After a well celebrated Easter, many of us hope that we will lightly and also seriously surrender into awareness of our deep oneness with everyone and everything.
Billy Collins poem, Aimless Love, playfully dances us into possible scenes of transformed awareness:
Billy Collins’ poem reminds us of how joyful it is to join in the lives of fellow living creatures and even of things. We feel that creation needs our love at this time. Brian Swimme and other Cosmologists tell us that there seems to be evidence that the universe must have known we were coming. We dare to hope that we each were created with something needed at this particular time. We hope we have what it takes to see and respond to the signs of our times.
We know that we humans are able to imagine ourselves inside the lives of other humans in both their joys and their sorrows. Among the signs of our times are great joy as we come out of isolation because of the pandemic. Other signs of our times are suffering from famine, war, soil and water degradation, mental illness and so much more that is dangerous to, as Thomas Berry put it, “our made of earth community.”
This Spring I read two very clear and beautiful books by Albert Nowlan. In his most recent book, Jesus Today, Nowlan recognizes the widespread acute need and awareness of people’s need for spirituality. In Jesus Today, and also in his previous book, Jesus before Christianity, Nowlan convincingly makes the case that everything Jesus did was motivated by his compassion for people. Furthermore, Nowlan points out that, as compassion demands, Jesus thought of and responded to people as individuals rather than as groups or tribes of people.
Albert Nolan is a Dominican priest from South Africa who played a part in the church’s struggle against apartheid. Both these books which I read are helpful for anyone addressing the signs of a particular time. His focus is on the question of what can be done about the daily suffering of people. He says that Jesus was willing to die for his own conviction that individuals are precious and that, if we look at Jesus with open minds from the perspective of our present time, we will be at a good starting point for addressing the suffering of our time. Nolan addresses the urgent reality of our present situation.
Both books are as clear as a bell. They are fruit of Nowlan’s lifetime studies of Jesus’ deep communion with God and God’s creation. I hope we are able to advance our own deeper communion with God in oneness. We are working on this together.
I offer this poem, which I wrote in 1982, not because I think it is a good poem. I offer it because it came to me and has stayed with me. I hope some poems come to you and stay with you. I hope you honor your insights.
I took a course in American Literature when we lived in Northern Ontario. After reading and being smitten with Mark Twain’s novel, Huckleberry Finn, I had some thoughts and feelings about the novel’s two main characters, Huck and Jim. They were close friends but their social relationship and power in the community were not equal. Sometimes I identified with Huck and sometimes with Jim.
Jim, who in the story believed he was still an enslaved person, was naïve and gullible but was also honest and sweet in his friendship with Huck. Huck treated Jim badly and got away with it because he was a white boy. He painted Jim blue which humiliated Jim. He tied Jim up and sometimes threatened to ‘turn Jim in’ because Jim was thought to be a runaway.
But, Jim was blessed with natural intelligence. He knew that a storm was coming because of the way the birds were behaving. He recognized the two main fraudulent characters in the story, the King and the Duke, and knew it was best to stay away from them. Jim was stalwart in his friendship with Huck. He was a good friend. When the two boys were together on the river in the raft, just the two of them, they were both sweet and respectful of each other, good friends.
The boys’ friendship issues were more or less resolved at the end of the story. Jim had been given his freedom by Miss Watson and had not known it. Huck did eventually leave. He ‘lit out for the Territories.’ It was something he had thought about and talked about.
My two ongoing questions about the story are: What and where are ‘the Territories’ in people’s stories? And, are Huck and Jim forevermore connected because of their love for each other? I remember that the structure of metaphysical poems is in this order: remembrance, understanding and will.
Many poems are loosely structured in this way. For me, ‘the Territories’ in Mark Twain’s novel could represent understanding or, in more modern terms, consciousness. ‘The Territories’ could be Huck’s understanding that he will need space and movement in the world if he is going to’ grow’ into his true adult self.
In the case of my little poem, ’Witness’ and ‘Testiga’ on pages 22 and 23 of Poems~Poemas, the ‘will’ part of the structure of the poem would be my vowing to remain open to whatever newness I witness.
The insight is the importance of the freedom to be open to what is new.
