Today At Meetingbrook

Saturday, August 24, 2002



The prologues are over. It is a question, now,
Of final belief. So, say that final belief
Must be in a fiction. It is time to choose.

(in poem "Asides On The Oboe" by Wallace Stevens)

Fiction is a word with its origin in the Latin fictus, past participle of fingere to shape, fashion, feign. Definition # 2 in Webster's 7th reads, "an assumption of a possibility as a fact irrespective of the question of its truth."

Shaping any experience into something other than itself, while a work of imagination and creativity, is a fiction. Some readers love fiction because it reminds them of something familiar. Some avoid fiction for the same reason -- preferring to stay with verifiable and solid facts, something that stubs toes and bangs heads when met.

So much of our autobiography is fiction. The same event, looked at from long distances over stretches of time, can be written and re-written innumerably with only vague resemblance one version to the other. It is a shaping that fashions and feigns as it forms itself.

Right now -- chirping birds fill dooryard. Candle flame lowers toward brass holder. Man in yard pulls red truck forward 20 feet, moves something from tail end of station wagon to truck, reverses gear returning red truck to original parking spot. Sunlight passes over green plant, water bottle on its side, glances weathered cover of "poems Wallace Stevens," touching fingertip on keyboard. Sound of car finishing downhill of Ragged/Bald mountain sluice.

My life is fiction whenever the attempt to portray it distances me from it. My life is a work of fiction. Only in the living of it, or, only in its living itself, does it approach fact.

Nothing wrong with fiction. Nor with conversation. And nothing wrong with listening through the shaping syllables like fingers in wet clay for the sound we recognize as our own. We become our own creation when we shape our own image, allowing others their own shape.

It worked with God. It is the way God works.

If you say on the hautboy man is not enough,
Can never stand as god, is ever wrong
In the end, however naked, tall, there is still
The impossible possible philosopher's man,
The man who has had time to think enough,
The central man, the human globe, responsive
As a mirror with a voice, the man of glass,
Who in a million diamonds sums us up.


II

He is the transparence of the place in which
He is and in his poems we find peace.
He sees this peddler's pie and cries in summer,
The glass man, cold and numbered, dewily cries,
"Thou art not August unless I make thee so."
Clandestine steps upon imagined stairs
Climb through the night, because his cuckoos call.

(Stevens)

It is not an issue whether or not to believe in prison. It is enough to visit and enter conversation.
It is not an issue what ideal or fiction any of us chooses to hold as true. It suffices to choose.
What we see once we choose depends so much on what we make of ourselves in the work we undertake.

I heard only a fragment of Charlie's question in the prison conversation circle yesterday. He asked, "What's enough...?"
This morning I sense I heard enough -- of his question, and of the answer imbedded in his question -- as his question.

What's enough?
What is -- that's enough!

We had always been partly one. It was as we came
To see him, that we were wholly one, as we heard
Him chanting for those buried in their blood,
In the jasmine haunted forests, that we knew
The glass man, without external reference.

(Stevens)


Friday, August 23, 2002

It is the nature of stone to be satisfied.
It is the nature of water to want to be somewhere else.

(from, The Leaf And The Cloud, book length poem by Mary Oliver, in chapter, "Gravel.")

Gale, Richard, and I know we've been to prison. After collecting driver’s licenses and keys we walk out the front door to parking lot with common feeling something simple and extraordinary has just taken place. Clouds have found room in a place without space.

My hut isn’t quite six feet across
Surrounded by pine, bamboos, and mountains,
An old monk hardly has room for himself
Much less for a visiting cloud.

- Shih-wu (1272-1352)(dailyzen)

We read Camus' essay on Sisyphus, then introductory words by Zukov in The Dancing Wu Li Masters

Andre's poem is read twice:

TIME

I'm lost in a space in time,
cause time and spaces have me racing,
trying to make a finish line,
wasting seconds chasing him,
and not pacing mine,
until seconds add to decades in second place,
and I'm praying on my deathbed for one more day,
they say it's no time left,
just give me one more breath,
breathe in my mouth,
press on my chest,
send shock waves,
and when I'm saved hook to that thing for respiration,
let me remember every Christmas in December,
and every family member that was at Thanksgiving dinner,
just give me one minute,
let me ask for forgiveness,
I should have been more religious,
but I spent hours sinning,
I spent months of calendars smoking and drinking,
endless women,
what was I thinking with all that senseless spending?
It got me nowhere,
just dizziness and unclear vision,
now I’m aware and I can't hear
time and time again, I lose focus
where did time go,
the clock tics, but I can't watch it,
it's sort of like I'm going blind slow,
losing optics, losing my mind, losing my soul
.
(- poem by Andre)

The souls of those in prison know the lines of Mary Oliver about stone and water.

