Saturday, April 26, 2003

Zack said he was an aspiring prison monk. Everyone laughed. Just after the horn sounded and goodbyes were said, three of us remaining in the room had tears in our eyes. The loveliness!

The question asked at beginning of Meetingbrook's Prison Conversation Friday morning was about monasticism. For two thousand years individuals left their lives in the world to go to places where they had to face the stark reality of who they were, where coming from, where going, and what is the core reality of their life that both grounds and opens them to a wholeness of seeing, loving compassion, and no nonsense genuine interaction based on acceptance and surrender.

Buddha is concealed within all sentient beings.
If for one instant of thought we become impartial,
Then sentient beings are themselves Buddha.
In our mind itself a buddha exists,
Our own Buddha is the true Buddha.
If we do not have in ourselves the Buddha mind,
Then where are we to seek Buddha?

- Hui-neng (638-713)

Luis, Zack, Ed, Vaughn, Ryan, Saskia, Cheryl, and I spoke in a circle of inquiry. As with each of these prison conversations, there was a depth and honesty of expression revealing profound thirst for what is real, present, and liberating.

Luis asks, "How let the good out?" The question has many meanings in prison, like any real question. He spoke of his grandmother. She believed at heart we are good. Someone said the good finds its own way out, that we must drop off and let go all that blocks the way out.

Cheryl said that rather than sentimental compassion, it is seeing compassion that guides us through.

Ryan said, "I bow down to the God I don't know." (The Buddhists might read that, "I bow down to the God 'I don't know'.")

Vaughn said, "The Presence in the silence will protect you."

Saskia read from book Monastery Without Walls, by Bruce Davis, "Silence is the cry of our original voice." And, "If silence ends it means no one is listening."

Before he left Ed pointed out that in prison there are some categories of crimes that even the most hardened of inmates find repulsive and carry out segregation from the perpetrators of crimes against children. He wondered if those inmates should have sanctuary.

It is an interesting question. Is sanctuary a place to be safe and take refuge? It has been. But who needs sanctuary? Only those without wrongdoing who are put upon by unjust mob? Or, is sanctuary to be available for all harming, all in harm's way, and all who long to see, recognize, and put aside blocks to what is good to find its way out?

In van on route 1 heading across bridge to Thomaston from Warren we wondered if love is what is itself finding itself within and without.

We step inside, then step aside to make room for another.

Luis had said -- "That's what's up! Realness without constraints -- compassionate loving."

In our hearts, we bow.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Is there one thing we all long for?

She beamed. The theatre director told of opening and closing scenes in recent production. Joy rode her smile like train along ascending track.

This is the real secret of the arts:
Always be a beginner.
Then we can really learn something.
In the beginner's mind
There is no thought,
"I have attained something."
If you keep your original mind,
The precepts will keep themselves.

( - anon)

It is time to let corpse go to ground. New life mourns old life. With grief former self fades. New self rises. Not without awareness of loss. Accepting what is not there. Accepting what is there.

Looks into face unrecognizably forming what is coming about in its own way.

Forming emptiness. Emptying form.

One's own.


Wednesday, April 23, 2003

We look at another. We drink. To our health!

How clear is it to us that whatever is done to or for another is done to and for oneself?

Contemplation practices looking. With heart/mind engaging what appears before it, contemplative looking is the practice of seeing no barriers.

Contemplative life sees no other.

Keep your heart clear and transparent
And you will never be bound.
A single disturbed thought, though,
Creates ten thousand distractions.
Let myriad things captivate you
And you'll go further and further astray.
How painful to see people
All wrapped up in themselves.

- Ryokan

If contemplative life is seeing everything in true relational context with, and as, everything else -- then to be a contemplative is to practice whole sight.

Contemplation is often misunderstood. Contemplation enters and engages what is taking place with all the chaos and uncertainty experienced there. But with a difference.
The contemplative doesn’t finally despair, (although interim despondency occurs). Nor does the contemplative turn inward and away from what is actually occurring in the world, (although the need to escape often calls.)

The odd response of the contemplative is to not separate himself or herself from the actual reality found there. That reality might be war. Or a small boy playing with wood flute. That reality might be laughter with friends. Or two dogs snoozing in meditation cabin. (Or cat stealing banana from counter in kitchen.)

The odd response might be to drink what is at root, the wellspring water of life, prayerfully touching ground, toasting the health of each and everyone now and once in the world.

It is for others to kill and destroy what is not understood. Contemplatives correspond with what is incomprehensible, taking libation of simple silent presence, looking into empty cup of confusing unexplainable absence.

It is, perhaps, for others to argue opinions and forward agendas to shape the world (or another person) according to designs forged by ideology and mental constructs. Contemplatives will, perhaps, also argue and shape a vision of the world, but will (more often than not) fall back to a more basic and profound task.

Namely, to advocate no path, in poverty, emptiness, and deep listening – to practice the ground of being, clear and transparent, as dwelling place and home for all in peace.

