Saturday, August 27, 2005

What are we at heart?

Whenever you seek Zen,
your mind ground must
be even and straight,
and your mind and speech
must be in accord.
Since your mind and speech
are straightforward,
your states are thus
consistent from start to finish,
without any petty details.

- Foyan (1067 -- 1120)

As things become clearer, it is more obvious that nothing matters more than spirit -- and that spirit and matter are not separate. If there is an attraction to monastic life it is because it is a life of wholeness. However attractive the alternative of cutting oneself off from the wholeness of life, it is not the way of monastic life. Wholeness is found in a humble affirmation of one's own wholeness. The dark and the light, the inner and the outer, the knowing and the feeling, the divine and the earthly, finally, the true self and the not-yet self.

A Trappist Abbot speaks about being momentarily surprised by God:
In fact, aren't such surprising moments what all our spiritual practices are meant to prepare us for? Not in any causal sense of making something happen, but in the sense of opening our inner experience, our inner senses to God's presence - God's loving ownership and personal desire for each one of us.


I am convinced that this is what monastic life is all about. Fundamentally, all the monastic practices and discipline are aimed at a continual availability to be surprised by God's overwhelming, erupting desire for us. And such eruptions are by no means limited to formal times of prayer. God can catch us off guard (in fact being "off guard" is really another name for this availability) anywhere and anytime - while praying, reading, working or relating with the brothers.

(Fr. Damian, Abbot, St. Joseph's Abbey, Spencer MA)

In Meetingbrook Hermitage's circumambulation, men and women, sentient beings, matter itself -- all manner of earthly reality -- turn around a center which sustains and nourishes its surroundings. Holy Spirit is true-center of spiritual life.

In constant reference to that center, and in hopeful connection with that center, we walk about our days and nights. The monastic heart and mind in the world has as its practice the remembering, embodying, and ultimate dissolving surrender to the Holy Spirit as it is in this present reality.

This dissolving -- i.e. the passing into, releasing into, and emptying into the root reality of our spiritual life -- is a daily practice that calls for constant and connected awareness of sacred reality passing through, releasing into and through, and emptying out from and through this being we refer to as our self. "Self" is a convenient word -- it is not something that exists apart from its ground. We might be distinct, but we are not separate. (We might distinguish one from another, but not disunite.)

A woman at the shop will often say that spiritual reality is changing everything -- not what we think. She emphasizes spiritual reality over intellectual matters. If we have argument, it is based on wishing not to separate biological, social, and intellectual functions from spiritual. There's a temptation, I sense, to emphasize one above the others -- in her instance, the spiritual. In my instance, there is an attempt to see how all our functions are integral to one another. "Spiritual" is not a separate, not a desired end at the expense of the biological, social, and intellectual. (We'll be reading Robert Pirsig's Lila in ethics class. He'll rake our confusion over the coals of insight.)

At heart we are here and now. At heart we are "this."

If we are to live the life of the heart, we must allow our heart to be surprised by the holy spirit -- that is, the wholeness of life shone through with light and love.

We need to stop worrying whether we are coming to life or beginning to die. We are doing both at the same instant and in this very place.

It is the monastic call to dwell in the house of God. Teresa of Avila tells us the light of God is the center of who we are. It is the longing of the monastic to allow that light to shine through to every place light can reach.

There is no place light is unwilling to reach through the heart open to compassion.

It is the monastic call to have the heart for it.

Practice, prayer, and perseverance.

From start to finish.

Off guard.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The vet says it is time to spoil Sando. Her cancer returns and this time will go away with her. She's a good dog.

Yesterday Sando, Cesco, along with the cat Mu-ge, walked the mountain path. This is just the second time the cat made the round with us.

We walk together. When walking is finished, and I think back, I'll remember that we walked together.

This moment, and this, then this. The simple and mere fact of being alive.

This morning before prison, before donuts, communion at St Bernard's, Rockland.

The simple, and mere, fact of it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Let's doubt anyone calling themselves Christian.

Many people wear a sign saying "I am a Christian" or call out loudly "I am saved, born again, washed in the blood of the lamb" -- and expect others to stop dead and listen to the next set of words they proclaim following presentation of their credentials. There's a better way to recognize a Christian. That way is less obvious and less noisy.

