Saturday, June 07, 2003


Is it?
Is it!
I sit.


(Note: "isit" takes its place in the procession of koan-mottos at meetingbrook)
June 2003 Update, Meetingbrook Dogen & Francis Hermitage

Theme: Returning Silence, Broken Empty

What ever-present resource cannot be devoured?

Light green leaves waver in breeze this June morning. Squirrel chatter berates presumption black charcoal stove lid will dissuade ascent or descent to green bird feeder near chapel/zendo. His diatribe is not praising my efforts to reserve feeder for birds. There is no resource without theft and misappropriation. Squirrels have to be factored. Hence we have payoff, pork, and protection rackets from back alleys of Mott Street to corporation lobbyists in halls of congress.

Meetingbrook settles into itself. Late spring drives to Cape Breton and Lincolnville Beach Duck Trap River gave looks at properties imagined for Retreat/Laura/Schola. Is it just another attempt to see if seed-place might be an attractive potential within our grasp? Are we squirrel or bird? For whom is seed?

Cape Breton is lovely. Canada continues to beckon. In these uncertain and disturbing times Canada remains a refuge from new arrogance and messianic impulse descending on Middle East territories. Occupiers or liberators? A shell game question. Jargon replaces discourse. The language of economics and shareholder benefit threatens to turn all rhetoric into profit and loss bottom line bank statements.

In Lincolnville along Duck trap River a Retreat Estate part of credit card bank's vast holdings is on the market. It would make a lovely lay monastic hermitage retreat. Would the CEO and bank donate it to Meetingbrook? Would it be a place of silence and sanctuary? Or does other noise arrive to counter dream? Squirrel comes chattering back for another attempt. I move the resource. Squirrel scampers off.

For Meetingbrook the dream moves outside to inside. Saskia "saw" the retreat property in dream, a slumbering watchfulness the night before we happened upon the place. Her dream was vivid, specific, and invitatory. A man at building and water beckons. She wades in. Welcoming. It is wondrous how prolepsis anticipation arrives at unknowing awareness.

In Laura Soul Friend Conversation Nan speaks of her practice and how Meher Baba used the phrase something to the effect, “ unknowing awareness, hollowing out.”

Squirrel maneuvers, scouts, plots and scampers to feeding trough. I clap hands. Twice he exits. I am not applauding. I am discouraging. He is maddened. Nuthatch returns. Female cardinal comes and goes without seed. Squirrel falls three times, four times.

We fall a lot. We madden friends with our approach, assessment, and failures. What is this call we respond to? And why are we so dense? Squirrel will not be dissuaded. If the seed is there, it is there for him. Despite his unrelenting passion to hoard resource for himself, he probably has a reasonable right to share the seeds.

It is June. This June begins Meetingbrook Hermitage's eighth year in town with its bookshop/bakery. Conversations, hospitality, ordinary prayer and reflective meditation -- without nametag or fanfare -- in marketplace by the harbor. It is a lovely anniversary. Sitting on porch of cabin with sound of brook and birdsong after silent sitting and chant this Tuesday morning is seed, is gift.

Canon lawyer visited Meetingbrook from Catholic diocese. She said she is confident the Bishop wishes to write approval and encourage what Meetingbrook has become and continues to be. It is always a matter of not interfering with the Spirit drawing all into itself. Inclusion. Seed draws songbird and chattering squirrel at same time to itself.

God is itself.

We become what and who we are in the presence of itself. For anyone to dwell in the presence of itself is to live a life of prayerful meditative association nearing God.

If Meetingbrook were capable of articulating its goal it would be this -- to near God.

Where is God?
Near. And nearing.

No one can say with certainty where God is not. God is not either side of the myriad dualisms. The myriad dualisms serve our current mental state of consciousness. They serve the mental ego’s function making distinctions, cultivating notions of ‘other,’ and protecting the ego’s construct of a separate, isolated self. They form a context of thought suggesting God might be in a "place" somewhere we can recognize. The construct placing God calls that place ‘good,’ and those at that place ‘good.’

Yet, can we say anything of God that nears God? Or is the apophatic* tradition one we might look to? Does nearing God require an unsaying, a silence that does not feed the clamoring mind with discursive squirrel frenetic racing to ‘there’ from ‘here’ and the good/bad, right/wrong, mine/yours chattering of everyday mental activity and commerce?

