up on searching for sea shells that I miss the ocean entirely.