As we begin this fourth week in Lent, I decide, as I have decided before, that I like the life of a pilgrim. I like to begin every week with preparations that will help me keep focused on one goal that is beyond my grasp. My goal is to allow myself to be transformed into my true self.
I like mystery because I am a mystery to myself and everyone I meet is a mystery to me. Karl Rahner, who was the Roman Catholic of the twentieth century, famously said that Christians of the twenty–first century would be mystics or they would not be at all. Rahner thought and spoke of God as ‘Holy Mystery.’
An adventure like a pilgrimage calls for some taking stock. This is my list of preparations for pilgrimage.
Take note of what your situation and surroundings are and of what you have at your disposal.
Be prepared to use what you have on hand. (You don’t need to go to a store.)
Do what you can.
Last weekend our clocks sprang ahead marking the end of a season of darkness here in Canada. I am glad to see more blue sky today. There is now more light and length in our days. I am glad of this, and yet, I am going to miss the winter long nights darkness with the nuanced sunlight and moonlight that sift through the clouds.
Darkness is part of what many of us have gone to for solitude and reflection on the terrors and disappointments of this time. Famine, war, lies and other breakdowns challenge our minds and hearts.
Meister Eckhart said in the fourteenth century that the ground of our souls is dark in a darkness that invites us to enter into depth. We hope that darkness is part of the transformation of our small egos into a closer resemblance to what is good. We remember that sometimes darkness is the mystery that allows us to see the light in the darkness.
This is darkness which we do not want to be lost to us. One of my friends, who is a Psychologist for children and adults, says that at this time, perhaps because it is springtime, also perhaps because we know the tradition of Lent, we are wrestling more than usual with our personal and also our collective shadow selves. The shadow which we all have is what makes us turn away from or hide from what we cannot look at because it makes us feel ashamed of ourselves and at times ashamed of our entire human race. We seem to have shadow in endless supply.
One variety of shadow that many of us wrestle with at this time is our personal and communal obsession with our phones and devices. This obsessive shadow habit of paying too much attention to our electronic devices keeps us from being in loving community with what Thomas Berry calls,’ our made of earth community.’
For me, the image of us as ‘hubs,’ perhaps like phone booths, is a dark image which stands against our hope to be full of transcendent light and moving towards our hoped for transformation. The ‘hub’ is truly shadow for me. I am aware of it and trying to remember that it is not a good thing.
In contrast to the image of our being ‘hubs,’ I like the image of our being like golden daffodils reaching towards sunlight that is beyond their reach, but is nonetheless life giving. This transcendent hope, for us and for our larger communities, is large and mysterious. It is transcendent hope because It takes us beyond our small egoic selves into a realm which is mystery beyond what we can imagine, the image of our‘ golden shadow.’
Every year I need time during Lent to learn how to carry the list of things which I try to hide from my mind and heart. I need help learning how to not turn away from what is surely part of my responsibility to hold up to the light . I need the strength of character to respond when there is opportunity to say or do something that will help another person or other persons to live their lives. The injustice and violence which keep people from life is both close to us in our communities and cities and also far from us – even across the world. Part of what makes this difficult for us is that we humans are mammals and, like all mammals, we are local-minded. It is a stretch of our hearts and minds to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. We need help with this.
One thing that helps me pay attention to shadow is what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel says we should do. He says we should try to act on behalf of goodness as stand ins for God’s own goodness. . Isn’t that mystery!! It is too wonderful for me to understand but I see the golden hope in what he is saying.
Rabbi Heschel lived during the holocaust and was an active presence during the Civil rights movement, and beyond, until 1972. He was friends with Martin Luther King Jr. and with Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. Heschel spoke up and spoke out but he also listened carefully and thoughtfully to other voices who said that God has abandoned us. In response to this, Heschel reminded us that God loves us and made a covenant with us that gives us freedom to choose, a covenant in which God promised to give us freedom, even the freedom to destroy ourselves and each other.
He lived his life in the belief that the creator and all loving God will not interfere with our freedom. His stance and perhaps what Rabbi Heschel is most loved and honored for is this recommendation: ‘Praise before Prayer.’
He recommends that we respond to what we praise with awe and wonder.
