I am always wondering if there’s something holy between people, a formless thing, something that can’t be bruised

Monique Passion, Secret

I keep wondering what, in me, might be constant. I catch myself looking for that remainder, retracing my steps as if in search of lost keys. I am always wondering if there’s something holy between people, a formless thing, something that can’t be bruised… But maybe I really did sense something vague and holy in others’ eyes, something sacred in crowds, in a bus of people staring out their windows, watching life. There should be a middle ground between believing in a certain god and believing that some mysterious third substance was between people. Like churches, I thought, there should be a place for people who just weren’t sure. There should be a place for people who see something but won’t dare say what it is. Maybe there’s something, something between people that is more than air and empty space, something holy in that nothing between one face and another.

~ Catherine Lacey, from “The Answers: A Novel” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, June 6, 2017)


Art: Monique Passicot, “Whispers“, 1991, colored pencil / graphite, 10x7in (via Hidden Sanctuary)

Walking Cross-Town. Or, on the Highway to Hell?

It’s late evening, the sun is setting, the end of a long day. I’m sitting in a Metro North train car on my commute home reflecting on the day. Cool air streams down from the overhead vents.

Summer has arrived in Manhattan, and despite this 23 square mile piece of land being surrounded on all sides by water, the Island can be 10-20° F hotter than it is at home in the suburbs – billions of tons of concrete, steel and asphalt broiling under the late day Sun.

I had read his essay the prior week, and it was still rooting its way into my core, into the marrow of my bones.  I flip open my e-reader to re-read the passages that I have highlighted in George Yancy’s “Is Your God Dead?” where he speaks to leaving our God in our places of worship or in our good intentions.  [Read more…]

Lightly child, lightly.

This question is addressed not to Muslims, not to Arabs, but to all the children of Adam and Eve. […] There is no need to “acquire” religious knowledge. There’s only the need to let it go: let go of the egoism, the sexism, the nationalism, the tribalism. Then the inner jewel of our hearts will shine. […] Let us also answer yes. Let us also recover these jewels in our hearts and in our traditions. Here’s the challenge we find ourselves in. All of us have to drink from waters that run deep. And we have to also engage and purify the very fountains that we are drinking from. Let us dedicate ourselves to cleansing these ancient fountains.

Yes, there are real jewels in each of our traditions. And they are all covered in filth and junk that is centuries old. In some ways, the jewels shine today as they have always shone. There is a light that’s too bright to be put out. At the very same time, the filth and shit of racism, tribalism, nationalism, colonialism, classism continues to cover the jewels. There is a jewel inside our own hearts. That jewel, the inner divine knowledge, also shines so bright. It too has to be purified from the filth of egoism, sexism, and greed.

Let us wash these jewels,
you and I.

Let us rinse these jewels,
you and I.

Let us polish these jewels,
you and I.

Let us be in awe of our own inner light,
you and I.

We dive, and keep diving, into these oceans, picking out dirty jewels.

We curate these jewels and think about which jewels, which stories, which teachings, which practices are worth passing on to our children. So many are. Not all of them are.

There will be a polishing that our own children will have to do. We may be too deeply immersed in some of the filth to see it.

Let us be divers after pearls, friends.

Let us cleanse the fountains we drink from.

And then we will be able to sing together:

This little light of mine,
I am gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine,
I am gonna let it shine.

~ Omid Safi, from Our Traditions Are Gems Covered in Centuries of Junk (Onbeing.org, June 14, 2017)


Notes:

  • Photo: gosia janik (Madrid, Spain) with “I co teraz?” via mennyfox55
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

What was He (She?) doing before He made heaven and earth?

Augustine is frank about his ignorance of the divine and natural order and dogged in his pursuit of clarity. His conclusions and his introspective method would inform centuries of subsequent philosophers, from Descartes (whose cogito ergo sum—I think therefore I am—is a direct echo of Augustine’s dubito ergo sum, I doubt therefore I am) to Heidegger to Wittgenstein. He grapples with the Beginning: “I will set about replying to the questioner who asks, ‘What was God doing before he made heaven and earth?’ But I will not respond with that joke someone is said to have made: ‘He is getting hell ready for people who inquisitively peer into deep matters.’

~ Alan Burdick, “Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation” (Simon & Schuster, January 24, 2017)


Photo: via Mennyfox55

That – and no more, and it is everything to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything

In one of the rare interviews he did, the fiction writer and poet Denis Johnson — who died on Wednesday at 67 — was asked about his craft, and he quoted these lines from Joseph Conrad: “My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything.”

In his own novels and poems, Mr. Johnson fulfilled that task with extraordinary savagery and precision. He used his startling gift for language to create word pictures as detailed and visionary, and as varied, as paintings by Edward Hopper and Hieronymus Bosch, capturing the lives of outsiders — the lost, the dispossessed, the damned — with empathy and unsparing candor. Whether set in the bars and motels of small-town America, or the streets of wartime Saigon, his stories depict people living on the edge, addicted to drugs or adrenaline or fantasy, reeling from the idiocies and exigencies of modern life, and longing for salvation…

Mr. Johnson’s America, past or present, is uncannily resonant today. It’s a troubled land, staggering from wretched excess and aching losses, a country where dreams have often slipped into out-and-out delusions, and people hunger for deliverance, if only in the person of a half-baked messiah. Reason is in short supply here, and grifters and con men peddling conspiracy thinking and fake news abound; families are often fragmented or nonexistent; and primal, Darwinian urges have replaced the rule of law. And yet, and yet, amid the bewilderment and despair, there are lightning flashes of wonder and hope — glimpses of the possibility of redemption…

“What I write about,” Mr. Johnson once said, “is really the dilemma of living in a fallen world, and asking: ‘Why is it like this if there’s supposed to be a God?’”