* While Christianity and Hellenic thought have quite different conceptions of the nature and function of God, they are fully in agreement about His ineffability. As Raoul Mortley said, "the via negativa... is the most remarkable feature of the philosophical life of late antiquity, Greek and Christian." (quoted in Pelikan 197) The use of this so-called negative, or apophatic, (from Greek "to deny," or "to say no") theology tends to take two forms. One form is a philosophical ana-lysis, the "breaking apart" (from Greek "to undo" (Am. Heritage Dic.)) of all qualities seemingly attributable to the divine to arrive at an understanding of His underlying nonqualified nature by knowing what that nature isn't. St. Macrina explained this method in this manner: "In the very act of saying that a thing is `not so and so,' we by implication interpret the very nature of the thing in question." (Pelikan 205) This form of apophaticism is more pervasive than might be realized. Words such as "infinite" and "ineffable" are obviously negative. Less apparent is the negation hidden in words like "individual" or "immense" (not measurable). Finally there is apophaticism hidden even in positive terms. For example, one defines God as "free" in order to show that He lacks the contrarieties found in finite creatures, and one calls Him "alive" merely to discriminate His nature from that of the lifeless. (James 431)

The other form of apophaticism is a more contemplative awareness of ineffability, a perception of just how transcendent and thus incomprehensible God's nature is. Armstrong says that, by this perception, "we mean that, however dimly, we are aware in all things which we apprehend of the presence of something or someone which exceeds them, and on which their total existence depends, so that there is nothing in them which is not there because of that presence, which... makes them exist." (Armstrong 1979, essay XXIV, 177) This perception affirms the incomprehensibility of God, who "exceeds" all things. Contemplation of the created world points to its underlying essence which is unattainable, for that which proceeds from the Principle does not necessarily provide any clue as to the essence of that Principle. An example is that a machine is produced by, or proceeds from, a human maker, but an examination of the machine would not necessarily provide any clues as to the essence of the human. It may provide clues about the function of the maker, as, for example, an umbrella handle implies the shape of the human hand. Functionally, then, one could say that God's act of creating, for example, which is self-evident, evidences His function as a Creator. Such knowledge is indirect; it is not the same as "quidditative," or essential, knowledge. Even scripture can not provide a real description of God's nature. "Who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord?" asks the Psalmist. (Ps 89:6)

It must be pointed out at the beginning of this discussion that negative theology is not "negative" in that word's usual sense. Part of the reason that the term `apophatic' is pressed into service, says historian of Christianity Jaroslav Pelikan, is because "speaking about a negative theology sounds--how should one put it?--too negative." (Pelikan 1988, 6) Apophatic theology is not to be understood as a form of skepticism or, far less, atheism. Atheism is an active disbelief in or denial of divinity. (Am. Heritage Dic.) As such, it is not so much the opposite of belief as it is its dialectical component. That is, atheism shares the same concerns as religion, i.e. the search for an absolute, but differs only in that it arrives at a diametrically opposed answer. While (most) religions emphatically posit an Absolute, atheism wholly denies it; "There is no God," the atheist avows. (Pelikan 1993, 8) The antithesis of religious belief, then, would be skepticism, a state of agnosticism or active doubt. Skepticism is to be distinguished from apophaticism because it often takes the form of refraining from making any statements and taking any stance, positive or negative.[3] The via negativa, however, is quite active; it is a way, or via, of philosophizing. The genuine pursuer of the way of negation, writes Armstrong, "spends his time destroying his God-concepts and perhaps (if he is as radical as his principles require) undermining his whole system of thought till it falls in ruins. Then he picks himself up quite cheerfully and begins again." (Armstrong 1979, essay XXIV, 178)
(in Saying Nothing about No-Thing: Apophatic Theology in the Classical World, by Jonah Winters)

This “place,” (if that which is between everything and among everyone can be designated as a “place”) is an integrative, contiguous, interpenetrative, and undifferentiating suchness. It is when, how, and where each is, and continually becomes, itself. Mental formulations are not God. God is God.

The Celtic designation of "The Thin Place" tries to help. It offers a view beyond the either/or dichotomy. George MacLeod, founder of The Iona Community called The Thin Place …“between prayer & politics, work & worship, secular & sacred” … where we seek the “rebuilding of the common life.”

