Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Who shows the real world?

A pine fragrance
Fresh from meditation
Raise the curtain
Receive the evening’s cool
Exquisite, nestled in green bamboo,
The moon, wordless
Crossing the eastern wall.

- Ts’an Liao Tzu (c. 1077)(dailyzen)

Many invoke ‘the real world.’ They say -- In the real world it takes strong military and moral leadership to subdue evil and what is wrong.

For Heidegger the ultimately real world is not a massive, undifferentiated in-itself which inspires nausea; it is rather the world of the artist and the poet – a richer and more luminous world than the skeletal world of steel and glass which man has invented; a world of flashy elements such as air, fire, water, and earth; a world which speaks to man, imperiously perhaps and obscurely, but also inspiringly. On the other hand, the level of consciousness by which man has access to the real world is not a pure nothingness which creates its own meanings out of whole cloth. It is rather a level of consciousness which harkens to the voice of Being and which consents to be “the shepherd of Being.”(pp.137-8, in An Invitation to Existentialism, by Robert G. Olson, c.1962)

Heidegger said the authentic human being is ultimately a person who has been illuminated by Being and who has made himself/herself the shepherd of Being.

As Iraq comes under United States military control there is relief the killing and destruction will be coming to an end.

It is still difficult to comprehend that ‘the real world’ requires murder, maiming, indiscriminate bombing, and terrible choices of destroy or be destroyed – to bring peace and end cruel dictatorship.

When Jesus encountered the woman caught in adultery he replicated Daniel’s intervention with Susannah and her accusers.
Jesus’ words not only save a woman but [also] defuse a potential explosion. Nobody dies that day. Instead, everyone goes home considerably more attuned to humility and truth.
Nonviolent efforts for justice and peace work that way. Like Jesus, they do not turn the crowd against anyone, innocent or guilty. Rather they gently touch that part of the conscience that is still soft and inviolate, where truth still rings true and where peace is still a tender longing.

(pp.183-4, in The Holy Longing, by Ronald Rolheiser, c.1999)

We’ve looked at the world these last weeks and months presented us by dictators and missionary slayers of evil regimes with their weapons of mass destruction.

Now that our world and spirits are shattered with violence and injustice, it is time for poets and artists to help us find a richer and more luminous world.

The Holy Longing
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
because the mass man will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
what longs to be burned to death.

In the calm water of the love-nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
a strange feeling comes over you,
when you see the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making sweeps you upward.

Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven't experienced this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.

(Translated from the German by Robert Bly)

We welcome troubled guests.
We share with them a tender longing.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

We are losing.

We are way off.

Think again. Perhaps you mistakenly think it is the war we are losing. No. It is something else we are losing. We all feel it. What is it we are losing? Is there a way to find what is lost?

Today sick at heart expands to sick in body. Mu-ge, Cesco, and Sando surround Saskia. Lemon tea, cranberry juice, phone call from mother. Her sore throat, shivers, and headache group under blankets.

Solitude of troubled mind and spirit engulfs the hermitage. Redwing blackbirds arrive back. Saw-whet owl stops by at 2AM. Stillness bereft of consolation haunts dooryard.

War backs up to barn unloading wounded, shocked children, shorn legs, and decapitated corpses smelling of burnt flesh and urine. Mouths open in soundless scream haunt barn and basement. Confused spirits pass close by; their sorrowing eyes ask questions not able to be held by words. No part of the world is exempt from the questions they carry. No house is soundproofed against their mute lament and grief. There is no homeland security against the questions of conscience posed by the dead and displaced among us.

Elsewhere, a smiling president commander in chief in photo-op news conference from Belfast, Northern Ireland, says no longer are ten fingers of a dictator strangling Iraqi people. They are being cut off, one by one, he says.

It is hard to balance his belief he is God’s right hand with the severed hands and eviscerated bowels of soldiers, news reporters, women, children. Onlookers wince from all points of planet’s circumference.

Prayer, I suspect, becomes unnecessary for the proud fathers of this rape insemination of cloning democracy. Their smashed test-tube testosterone creation suckle bitter gunpowder and shrapnel swizzle from male breasts demurring they are only doing their job making the world safe for their control.

Derangement, suspicion of being way off, is a constant suspicion.

The monk Thomas Merton upset many by opposing war and administration during the 1960s. Merton’s voice was scripted in Anthony Padovano’s play about him:
O.K. So I’m ill at ease with myself. The problem with a lot of people around here is that they try to keep me from becoming what I’m supposed to be. The abbot does, and most of my readers do. They want a monk who’s very – monkish. Monkey business. That’s what they want. A performance

Well, I won’t perform. It’s not the schedule or the routine or the fasting or the celibacy or the prayers that make a good monk. It’s what you do with who you are. That’s what makes you good – period. I won’t be good on schedule or perform in a monastic circus for an audience that looks in on my life but doesn’t really know or care about the inner me, the person God has given a vocation to, a vocation to be himself.