Raven's Bread, a quarterly newsletter for hermits and those interested in the eremitical life published by Paul and Karen Fredette, had in its February 2003 issue Excerpts from Thomas Merton Uncensored, By: Rev. Patrick W. Collins, Ph.D., Douglas, MI:

One question which Merton addressed many times is the extent of God's call to contemplation. Is it a vocation for a few favored persons? Or are all of the baptized called to contemplation? The answer depends upon what one means by contemplation. Depending upon the context of the correspondence, the Trappist says it is a special gift and yet he also says all persons are called to contemplative living. In fact he wrote in one place: "Christ came on earth to form contemplatives."

One of his frequent correspondents on the topic was an Anglican laywoman, Etta Gullick, who apparently wrote to Merton frequently about contemplation. Contemplation, the Trappist contended, cannot be explained. It can only be hinted at or suggested. It is only "known" in the doing of contemplative praying and living. He wrote to Gullick in 1962 of the inadequacy of all explanatory words. "The nothingness and emptiness (of contemplation) are more important than their explanations, and I think you will find eventually that explanations are not needed. Yet, of course, you do need to communicate with someone and feel yourself understood. But you are understood by Christ and that is the great thing; the least thing is to understand oneself."

How does one measure one's growth in prayer? In 1965 Merton answered Etta Gullick's question on this point. He warned her about the danger of too much self-focus in this matter of measuring one's prayer. "Progress in prayer: it is a ticklish subject because the chief obstacle to progress is too much self-awareness and to talk about "how to make progress" is a good way to make people too aware of themselves. In the long run, I think progress in prayer comes from the Cross and humiliation and whatever makes us really experience our total poverty and nothingness; and also gets our mind off ourselves."

In 1964 the Trappist wrote to Gullick: "I have greater and greater confidence in the reality of the path that is no path at all, and to see people following it in spite of everything is comforting. By rights, they should all have forgotten and lost their way long ago. If they keep on it without really knowing what it is, this is because God keeps them there."

Always grateful for Merton. Sometimes it feels that I have forgotten and lost my way long ago.

A friend writes: “You sound so like you are struggling, like a man gasping to get enough air. I can't breathe for you, but I can send you my loving support -- and a poem. “
(Poem: "Widows," by Louise Gluck from Ararat (Ecco Press), sent from The Writer's Almanac®, a daily program of poetry and history hosted by Garrison Keillor)


My mother's playing cards with my aunt,
Spite and Malice, the family pastime, the game
my grandmother taught all her daughters.

Midsummer: too hot to go out.
Today, my aunt's ahead; she's getting the good cards.
My mother's dragging, having trouble with her concentration.
She can't get used to her own bed this summer.
She had no trouble last summer,
getting used to the floor. She learned to sleep there
to be near my father.
He was dying; he got a special bed.

My aunt doesn't give an inch, doesn't make
allowance for my mother's weariness.
It's how they were raised: you show respect by fighting.
To let up insults the opponent.

Each player has one pile to the left, five cards in the hand.
It's good to stay inside on days like this,
to stay where it's cool.
And this is better than other games, better than solitaire.

My grandmother thought ahead; she prepared her daughters.
They have cards; they have each other.
They don't need any more companionship.

All afternoon the game goes on but the sun doesn't move.
It just keeps beating down, turning the grass yellow.
That's how it must seem to my mother.
And then, suddenly, something is over.

My aunt's been at it longer; maybe that's why she's playing better.
Her cards evaporate: that's what you want, that's the object: in the
the one who has nothing wins.

(by Louise Gluck )

In chapel/zendo this morning after sitting during psalms small candle goes out, smoke rising. Rising in brief wake curling past white draped wood cross. Outside windows Bald Mountain sits unseen in grey fog low clouds rain dripping meditation.

We all have something.

There is no winning.

Nothing, it might be said, pairs us perfectly.

Loving support is a profound pairing.


Tuesday, April 22, 2003

So, what happened?

There’s this Jesus, this Christ. Gone absent. Sealed in tomb.

Then it’s all story about angels, presence itself gone absent, appearances flitting through locked doors, on roads to other towns, in the way someone breaks a piece of bread.

Really? It’s the stuff of Invisibility playing with what it is not, perception. It’s “Yes, but…” all the way down to wordless look into your eyes with no explanation, at least none that has any capacity to satisfy.

What about Mary?

Jean Guitton, French poet & philosopher, writing in his book on Mary says about the moment Invisibility came to be in her,
There would be nothing human in this act of generation. To Mary such a miracle could not have been utterly astounding, transcending though it did the ordinary limitations and potentialities of life, for it was somehow congruous with the very mystery of woman, whose fruit seems to come from the breath of God, rather than human intervention. Mary saw in it a correspondence with her vow. She had wanted to remain pure, not to ‘know,’ so that her consecration might be all the more complete. She had been resigned to sterility, in so far as that was involved in the purity she rated higher. (pp.30-31, in The Blessed Virgin, by Jean Guitton, c.1949))

Is ‘knowing’ a ‘human intervention’?