Reading Stanley M. Hauerwas, Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University, writing in Time Magazine just before the invasion of Iraq in the March 3, 2003 issue: "No, This War Would Not Be Moral" (a companion article to 'Yes, a War Would Be Moral' by Andrew Sullivan)

Hauerwas wrote:

March 3, 2003
By: Stanley Hauerwas (in Time Magazine/Time.Com)

No, This War Would Not Be Moral

(a companion article to 'Yes, a War Would Be Moral' by Andrew Sullivan)

The impending war against Saddam Hussein seems morally coherent to many because Saddam is "evil." After all, who in the world is against eliminating evil? Well, I am, if war is the means for its elimination. I am an advocate of Christian nonviolence, but I don't think that means I have nothing to say about the war fever gripping much of America. I believe that Christians, of all people, should worry when the President of the United States uses the word evil to justify war.

I have no doubt that Saddam is a brutal dictator. And I am well aware that he has failed to live up to the conditions of the 1991 truce. But I doubt that any of this makes him more "evil" than a number of other current officeholders around the world. Nor do I understand why President George W. Bush thinks it is the job of the U.S. to eliminate brutal dictators. America's foreign policy has often supported these same brutal dictators -- including Saddam -- when they have been on "our side." Bush's use of the word evil comes close to being evil -- to the extent that it gives this war a religious justification (which Christians should resist). For Christians, the proper home for the language of evil is the liturgy: it is God who deals with evil, and it's presumptuous for humans to assume that our task is to do what only God can do. Advocates of "just war" should be the first to object to the language of evil because that characterization threatens to turn war into a crusade.

Does that mean there is nothing we can do? No, I think that a lot can be done -- once we free our imaginations from the presumption that the only alternative is capitulation or war. Nonviolence means finding alternatives to the notion that it is ultimately a matter of kill or be killed. Christians might consider, for example, asking the many Christians in Iraq what we can do to make their lives more bearable. A small step, to be sure, but peace is made from small steps.

At the same time, we must insist on being told the truth about why this war seems so inevitable. The moral justifications for war against Saddam would surely lack any persuasive power had Sept. 11, 2001, not happened. As Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has rightly observed, any attempt to sustain truthful speech was lost as soon as the word war was used to describe the events of Sept. 11. What happened on that day was not war; it was murder. In his rush to assure the American people that everything could return to normal, President Bush declared a "war on terrorism." Oddly, knowing we are at war makes many Americans feel safe. Thus the metaphorical wars against drugs and crime are now stretched beyond all sense to become a war on terrorism. It's not clear, however, what it means to fight a war against terrorism. How do you fight a war against a phantom?

What a gift Bush gave Osama bin Laden. Prior to the President's declaration of war, bin Laden had been a murderer. But Bush's response made bin Laden what he so desperately wanted to be -- a warrior. And by declaring war against terrorism, Bush was able to fight an undeclared war against Afghanistan. Now his Administration is trying to justify an impending war against Iraq as a continuation of the war against terrorism.

G.K. Chesterton once observed that America is a nation with the soul of a church. Bush's use of religious rhetoric seems to confirm this view. None of this is good news for Christians, however, because it tempts us to confuse Christianity with America. As a result, Christians fail to be what God has called us to be: agents of truthful speech in a world of mendacity. The identification of cross and flag after Sept. 11 needs to be called what it is: idolatry. We are often told that America is a great country and that Americans are a good people. I am willing to believe that Americans want to be good, but goodness requires that we refuse to lie to ourselves and our neighbors about the assumed righteousness of our cause.

That the world is dangerous should not be surprising news to Christians who are told at the beginning of Lent that we are dust. If Christians could remember that we have not been created to live forever, we might be able to help ourselves and our non-Christian brothers and sisters to speak more modestly and, thus, more truthfully and save ourselves from the alleged necessity of war against "evil."

(Stanley Hauerwas is a professor of theological ethics at Duke University Divinity School)

Someone has said there was only one Christian (Jesus) with two or three who've come close (Francis? Gandhi? Teresa? the man or woman you know who just might be?) Everyone else has filled out a form, paid a fee, and gotten a membership card. Membership is no guarantee of belonging or owning. Like a lottery ticket, you pays your money and you takes your chances -- but as with most lotteries, chances are you won't get it.

No, it is doubtful anyone can call themselves Christian.