This is solid ‘pure gold advice’ for us as we try to help God drag our shadow attitudes and behaviors into the golden light of transcendent transformation. May we help each other with this good work!
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. In the city where we live, priests and ministers were out on city streets this morning in the bitter cold offering to place ashes on the foreheads of those who wanted that for themselves.
The light in the morning sky is not bright here in late February. Here are the words said by the person who places the ashes: Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
I expect that the receivers of the ashes are reminded by these actions and words that they are alive, and that whatever makes them alive is akin to fire.
The burning bush through which God confronted Moses in Exodus 3:1-4 is a sign that holy flames are not extinguished.
I wonder what we, who see ourselves as walking through Lent into what will be Easter, can find to fan the flames within us that help us walk through the end of winter, through a garden where betrayal happens, and a graveyard, in order to reach what we are hoping for. I also wonder how we can kindle holy flames in those around us who are our neighbors and families.
A large painting hangs in the stairwell leading from the front door of our home down to our studies and our recreation room. We have hung this painting in prominent places in our past four homes. We bought it in Santa Fe New Mexico when we knew we were moving from Toronto to the south-west of the US. This is the painting that receives more comments than anything else in our home. For me and my husband, this painting is a precious reminder of our hope for our participation in holy things which do not burn up.
The predominant colors in the painting of sunshine yellow and sand colored pueblo houses with air tones of pink and turquoise are reminiscent of the colors of the Sandia (‘watermelon’ in English) Mountains. At the center of the painting and moving up the mountain away from us is a single file of people on horseback. They are wearing brightly colored ponchos or what might be middle-eastern cloaks. The glorious light spreading out and over us from the pueblo-like dwelling at the top of the mountain gives the entire painting a glow that feels like glory.
The other features in the landscape going up the mountain are wonderfully open to our interpretation. The way up the mountain is steep. There is a dark shadowy strip which extends into brighter colors as it slashes across the path about one quarter of the way up the mountain. Someone told me that this could be an abyss. Perhaps the eye of the beholder of the painting sees what they need to see. Further up the path is a structure that some people have said reminds them of an open tomb. Further up still are groups of shadowy figures which may seem like groups of ancestors who are accompanying the other more brightly colored figures on their climb up the mountain. One person saw these shadowy mauve figures as possibly ‘the shining ones’ that John Bunyan, in The Pilgrim’s Progress, said could be seen by people in the higher vistas of the journey.
The artist who created this painting, which is called The Ascent, is B.C. Nowlin. Look him up on Google,–‘BC Nowlin Paintings’ and also see his website. Glimpse more of his paintings and hear him speak about his work. He says that his focus is always bright in the distance, a place he would like to view. He also says that he has always been, and he hopes that we too, are traveling for love towards a hopeful future. B.C. Nowlin is not an indigenous person. His family’s land formed the southern boundary of The Sandia Pueblo Reservation and he is steeped in both Hispanic culture and Puebloan Mysticism. He grew up in Alameda, New Mexico. He says, and I agree with him, that we are all tribal people
Look at the poem, ‘Towards Phoenix ‘ on page 10 of Poems Poemas.
The game of baseball has a special place in my heart. The crack of a bat connecting with a baseball invites dreamy memories.
In the 1950’s, when I was a young kid, my busy mother took me, just me, to watch baseball games in Labatt’s Memorial Park in London Ontario. I looked it up and see that it is the oldest continually operating baseball grounds in the world. My mother probably went to games there when she was a child.
My brothers and little sister stayed home with the housekeeper while my mother and I talked about the game, the players, the crowd, the fading daylight and the thrill we felt when the stadium lights flashed on.
I never played anything but school and neighbourhood pick up baseball. I was not a fan of particular players or teams. But — I have always loved the ‘laid-back’ look of baseball players. As I grew older I assumed that they drank beer together and slouched on sofas while they watched TV.
The other thing that I have always liked is the way time is mysterious in baseball. There can be ‘time- outs’ and, every year no-one knows when the World Series is ‘over’ till it’s over.
Below is the first sestina I ever wrote. I wrote the first part of it while I was studying theology and spirituality and our children were mostly at home with us. I wrote the last three lines, which make it a true sestina, just a few years ago.