(p. 16 in Conscience and Conflict, A Trilogy of One-Actor Plays, 1st section, “Winter Rain” about Thomas Merton, by Anthony Padovano, c.1988)

It is both comforting and puzzling to consider that each person’s vocation is to be oneself, himself or herself.

Dense, soundless,
Falling through azure emptiness
Swirling clouds sing and
Dance in the soft breeze.
As the recluse hums a line
In praise of hidden places
Vagrant flakes drift in and
Stain his inkstone black.

- Tzu Lan (c 890)(dailyzen)

Up the path, chapel/zendo flag blows “Open” white against purple along brown earth mulling its own decision whether to spring this year. There, inside the rough wood silence, is found souls of the living and the dead. In stillness they gather. In language of watchful presence they sit side by side below sound of black/white chickadee breaking seed on roof.

These souls wary of words come to sit inside the word of life. They cannot hear the explanations and arguments of those taking sides arguing who’s right and who’s wrong. They know war and they know death. War and death have brought them into another way of hearing. They now hear only what is life. Anything not merely, simply, life is outside their comprehension, outside their capability. They are inside. They are inside everything, inside where no one is right or wrong, where opposites do not exist separate from each other. They are in that place where way gives way to opening for passage.

Getting opposites together. That’s what I need now in my life.

You’re a Buddhist and I’m a Christian. You’re Dr. Suzuki, the famous scholar from the east, and I’m Tom Merton, the writer from the west. I want to know why I find a compatibility between things my church tells me I should find incompatible. Do I find this because I’m arrogant or because I’m spiritual? Because I’m narrow or because I have vision? I feel as though I’m going to confession – to a Buddhist.

I went to to Gethsemane to find simplicity and freedom. Now I’m complicated and confined. Part of the reason why I’m here is because I went there. So the road I have taken has not been the wrong one.

Yes, I agree. There are no wrong roads. I once thought there were, that the whole world was a wrong road and most of the people in the world were misdirected.

I see God now as an inner gyroscope in each life – as a compass that directs the human heart safely.

(p.19, Act Three, “White Rain,” Padovano)

What is it we are losing? Is it our way, or way itself?

Not the American way. Not the Iraqi way. Not the British way. Not the way of governments that arrogantly refuse to ask anyone else about their way. What way are we losing?

The character Merton says, “I see God now as an inner gyroscope in each life – as a compass that directs the human heart safely.”

Is it “God now,” God’s way we are losing? Is it God’s way that we, each of us, find and live one’s own true way? And if we lose that, are we lost?

If the human heart loses its compass and direction to safely live in this existence with each other, has it lost its vocation to be itself?

Not being oneself is no way to live.

Pray, now -- to find way!

Monday, April 07, 2003

Susannah's prayer to God was, “O Eternal God, Reader of secrets, who know all things before they come to be.” (Book of Daniel)

We need such a reader and listener. The words spoken and written about this war, this invasion of Iraq, must be heard intelligently and read insightfully.

Staying at Bamboo Lodge

An evening sitting under
The eaves of the pines;
At night sleeping in Bamboo Lodge;
The sky so clear you’d
Say it was due to wine
Meditation so deep,
Thought I’d gone home to the hills
But Clever can’t beat Stupid
And Quick won’t match
Quiet Untoiling-ness!
You just can’t pave the Way
That’s it, the Gate of Mystery!

- Po Chu-I (772–846)

No excess of smooth explanation can cover an illegitimate act. Even if victory comes with ribbon and self-congratulation, this war has been a terrible example of clever not beating stupid.

It is a rare spectacle to watch a country overthrown, murders committed, motivations mangled, rhetoric doubted, and propaganda spouted. Ultimately, greater power has its way with lesser power and thoughtful consideration. This April is a month of fooling fools.

It happened in a garden in the Biblical story. Two disreputable men lying accuse a woman of adultery. They proceed to engineer her death because she would not satisfy their lust.

Daniel unmasked the elders as they executed a scam against Susannah. So, too, our elders perpetrate a false action against the American people and Iraqi people. They, too, will be unmasked.

All America is being accused of cruel, flagrant excess of power in what is being called an illegitimate invasion of a Middle Eastern sovereignty. Is there a Daniel to forestall the terror and anger response that seethes under the surface of world opinion?

Is anyone innocent in this accusation of war? Is there a prayer to be said?

Christians have been particularly impressed that Susannah, when falsely accused, spoke not a word to defend herself. Moreover, in Theodotion’s version, which differs in this respect from the Septuagint, she did not even raise her voice in prayer until after her condemnation. Rather, she prayed silently during her accusation and trial. As she was being accused, the text says, she simply “looked up with tears to heaven, because her heart trusted in the Lord.” “By her tears,” wrote Hippolytus, “she drew the Word from heaven, who himself was with tears able to raise the dead Lazarus.” As Origen observed, this devout gesture of Susannah is graced with a great literary irony, for it is to be contrasted with the description of her two lustful accusers: “Thus they perverted their own minds and turned away their eyes from looking up to heaven, and they rendered not just judgments.”

