Saturday, April 19, 2003

Hell, said Jean-Paul Sartre, is other people.

I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. (--from Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday)

We create hell for ourselves and for each self we consign there whenever we separate in our mind/heart what is inseparable.

Holy Week is a tale of primary seduction. The seduction says destroy what we perceive as other. War is that seduction. So too ideas of otherness, ideas of division that separate us each from each, from the earth, from God.

In this tale Jesus is no other. But as the tale is told Jesus is made other and murdered. End of story? And whose story is it?

What kind of place do we create when we fashion other? It is a place long thought of as hell. Falling into that place are individuals and whole peoples numbed and asleep to a reality available to them.

Asleep and numbed, that place is named war, bigotry, greed, power madness, unkindness, ignorance, and unawareness of who and what each really is. It is a terrible place. It is a place people who distort love want us to occupy. Do we recognize that place? Have we placed ourselves there?

Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. (Ancient Homily)

This Holy Saturday, the days and weeks following, it is vital that our numbness and sleepy souls find themselves roused and slowly, carefully, clearly awake.

My life is poor
But my mind is so clear
As I pass
Day after day
In this grass hut.

- Hakuin (1686-1768)

The hardest step to take is the core one. It is the one saying, “I must take a step.” The realization comes, most times, with felt presence of someone -- some one – whose kindness and love has gone through hell and invites us to leave that place. Step by step, leaving that place, with peace.

By some grace, way too far beyond my comprehension, a hand is there, just at the nearside of that realization.

Today, we watch. We pray. We clear our mind. We clear our heart.

We sit in darkness. That darkness is death and separation. It's where we are. Don't be afraid. Be alert.

We listen for a new sound, faintly audible and coming clearer.

It sounds through a new light. In flickering fire we can almost hear, “Together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.” (God help us!)

Are we listening?



In its entirety:
Reading From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday: The Lord's descent into the underworld

Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all”. Christ answered him: “And with your spirit”. He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light”.

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Friday, April 18, 2003

The tomb was nearby. They took him there after he opened not his mouth. It is finished.

A long emptiness follows. Confusion scatters intimates. Opposing powers gloat and sneer their success.

Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory.

(From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday)

Dust settles. Women weep. Men weep. Soldier goes home with unrended cloak. Monasteries and churches go vacant afterwards. We're left to ponder.

Nothing makes sense. Murder is like that. Some sorrow. Some party. And some have already planned the next move.

When Jesus died it was not hard to well up frustration and loss. Consider America defeating itself in Iraq. Some jeer derisively. Some bend disbelieving.

An ancient homily, which could have been written just today as a prayer, says, Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. (

America 's lost paradise was last seen just before its leaders grinned at each other and said "Let's go!" -- and then went into war.

War is a place where unnecessity replicates itself, feeding cells that have no purpose but to destroy what remains of life.

It is a desolate night. Tabernacle doors stare fallow absence.

Like a party that suddenly goes blank with disastrous news, the world watches slack-eyed someone who hasn’t realized yet he is poisoned, and knifed, and in the center of a circle that widens away from him. O my people, what has he done to you?

The current liturgy performed in Iraq has no rubric of resurrection.

Stone rolls tight shut.

It's over.



“…und weinte bitterlich.”

All night not knowing.

Intrigue whispers in shadows. Questions of how to insure peace in a hostile environment are heard everywhere. And who cares what happens in backwater Middle East courts of public opinion? State has power, and money. Forgetfulness comes soon enough.

Redwing blackbird, brown-white chipmunk, and white-throated sparrow furrow broken seed shells off corner of house under feeder for one not yet broken. Out behind chapel/zendo squirrel perches on green feeder until someone (could I deny it?) throws piece of wood in its direction. Immediately a dark sense raises question -- why not feed all?

Rain, hail, snow, and ice:
All are different,
But when they fall
They become the same water
As the valley stream.

- Ikkyu (1394-1481)

Forget Zen Masters, Orthodox Rabbis, or Ecclesiastical Bishops.