What is common is what all shares. What is common is what is shared by each and all. It is neither yours nor mine, but ours. This “common life” is much misunderstood and often feared. It is seldom tried and, with few exceptions, unsuccessful.

The "neither/nor" template of inquiry has helped loosen the dualistic grip with which we inventory most things. To wit, God is -- neither close nor far, neither in nor out, neither full nor empty, male nor female, good nor evil, Christian nor Jew, Muslim nor Hindu, Taoist nor Pagan, Orthodox nor Liberal, Buddhist nor Unitarian, American nor Iraqi.

Dwelling near or nearing The Thin Place is akin to removing the divisions and finding oneself at center of contradiction. There, at center of contradiction, in the still place where all contrary ways of saying what-is-there have enfolded themselves into simple silence. At center of contradiction is unknowing peace, or, as some have said, peace that surpasses understanding.

Bright red Cardinal arrives with sharp chirp at feeder. Squirrel forages ground.

Is it time to remove the resource? The aggressive bickering on the part of many squirrels keep far away those for whom the seed is intended.

Is God near? Is God nearing?

Nearing God is not different from nearing life or nearing death. Touch one, touch all three. And touch what is at center of all three.

After seven years in town at the harbor and eleven years at the foot of the mountain we approach silence. We near seed. Like squirrel clamoring for what is near we try and fall, leap and miss, speak and are wrong, seek and do not find. Nor do we not find, nor are we wrong, nor do we remain fallen, nor will we cease from inquiring into the now nearness of what is our ground of being.

Ours is no other place, no other God, and no other life. We are asked to empty our minds of distracting dichotomies and center our hearts within empty openness. This Thin Place, this between, this centering openness -- this is the practice of no other. Neither mind nor heart knows what to make of the practice. So, don't "make." Just visit, stay a while, dwell a moment in this unmade place.

Squirrel looks at me on porch. We've exhausted early morning. What do we do with our mind's frantic search, our heart's clinging desire?

Come and go.

Come eat seed. Then go away. Stay near. Don’t cling.

We do not have here, nor anywhere, any permanent abode. We are visitors. Wanderers. Passing pilgrims. Transients in a transitory time.

We look in on each other. We inquire after each other. We share details and data about our efforts in the world. We take to each other. We enter into, sometimes kindly sometimes unkindly, one another’s lives. We counter kindness with kindness, hurt with hurt, -- and sometimes -- hurt with kindness and kindness with hurt. We do the best we can most the time. It might not always the best thing that can be done for the situation -- but, well, there we are. Perhaps we’ll learn.

Red squirrel scares off chipmunk and in turn has to move over for grey squirrel. Morning doves fly off. Finch and chickadee, nuthatch and sparrow find feeder I moved to distant temporary placement nearer barn. The ongoing competition for resources!

The seed of nearness, the dwelling reality of absolute nearside, unsaying devotional silence in the presence of each being – are these an ever-present resource that cannot be devoured?

Is this what we refer to as God? Is this what we refer to as Original Oneness? True Reality? The face we had before our mothers and fathers were born? Buddha-nature? Christ-nature? Holy Spirit? Now?

The green canopy of late spring leaf sways in soft breeze shading chapel/zendo near washing brook sounding down Ragged Mountain.

Rhythmic chant song of squirrel and bird fill morning with God's praising liturgy.

Meetingbrook returns to silence.

Seed resource. Broken empty.

Come. Gone.


Bill, Saskia, Sando , Cesco , Mu-ge , and all who grace Meetingbrook

Friday, June 06, 2003

June 2003 Events

All Events at MEETINGBROOK are free, open & informal

1. Tuesday Evening Conversation returns with Buddhist Meditative Studies
2. Wednesday Evening Conversations now focus on Personal Practice & Laura Soul Friend topics. (“Laura,” various paths.) What, who, & how of one’s spirituality.
3. Friday Evening Conversation returns to 5:30-6:30pm and to poetry/journal focus.

Consult “Today at Meetingbrook” For any changes in schedule.