~ Michiko Kakutani, excerpts from Denis Johnson’s Poetic Visions of a Fallen World


Find Denis Johnson’s Books on his Page at Amazon here.

It’s been a long day

God has mercifully ordered that the human brain works slowly;
first the blow,
hours afterwards the bruise.

Walter de la Mare, from the The Return.


Notes:

Miracle. All of it.

lava

Mount Etna on Sicily spews lava as it erupts on March 1, 2017.

(Inspired by:

God, that old furnace, keeps talking
with his mouth of teeth,
a beard stained at feasts, and his breath
of gasoline, airplane, human ash.
His love for me feels like fire,
feels like doves, feels like river-water.

Li-Young Lee, from “This Hour and What Is Dead,” The City In Which I Love You)

 


Notes:

  • Photograph: Antonio Parrinello, Reuters, March, 1, 2017, wsj.com
  • Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.

Feeling Trapped

spiritual-board

When William Campion was in the intensive-care unit (ICU) this month after a double lung transplant, he felt nervous and scared and could breathe only with the help of a machine.

Joel Nightingale Berning, a chaplain at Mr. Campion’s hospital stopped by. He saw that Mr. Campion had a tube in his neck and windpipe, which prevented him from speaking. The chaplain held up a communication board—not the kind used to check a patient’s physical pain and needs, but a “spiritual board” … The board also lets patients rate their level of spiritual pain on a scale of 0 through 10, from none to “extreme.” Mr. Campion, a 69-year-old Catholic, indicated his spiritual pain was acute: 8. Using the picture board, he signaled that he wanted to pray. The chaplain recited the Lord’s Prayer as Mr. Campion followed silently.

ICUs have evolved in recent years and even the critically ill are being sedated less than before. As doctors came to believe that heavy sedation—once the norm in such units—could be harmful, many patients are now breathing with the help of machines, and are conscious…more ICU patients (are) awake and alert.  The fact that these patients can’t communicate adds to their frustration…many patients on these machines feel “trapped.”…They have been intubated, meaning they have a tube in their throat, attached to a machine that is breathing for them….

The 32-year-old chaplain, who is nondenominational, persuaded a fellow chaplain—Seigan Ed Glassing, a Zen Buddhist monk who had studied art—to help illustrate the board. The two included a range of faiths and belief systems, including Christian, Jewish and Hindu, as well as New Age, Pagan and agnostic. Colorful icons offer patients the option of a prayer or confession, or simply to have someone hold their hand. Chaplain Glassing said he loved figuring out “what would a blessing look like,” or how to draw “make [me] an altar.” A favorite: depicting someone asking to be read a poem.

The study, with results published last August in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, looked at 50 ICU patients who were offered spiritual care through the board. Researchers measured patients’ anxiety before and after the chaplain came, concluding that “anxiety after the first visit decreased 31%.”

Among patients who survived, 81% “felt more at peace,” while 71% felt “more connected with what is sacred.”

~ Lucette Lagnado, excerpts from A ‘Spiritual Board’ Brings Comfort to the Critically Ill


Post inspired and triggered by two of my favorite movies: The Bell and The Butterfly and The Sea Inside.

Running. With This.

sky-blue-birds

What cycles up When on the random shuffle on a 7,231 song playlist and Why?

Is it so random?

The ears tune into her lyrics, Joan Armatrading’s “Heaven“:

“Am I in Heaven? Am I in Heaven? Am I in Heaven? Have I gone up. Have I gone up. To the big cloud.”

This asphalt. This footfall. This foam cushioning my footfall. This swoosh of a flock overhead. This red breasted robin foraging on the damp grass. This gentle morning breeze cooling. This bead of sweat that’s made its way from forehead to cheek to lips, this salt lick.  This sky stretching to the heavens, down to earth, to this ground, to this hip, this thigh, this leg, this calf, these feet – all propelling this body forward.

This, not the Rue de l’Abreuvoir in Paris. Not the Ramblas in Barcelona. Or the gardens of Łazienki Królewskie in Warsaw. This patch of ground here. Here. Now. [Read more…]

Walking. Walking it down the cheek.

tear-cheek

1:32 am.

Halldór’s nightlessness and insomnia in all directions.

A new routine, and I’ve grooved it. To bed early, wake early, read to exhaustion, and back to sleep until sunrise.

I flick on the iPad, illuminating the dark. I get after it. The Journal. The Times. Apple News. Blog posts. RSS feeds in Feedly. A few late night incoming emails. And then to dessert, a chapter or two on Kindle, half-way through Lebedev’s Oblivion.  It’s 3:15 am, I’m turning pages on a title called Oblivion, now that’s something. You must sleep, or you will pay dearly.

I set the e-gear down, turn on the left side, and pull up the covers. Fragments of news, pages, posts, emails and today’s full day calendar are flitting by, churning, the mind workin’, workin’. Anxiety…A piece rises to the top. Begley: “A compulsion is at once psychological balm and curse, surface madness and profound relief…The ability of compulsive behaviors to quiet anxieties great and small is one of the greatest gifts our brains can give us.”

I pause, close my eyes, and marinate in this…if this is the greatest gift our brains can give us, I am fully gifted, fully loaded. FULL UP.

And, then, it stopped. The churning stopped. [Read more…]

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