Roosters! That’s what wakes us.

Matthaeus 26
75 Und Petrus gedachte des Wortes Jesu, der gesagt hatte: Ehe der Hahn kräht, wirst du mich dreimal verleugnen. Und er ging hinaus und weinte bitterlich.
Matthew 26
75 Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly

This impulse to separate ourselves, to rub preserving oil onto dualistic thinking, is what makes this Friday ironically good.


Peter spent the night trying to grasp who he was and what he had been told. He spent the night not knowing what to make of either. Who he was baffled him. What he had been told was unthinkable.

Peter was friend who failed friendship.
He caught himself denying the one he loved.

He wept bitterly.

Rooster call.



Be one’s own.


Thursday, April 17, 2003

Note: Meetingbrook is on retreat. The bookshop/bakery will re-open Easter Wednesday, 23 April. We hold each and all in prayer during this time of solitude, stillness, and silence.

Tonight in the garden of Gethsemane innocence will be kissed by clever connivance and sent into torture. This ritual takes place in real time in Iraq.

Some things are overlooked in war – especially by those not there:
· Military men and women kill other men and women, boys and girls, infants.
· Very few understand what that feels like to the soul.

A pilot of an Apache attack gunship spoke into a mounted video camera in his cockpit during a time and space of grounded solitude. “I don’t want to go home and tell my family and friends what I’ve seen here. Those are images I’ll take away from here and keep with me the rest of my life. I’ve never really been one to take anything for granted, but I’ll tell you what – I will be different when I go home. It will…this will change me. It already has.”

Most revealing are his eyes, his tone, and the sorrowful sigh he breathes and releases after ending his words.

Overnight At a Mountain Monastery

Massed peaks pierce
The sky’s cold colors;
Here, the trail junctions
With the temple path.
Shooting stars pass
Into sparse-branched trees;
The moon travels one way,
Clouds the other.
Few people come
To this mountaintop;
Cranes do not flock
In the tall pines.
One Buddhist monk,
Eighty years old,
Has never heard
Of the world’s affairs.
- Chia Tao (779-843)

We betray our service men and women when we forget their sacrifice. They know what war does to psyche and soul. They are kissed by thirty pieces of silver and sent to murder and maim. The official propaganda uses words like free and liberate. But the men and women releasing death and destruction know better. Their eyes have seen what their bullets and bombs have done. They are sent into the desert with the sins of ignorance war planners place on their backs. They sacrifice themselves – their innocence, their sanity, and some their very lives. They do with bodies what the minds of war planners do with ideologies – take life, destroy property, and call it a name that hides what has really happened.

Gethsemane innocence will be kissed and sent into torture. A man who came to realize peace and sanctity is beaten and bloodied. Lies are told. Deals are made. Soldiers dispatched to do the bidding of clever men. Trial without representation and without pretense of justice is executed. And the common people are whipped into patriotic and fundamentalist fervor to assent the will of commander in chief and chief religious spokesmen. Year 33AD and 2003AD coincide in a kiss.

“The art of literature, vocal or written, is to adjust the language so that it embodies what it indicates.” (A.N. Whitehead)

There is not much speech in this time of war that fleshes out the horror of war. Almost religious obsession with cheerful proclamation of positive acquisition of goals numbs minds and hurts ears.

As Auden said repeatedly, almost obsessively, “Orthodoxy is reticence”; orthodoxy is knowing when to shut up. This is not a teaching that many Christian readers want to hear from their poets. But Auden knew what poetry can’t do, and always felt the need to put himself and other poets in their proper place. Thus the wittily self-deflating question in “Compline”: “Can poets (can men in television) / Be saved?”