I went to a funeral mass yesterday morning. The woman’s name was Gwendolyn. I did not know her. It was at 10AM in Rockland. I sat in the back of church. Some facts were spoken by the priest. The woman at the piano sang ‘Ave Maria’ with loveliness. The woman playing harp did ‘Danny Boy’ with sweet simplicity. A final blessing, and they turned the casket holding the body once alive with Gwen, exiting the main aisle.

I didn’t need to know Gwen. It was every family member, relative, friend, and stranger in that casket. It was my casket as well. So, I pray for her, all of us, myself. It was Easter Monday. Something, it is said, changed on Easter.

What had been outside became inside, inside became outside, so that the mystery of Christ no longer had an inside or outside as obstacle or barrier to the invisible breath of God.

We don’t find another person inside their body. Nor outside. Sure, there are details and data, personality and pieces of history that fall like breadcrumbs from the passing of someone’s life near our life. These bits and statistics are fodder for anthropologists and clerks, something to fill ledgers and satisfy mail carrier's hands busy with envelopes to deliver. I barely look at my mail now. When dead, that too will fall into invisibility.

And what did Mary know, at birth, and death?
Except in the matter of his birth, in which her testimony is necessarily unique, she knew no more than the others: she had received no special illumination. I know there are many who think differently, but as far as I can see they produce no proofs. From the point of view from which I describe her in her passage through time, the Blessed Virgin is a type of the Church itself in the world. The Church, this growing Christ, knows no more than is contained in the revelation of the Father; but, under the influence of the Spirit, it penetrates the meaning of truths and the way they are related to another.
The Blessed Virgin had held the Word in her arms; but perhaps the Word was silent. Was it fitting It should tell her what had still to be revealed to others? One thing is given, one truth propounded to all. There are some who can understand it better than others. It was she who penetrated its meaning completely.
(pp.65-66, Guitton)

I walked the breakwater out to lighthouse in Rockland after the service. One hundred years ago, after over a dozen years work, they completed the placement of stones protecting the harbor, extending a distance just shy of a mile out from shore. Sitting on the edge, water sloshing below in rising tide, looking at lobster boat and North Haven ferry working their trade, I finger beads in unknowing prayer. Not only don’t I know what to say, anything formed into words is mere transient wave rising from body ocean for mere instant before dropping back.

I leave it to fingers and beads to permeate what meaning arises without my intervention. It is a prayer beyond me. As that happens I walk back over huge flat blocks, raising hand saluting each passing person on his or her way out.

Saskia returns. Solitude shifts. At Compline in cabin all candles are lighted. The words say, Protect us, Lord, while awake; watch over us as we sleep. That awake, we might keep watch with Christ; and asleep, rest in his peace.

This Jesus, this Christ -- invisibility itself -- who appeared and disappeared, appears and disappears in each passing prayer, each breaking of bread, and each recounting of how we’ve come to be here.

I asked Millie to play the harp at my funeral, to just show up. She said sure, adding that she hopes I live a thousand years. That’s too long. The miniature chocolate donuts had with Belgian nut coffee earlier for breakfast are a hedge against such extravagance.

For now, I pray.

I pray for the living, and the dead.

I do this because I am alive, and dead.

With longing to penetrate the meaning of the Word completely.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

We thirst for resurrection.

Trembling and astonishment!

And saying nothing.

We are afraid.

The small candle in stained glass holder was still dancing flame this morning just after sunrise. It had been lighted after return from Easter Vigil at St. Bernard's in Rockland. Ten hours later, what was half burned candle at lighting, continued watching in flickering solitude the bare cross.

It's not that we are not worthy to receive Christ in forms unrecognizable. It's more that worthiness is no longer an issue. We are worthy because no worthiness is necessary.
We're worthy because we're not worthy. We're not worthy because we're worthy. (Buddhists have more practice with this view, form being emptiness, emptiness form.)

In Janet's small anchor carved box, soil and leaf this Easter morning, the sacred earth formed by breath, word, fire, and grace of God. The Holy surrounds and permeates us.

We thirst for what is real.

Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime. (Martin Luther)

At liturgy this morning, the thought while watching people move forward and returning -- Do not take the life of anyone. Reflecting back now, is it because we cannot take the life of anyone? Rather, we suffer the delusion and crippling division in heart/mind that we take the life of someone for some worthy reason. Like war? Or retributive justice? This odd attachment to worthiness can be seen after the deaths of what are called 'enemies' in war, or death row inmates in capital punishment. There is much to ponder here. 'It is not right to glory in the slain.' --Homer.


Deep in the valley, a beauty hides:
Serene, peerless, incomparably sweet.
In the still shade of the bamboo thicket
It seems to sigh softly.
- Ryokan Taigu (1758-1831)

Beauty is often hidden too deep for easy recognition. Often profoundly hidden. Perhaps only at core of each one's being.

We thirst for realization.

1 All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.
Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.
(Isaiah Chapter 55)

We thirst for what is unrecognizable to be recognized.

He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you”. And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid. (Mark 16)

We thirst for what we are.

Christós Anésti, Alithós Anésti, Kaló Páscha!
Christ is risen, Truly he is risen, Happy Easter!