MORNING PRACTICE AT THE HERMITAGE. (6:05am-6: 35am) Silent Sitting - 30 minutes, daily. Then follows (6:40am-7:00am) Chanting/Mindfulness Walking (MWF Christian; TTh Buddhist). Whatever your tradition or practice come sit together. Simply enter, sit, & leave in silence. Note: Cabin is always open and available for silence, meditation, or prayer.

SATURDAY MORNING PRACTICE AT THE HERMITAGE – Weekly Lectio Divina: Sat, 6:45am-8:00am; Monthly Retreat 3rd Saturday 21June. Retreat this month Christian focus.

SUNDAY EVENING PRACTICE AT THE HERMITAGE Each Sunday evening, 6:00-8:00pm. Practice includes Silent Sitting, Walking, Listening, Eating, Conversing, Chanting. (1,15,29June Buddhist focus; 8,22June. Christian focus) All welcome.A Place of Conversation, Collation, and Recollection at Camden HarborCome anytime, each conversation stands alone.

TUESDAY EVENING CONVERSATION AT THE BOOKSHOP 5:30pm. -6:30pm. Maybe Zen, Maybe Not. A Practice/Study focusing on Buddhist Meditative Tradition. Currently beginning After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path by Jack Kornfield

WEDNESDAY EVENING CONVERSATION AT THE BOOKSHOP 5:30pm. -6:30pm Laura Soul-Friend Conversations. Wednesday Evening Conversations focus on Personal Practice & Laura Soul Friend topics. (“Laura,” various paths.) What, who, & how of one’s spirituality. Topics will reflect an individual’s personal, spiritual, psychological, intellectual practice, interest, or concern. Each Wednesday some person, or some aspect of practice, will begin the conversation.

THURSDAY EVENING CONVERSATION AT THE BOOKSHOP 5:30pm-6:30pm. Stepping into the Mirror, A Practice/Study focusing on Christian Contemplative Tradition. Currently reading A Monk in the World, Cultivating a Spiritual Life, by Wayne Teasdale

FRIDAY EVENING CONVERSATIONS AT THE BOOKSHOP 5:30pm - 6:30pm Poetry & Journal Readings. An open gathering inviting anyone to join in the practice. Bring or find poems or journal writing.

SATURDAY MORNING & EVENING CONVERSATIONS AT THE BOOKSHOP 9:00am-10:00am: The Many Faces of Death. We are reading the book, The Grace in Dying – How We Are Transformed Spiritually As We Die, by Kathleen Dowling Singh. Come by any week. 4:30pm-5:30pm: Tea and Literature. For one hour we’ll read and converse about a prose piece, essay, or short story. Currently reading stories from Island, by Alistair MacLeod

MUSIC REHEARSAL AT THE BOOKSHOP 1:00pm-3:00pm (approx) Every Wednesday and Sunday Afternoon. A group playing effort. Join in. Also, any other days for individuals. An opportunity to rehearse with ease in a public place, anytime.

Closed Mondays. Open by 10:30am to 7:30pm Tuesday-Sunday (Sunday 'til 5:30pm). Let us order your books and music! Thanks!Bookshop/Bakery, 50 Bayview Street, Camden, ME Dogen & Francis Hermitage 64 Barnestown Rd, Camden, ME (207) 236-6808

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Speak now, or forever hold your peace.

If you memorize slogans, you are unable to make subtle adaptations according to the situation. It is not that there is no way to teach insight to learners, but once you have learned a way, it is essential that you get it to work completely. If you just stick to your teacher’s school and memorize slogans, this is not enlightenment, it is a part of intellectual knowledge. ( Fayan, dailyzen)

Marriage. The lovely woman who sang and spoke last evening has been looking toward marriage for many years. Reciprocity evades.

If we don't speak now we are not saying anything. Even if many words issue forth they are fluttering filler stuffing noise into open spaces.

What is marriage but now engaged within itself? No one left out.

Another woman buys three South American hand woven bookmarks. She says, "I wish I had a dog. And that it would take care of itself."

Now, what do you say for yourself?

Sunday, June 01, 2003

"Our boy looks tired," says Carol to Kevin. John Joseph holds miniature cement truck in one hand, thumb in mouth, eyes drooping.

It rains. Birch logs burn in fire place. Hugh and Virginia play harmonica and guitar. Dogs lay wet between benches.

Saskia sorts cheese sticks.

Rain rolls down glass.

Sunday afternoon.

Puddles pop.