Late in his life, he said in a lecture that he and his fellow-citizens of “The Republic of Letters”—a phrase coined by Voltaire—had but one “political duty”: “To love the Word and defend it against its enemies.” And who or what are those enemies? The “principal enemies of the True Word are two: the Idle Word and the Black Magician.” On the one hand, he came to see much of his early poetry as intolerably careless not only in its technique but in its disregard for whether it meant what it said. It was full of idle words. But the other enemy was more dangerous still. The Black Magician encourages poets to believe that they can be prophets and redeemers. Or, as Auden put it once in a review, he tries to make a person attempt “to do for himself or others by the writing of poetry what can only be done in some other way, by action, or study, or prayer.” Auden uses poetry to remind us of what poetry can never give us. But, in the end, this assigns poetry a genuine and important role, as it points always beyond itself in a strangely mute witness to that of which it is unable definitively to speak. As Auden wrote in one of his later poems,

We can only
do what it seems to us we were made for, look at
this world with a happy eye
but from a sober perspective.

(Alan Jacobs, in “Auden and the Limits of Poetry, Part II,” Copyright © 2001 First Things 115 (August/September 2001): 26–32.. )

At end of his video reflection, the Apache pilot had no more words. He sighed. What he’d seen had become his flesh.

He embodies what he indicates.

He looks at us.

We take his body. We feel his blood.

We become what he is.

Mute witness.
If three thousand died in the WTC/Pentagon attacks on 9/11, and six thousand died in Afghanistan and Iraq attacks, have we yet found a balance for justice to weigh?


In danger, the holothurian cuts itself in two:
It abandons one self to a hungry world
and with the other self it flees.

It violently divides into doom and salvation,
retribution and reward, what has been and what will be.

An abyss appears in the middle of its body
between what instantly become two foreign shores.

Life on one shore, death on the other.
Here hope and there despair.

If there are scales, the pans don't move.
If there is justice, this is it.

To die just as required, without excess.
To grow back just what's needed from what's left.

We, too, can divide ourselves, it's true.
But only into flesh and a broken whisper.
Into flesh and poetry.

The throat on one side, laughter on the other,
quiet, quickly dying out.

Here the heavy heart, there non omnis moriar -
just three little words, like a flight's three feathers.

The abyss doesn't divide us.
The abyss surrounds us

(poem by Wislawa Szymborska)

I can’t bring myself to leave where I am. There is now no other place to go. This room, this cell seems too big. I can barely find my way across the 12x10 floor where the cat underfoot instructs mindful walking. The ideas of justice are too small. If I leave this house somebody might put an automatic rifle in my hands and salute. There are several brownies left, and elseneni torte on the washing machine. I can hold out. It is Passover. Holy Thursday. The hermitage is just that.

Song of the Diamond Heart

The pine tree’s voice is always whispering,
Yet how many pause to listen?
For when the churning mind is still,
The Diamond Heart within
Reflects even the falling dusk that
Shrouds every eye and branch,
And hears, but listens not.

Walking, then, with Courage and Kindness,
Never ceasing to walk in Wonder,
We follow our ancient path.
For the Way of the sword is folded two;
Like the rose we have thorns,
And like the rose, we unfold.

( - Jo Aoi Isshi)

It is solitude keeps sanity near. The wind. Stretch of words like bristles of sumie brush touch and go.

"Life that no one dares to appraise, like that gift horse's mouth, bears its teeth in a grin at each encounter. What gets left of a man amounts to a part, to his spoken part, to a part of speech." (Joseph Brodsky)

Saskia writes from mother’s her morning meditation.
"When you find that your soul, your heart, every wisp of inspiration, every speck of the vast blue sky and its shining star-blossoms, the mountains, the earth, the whippoorwill, and the bluebells are all tied together with one cord of rhythm, one cord of joy, one cord of unity, one cord of Spirit, then you shall know that all are but waves in His cosmic sea." (Paramahansa Yogananda)

Karl Shapiro writes in an essay, “that poetry is a way of seeing things, not a way of saying things…it is a way of seeing things differently.” (in “What Is Not Poetry?”)

How do we see these days? What inspiration enters and leaves our body, stranger passing in and through us, without recognition? Is something lost if never found?