Some are captive in the burden of their lives.
Not many know existential satisfaction in the absence of external freedom.
Most sense that somewhere else is dwelling place for their essential self -- that the journey is worth the letting go..

We visit these places in ourselves. We speak to each other of what is seen there. There is a willingness to play with absurdity as it sounds in voices we speak and voices we hear.

We laugh. There is a balancing earnest and playful intersection within the circle. It sounds true.

The sound is community.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

What is le point vierge (the virgin point)? Thomas Merton cites Louis Massignon introducing the phrase to him, quoting a saying of al-Hallaj to the effect that "our hearts are a virgin that God's truth alone opens."

Wednesday Evening Conversation, reading Mary Margaret Funk's chapter "Purity of Heart, A Dialogue" from Purity of Heart and Contemplation -- A Monastic Dialogue Between Christian and Asian Traditions, (Edited by Bruno Barnhart and Joseph Wong, c.2001):

"The consecrated term in Sufism is 'fana,' annihilation or disintegration, a loss of self, a real spiritual death. But mere annihilation and death are not enough: they must be followed by reintegration and new life on a totally different level. This reintegration is what the Sufis call 'baqa.' The process of disintegration and reintegration is one that involves a terrible interior solitude and an 'existential moratorium,' a crisis and an anguish, which cannot be analyzed or intellectualized. It also requires a solitary fortitude far beyond the ordinary, 'an act of courage related to the root of all existence.' It would be utterly futile to try to 'cure' this anguish by bringing the 'patient' as quickly and as completely as possible into the warm bosom of togetherness." ( p.289, quoting Thomas Merton, "Final Integration: Toward a 'Monastic Therapy.' ")

Tommy comes in as the conversation comes to an end to help settle up purchases and notes from the last few days. We talk to a couple from Georgia.

As Dirk, Joanie, Jim and I finish the circle I wonder whether a new sign might be posted over the beds of those in hospice or nursing home final stages of life. Instead of DNR (do not resuscitate) perhaps DMR (disintegration, moratorium, & reintegration) might better identify the process taking place.

It is in "a terrible solitude" we encounter the nothingness, emptiness, and transparency of God's truth.

No wonder we avoid being alone. And by avoiding such solitude we know no wonder.

How wonder-full, how wonder-empty -- is the life of God-itself with us!

Tuesday, August 20, 2002



The women in Saskia's family travel from Ragged to Saddleback Mountain to celebrate births and retreat. Three women friends of Saskia's (along with the always willing Tommy) cover shop and bake in her absence. These women are surrounding mountains, clear lakes, and open skies in a time of support.

When this Woman of Tao left the mountain,
The mountain turned as gray as ashes;
The white clouds hid away their smiles,
And the blue pines were filled with grief.
Suddenly came news of the Woman of Tao’s return,
And bird’s song burst open the mountain valleys.
A divine light radiates from the precious temples,
And a dharma rain washes away the swirling dust.

- Su Shih (1073)(dailyzen)

It finally rains a short while. Hard ground will not yet be softened.

Paul Tillich (8/20/1886 - 10/22/1965) said, "Faith comprises both itself and doubt of itself." It's his birthday. I like the way he uses the word "itself." That word has become, like the phrase "what is" -- in my eyes -- alternate spellings of "God." The more something or someone becomes "itself" the more it changes. And the more a thing changes, the more it becomes itself. Allowing and accepting this is faith.

Faith allows itself access to you and me. Faith accepts what is found there. Faith becomes itself when mountain and rain, valley and birdsong -- each and every sound swirling in the dust of our footsteps -- finds rest in a silence of watchful becoming. This -- is what is -- becoming.

For Tillich, the Ground of Being knows dust well. For Women of the Tao, ground itself lifts itself, finds their feet, and carries them along.

Doubt it? No doubt!

Step lively!

Monday, August 19, 2002

On pond in northern Maine, loon glides and dives near canoe. Two old women sit on white couch opening presents. They are one and eleven days from their eightieth birthdays. One wears tiara, one cries. Both sport blinking buttons from a grandchild. They are at this moment happy.

At dawn two dogs step off dock into green canoe and settle into silent surface water smoke. Wood paddle slides smoothly through no ripples. It is ruhe morgan.

At night the young people drink and hit new drum from Africa the Peace Corps brother has sent. The sound carries over pond and we are paddling down a river in the Congo, message of a foreign ethos rebounding off mountain. Fire in pit, high and hot, as all join the 80 year olds in semi-circle.

I drive back alone listening to talk by Tibetan on Diamond Cutter Sutra.
Something about northern loons -- with disappearance below surface, return finds everything changed.