So Susannah, said Ambrose, did not attempt to justify herself, but sought in prayer the justice of God. The Church Fathers never ceased to praise Susannah’s silent prayer. The Lord heard her petition, wrote Hippolytus, because “God hears those who call upon Him from a pure heart.”

According to Ambrose, “She kept silence and conquered.” And again: “Susannah bent her knee to pray and triumphed over the adulterers”; “keeping silence among men, she spoke to God.” And Augustine: “She kept silence and cried out with her heart”; “Her mouth closed, her lips unmoved, Susannah cried out with this voice.”

And Jerome: “Great was this voice, not by the movement of the air nor the cry from the jaws, but by the greatness of her modesty, through which she cried out to the Lord.” And again: “The affection of the heart, and the pure confession of the mind, and the good of her conscience rendered her voice the clearer, so great was her shout to God that was not heard by men.” There were similar observations by Maximus the Confessor and others.

(--in Again Magazine, by Patrick Henry Reardon, pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.)

Today there are shouts to God unheard by men. “STOP THIS WAR,” they cry.

Prayer and innocence appear helpless. The believers in war practice their faith with cluster bombs, tomahawk missiles, and precision weapons that dismember and maim those not killed. What equivalent capacity is practiced by those who believe in peaceful means of resolving differences, even non-murderous ways of disarming and ending the reign of awful people?

We may summarize the traditional treatment of this aspect of the story by quoting Leander of Seville, who speaks of the most virtuous Susannah, who did not reply with words of justice to those who accused her of adultery, although she had that justice in her heart; nor did she repel the adulterers by any claims of her own, but with a pure conscience she entrusted herself to God alone with sighs and groans, for He is the One who sees within our minds; and thus she who did not wish to be defended by her own words was defended by the divine judgment, so that God was witness for her of the guiltless conscience that she bore and as she was being led to punishment, revealed the fact of her innocence.
(SUSANNAH, The Lost Heroine of the Old Testament, by Patrick Henry Reardon)

Our conscience is laid open before everyone. Is it pure? Are we able to entrust ourselves to God alone with sighs and groans?

There will be judgment following this war.
When we are on our way to punishment, what will reveal the fact of our innocence?

Look hard! Watch out! A trial is coming.

Susannah had Daniel to save her.
And us? Is there anyone left us to speak truth to power?
I, with so many today, am speechless. I cannot acquit myself.

As with Susannah, God is my judge.
Unlike Susannah, who was innocent, I am ashamed.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Note: The bookshop/bakery is closed Wednesday, 2 April, through Tuesday, 8 April. No Events will take place at shop or hermitage until Wednesday, 9 April.

Is what we can't see not there?

Tonight the moon is nowhere to be seen. Clouds, cold darkness, and snow obscure a brilliant jewel.

See the moon’s bright blaze of light,
A shining lamp, above the world
Full glistening and hanging in vast void.
That brilliant jewel,
Its brightness, through the mist.
Some people say it waxes, wanes
Theirs may but mine remains
As steady as the Main Pearl
This light knows neither day or night.

- Shih Te (c 730)

In Iraq, an odd war of sorrowful stories, grit sand, and death blood. Words wearing cloaks of slithering deception issue from ministers of information in Baath party and Bush party. Spring snow surprises Maine. Like news of war snow falls unwelcome after too long a winter's icy occupation.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12)

Love life, lose it. Have we not yet understood Jesus on this? When you love you let go, relinquish, abrogate. Love does this; it relinquishes itself to ground of being, source, home.

Hate life, hold it fast and forever. What is Jesus saying? Do we cling to that which we hate? Are we stuck with false notions, false beliefs, and false actions -- forever? Hate binds the one who hates to that which is hated. Hate keeps, and it keeps a lonely possession of something not shared, not intimately included, not opened and invitatory.

These paradoxes!

So too, war. The hateful destruction and false belief that war is a good and godly thing. Kill to let live. Destroy to reconstruct. Lie to achieve truth.

War is not a paradox. Not this war. This war is a sorrowful achievement of death. So many Iraqis. So many Americans. And British. And others who breathe no longer.

People world over watch with skepticism. Even those seemingly whole hog for war -- they too watch. Each harbors a secret and unspoken hope. They hope that this war will rise from deceptive rationale at its inception. They hope that it is not about oil, or power, or fundamentalist religious millennial obsession. People want Messer’s. Bush, Cheney, and Blair not to be liars and arrogant cowboys. People hope that weapons of mass destruction are found in hidden depots so as to justify reasons given for aggressive pre-emptive invasion of another country. These hopes are odd hopes.

But the deaths! The killings and murders! These are not odd. These are real. The deep losses felt by families on both sides of the conflict.

The grain of wheat falls and dies.

Is ground ready? Is sand and soil willing to recognize this death as worthy gift? Can we come to seed with attentive and restorative care? Will eternal life reveal itself there?

"Now is the judgement of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself”. He said this to show by what death he was to die. (John 12:33)

Now, we hope beyond skepticism. Now, we long to be drawn to life itself!

Can we see what is here?