I've mentioned inspiration. Contemporary poets answer evasively when asked what it is, and if it actually exists. It's not that they've never known the blessing of this inner impulse. It's just not easy to explain something to someone else that you don't understand yourself. When I'm asked about this on occasion, I hedge the question too. But my answer is this: inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists generally. There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. It's made up of all those who've consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners - and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it's born from a continuous "I don't know."
(Wislawa Szymborska – Nobel Lecture "The Poet and the World")

I don’t know. There is no monastery the equal of solitude. No religious services to compare with stillness. There is no celebration as resonant as silence.

To begin with Szymborska. In her Nobel lecture (1996), "The Poet and the World", she said, "quite besides the blessings of this inner impulse," what inspired her was a continuous "I don't know." What emerged was a pervasive sense of uncertainty, a view of the human condition that was tragicomic as in The Century's Decline (1976):

Our twentieth century was going to improve on the others.
It will never prove it now,
now that its years are numbered,
its gait is shaky,
its breath is short.

Too many things have happened
that weren't supposed to happen,
and what was supposed to come about
has not.

Happiness and spring, among other things,
Were supposed to be getting closer.

Fear was expected to leave the mountains and the valleys.
Truth was supposed to hit home
before a lie.

A couple of problems weren't going
to come up any more:
hunger, for example,
and war, and so forth.

There was going to be respect
For helpless people's helplessness,
trust, that kind of stuff.

Anyone who planned to enjoy the world
is now faced
with a hopeless task.

Stupidity isn't funny
Wisdom isn't gay.
isn't that young girl any more
et cetera, alas.

God was finally going to believe
in a man both good and strong,
but good and strong
are still two different men.

"How should we live?" someone asked me in a letter.
I had meant to ask him
the same question.

Again, as ever,
as may be seen above,
The most pressing questions
are naïve ones.

(Two Polish poets, by Ravi Vyas, in The Hindu, Online edition of India's National Newspaper Sunday, Oct 06, 2002)

It comes to desolation. Followed by emptiness. Arriving at simple presence.

But this is silly: one could go one to quote every poem ever written; and it would be a poem because it created the reality of whatever it happened to be about. Whenever the poet is not "oned" with the experience we can always detect the forcing, the insincerity. (Karl Shapiro, p.101, in The Poet's Work)

The poem of Passover is the difference of this night.

The poem of Sacred Triduum is the creation of reality retrieving our sight.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Needing nothing other than what is here,

Passover arrives. Holy Week climbs down Ragged Mountain. Water tumbles along stones dug open slit earth drop by falling drop in early spring.

Bless the Lord, mountains and hills; all growing things, bless the Lord.
Bless the Lord, seas and rivers; springs and fountains, bless the Lord.
(Daniel 3)

Walking alone. Where softened hillside earth is dazed with moist memory of departing snow.

The sky is filled with ultimate truth;
Other and self are both forgotten.
Having a mind like iron,
Why care that my hair’s grey as frost?
A clear spring follows the valley far,
An old cottage lies deep in the clouds.
This is where I’m at peace,
Blissful delight without end.

- Wen-siang (1210-1280)

Both forgotten. Deer tracks -- sign of passing life.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples’”. And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the passover. (Matthew 26)

Take away theatrical plot and script at table that night, and what is left? They gather, they sit, they eat, and they talk. One is told to go do what he has to do. Everyone else takes in what is broken, blessed, and distributed to him or her.

There is intelligence in each moment, in each act, and in every passing movement.

Jesus, there with his friends, disappeared into that intelligence. He became bread. He was wine. He found them in the place they were and embodied nothing other.

The world begins this way.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Compline in cabin. Wind ruffles Open flag by screen door.

Excessive thinking
Weakens the will.
The more you know,
The more your mind
Is confused.
A confused mind gives
Rise to vexation.
The weakened will obstructs the Tao.

- Shih Wang Ming (6th century)

Moon has mere piece to round it full. Bell under icon strikes itself through silence following Ave Regina.

There is veiled talk of expanding war to another country.

Protect us, awake, keeping watch with Christ; asleep, resting in his peace.

The world feels so dangerous this week.
Absent long view comforts of theological spin, this is the week of Passover and Crucifixion. An angel of death murders innocent children. Imperial rulers, collaborating with religious fundamentalists, murder Jesus.

The Middle East again murders innocents. Imperious men with religious fervor mindlessly set on murdering a Christ they cannot abide.

It is said Jesus, dead and risen, became Christ. What will Christ, killed by Christian arrogance, become?

Vexation. Very troubling.

Following Passover, freedom to begin wandering home. Following the commended spirit of a dead man, darkness and emptiness in the souls of those shocked with disbelief and anguish.

Do not be fooled. War is not a fairy tale of good defeating evil. War is failure to emerge from bloody screams and murderous pain. Smiles, cheerful colors, and salvific rhetoric cannot pull the magic glow of something glorious from fetid contaminating lies of war.

Love without reproof of error is no love. He who judges his neighbor leniently will himself be judged leniently by God. Let man always be intelligent and affable in his God-fearing. Let him answer softly, curb his wrath, and let him live in peace with his brethern and his kin and with every man, yes, even with the pagan on the street, in order that he be beloved in heaven and on earth, and be acceptable to all men. The kindly man is the truly God-fearing man. (Lines from the Talmud, quoted by rabbi Emil Bernhard Cohn, p.310 in Constantine's Sword, by James Carroll)

Where, this week, are the kindly ones? Who will help allow all men and women their acceptable selves, wrath curbed, peace gifting, kin to all?

We need what is holy.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

What is written in our heart?

Can we see, hear, or feel what is there?

Deborah and I sat Saturday morning talking about personal views of Christ and Christ-Mind before reading from The Grace in Dying of the woman who said she heard the color red as she was deep in the process of dying.
She was propped in a chair with pillows, wrapped in a robe and blankets -- quiet, enjoying the air. A beautiful birdsong filled the summer morning and she said, "Ahhh, the sound of red." She had already entered into a consciousness of greater depth, of life unfolding, the consciousness of the Witness, of increasingly pure Presence. (pp.234-5)

Presence is here, but ungraspable.

Jesus Christ, although he shared God’s nature, did not try to seize equality with God for himself; but emptied himself, took on the form of a slave, and became like a man – not in appearance only, for he humbled himself by accepting death – even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2) (

This is the koan of contemporary awareness. How be what you are, without seizing or grasping what you are for yourself? Put differently, how do who you are in complete relational awareness? Or, thirdly, where does letting go of who and what you are, and who and what you are not, leave you?

The Mountains in the Dawn

The moon is already hidden
Behind the western peak.
The sun is rising above the summit.
The frosty sky awaits
Dawn in cold silence.
One thousand mountains
Afar and ten thousand rocks near.
All enter into one eye.

- Jakushitsu Genko Zenji (1290–1368)

Whose eye?

Seeing what?

The prophet Jeremiah caught a glimpse of this state of wholeness when he wrote twenty five hundred years ago:
The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD.
But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and kinsmen how to know the LORD. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.
Thus says the LORD, He who gives the sun to light the day, moon and stars to light the night; Who stirs up the sea till its waves roar, whose name is LORD of hosts:

(Jeremiah 31: 31-35)

Have those days that were coming -- come?

Jesus the liberator rode triumphantly into Jerusalem with palms waving and voices praising the idea of liberation the people had in their minds. Five days later he was murdered by those who feared what true liberation of the heart really meant. That murdering solution continues these days.

Jeremiah and the woman who heard the color red have another meditation for this week. We are invited to vacate all beliefs for experience. We are invited to abandon all knowledge for moment-to-moment awareness. And we are invited to relinquish whatever image of self we hold onto for bare empty presence, as is – or -- is as.

There's a line Diane called up to me for reconsideration a while ago -- her voice the color of early spring melting blue through ground surrendering brown:

Loving Christ is living uninhabited. (wfh)

The days are coming.