What then? How do we come to being, to becoming, Christian?

I don't know. But I'll venture a guess.

When someone sees Christ through you. When someone hears Christ through you. When someone feels Christ through you.

Maybe that's what we're looking for. When someone calls Christ through you. It is not something you do; it is something you are without knowing. The matter is relational.
Christ is related through us without our impeding or imposing.

To "relate" is to establish or demonstrate a connection between.

Christ is relative. Christ is the between. You and me.

War blinds its authors, they do not see the evil they unleash; in their blind groping the authors of war and assassination do not see Christ, nor is Christ seen through them.

Doubt gives pause, as we look though.

May we be relatively transparent so as to be seen through.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

When we live in the open, there is no protection nor worry. We are life's carefree and uncertain reality. If you want security, there is none here. At this news, we can either dance or weep. Let's do both.

feather, leg on trail
cat has eaten yellow finch --
nothing moves -- raindrops

(-haiku, wfh)

I have fallen into retreat. Bob would say, "Why not go forward?" He's like that.

Ordering books for ethics course at the prison. I choose four novels, Kristof Kieslowski 10 video Decalogue, Plato, Aristotle, G.E. Moore, Emerson, James, and much more. Someone said that teaching ethics in prison would be interesting. Anytime anyone thinks about ethics, without rote or retaliatory emphasis -- that's interesting. Most like right or wrong, black or white. Few seem willing to look directly into the ambiguity and uncertainty of human existence.

In the awakened eye
Mountains and rivers
Completely disappear.
The eye of delusion
Looks out upon
Deep fog and clouds
Alone on my zazen mat
I forget the days
As they pass
The wisteria has grown
Thick over the eaves
Of my hut.

- Muso (1275-1351)

Chickadee on cedar branch -- soaking open sunflower seed.

Reading Karl Stern on Descartes, Schopenhauer, Sartre, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, and Goethe. Reading Jean Gebser on the aperspectival, on the concretion of the spiritual. Thinking of other course on art, being, science, living -- whether and how self is discovered.

Something breaks open. Or, perhaps, burns away. At least, turns in. If the quiet was any quieter, even with splashing sounds of tires and eaves drippings, there would be no need of anyone standing out from reality itself.

Elsewhere, there is gunfire and shouts of fear -- decisions whether to kill immediately figures approaching, or the click of detonating explosives screaming out their woeful cry, "I kill you!"

There is no security. Not a moment's worth. Still, we dance as well as weep. We pray as well as sleep.

We watch. Breaking open. Burning away.

barn's burnt down
I can see the moon

(Haiku by Masahide, tr. by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoti)

See through. Be free from time. Decree oneself inseparate from the whole of it.

Consciousness itself surrendering to what is in the world.

This time, with love.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Nothing on the inside; nothing outside. Sometimes it all just disappears.


Each time I go outside
the world is different.
This has happened all my life.

The clock stopped at 5:30
for three months.
Now it's always time to quit work,
have a drink, cook dinner.

"What I would do for wisdom,"
I cried out as a young man.
Evidently not much. Or so it seems.
Even on walks I follow the dog.

Old friend,
perhaps we work too hard
at being remembered.

(From Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser. c.2003 by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser.)

What I remember from the time before disappearance is less than you'd think.

Try this: open your hand. Now the other hand. Look at your palms. The nothing there is what we have given, and what we receive.

There's nothing to hold on to. Nothing to let go. Drop that too.

God give you pardon from gratitude
and other mild forms of servitude

and make peace for all of us
with what is easy.

(poem by Robert Creeley)

Then, they say, comes prayer. Then, they also say, comes mere watchfulness.

The unseen God is seeing itself. No looking for gratitude.

Forget everything. Remember this.

Let me stumble into
not the confession but
the obsession I begin with
now. For you

also (also)
some time beyond place, or
place beyond time, no
mind left to

say anything at all,
that face gone, now.
Into the company of love
it all returns.

(from poem "For Love" by Robert Creeley)

For all those who no longer find it important to show up, to be remembered, or say anything at all -- try this.

Be easy with yourself.

Make peace.


Sunday, August 21, 2005

Standing alone, smoke rising from incense stick in hand, four bows in four directions. Three bells, sitting begins.

Flat Lake cold penetrates
Water-lily clothes
The mountain by the lake
Is neither right nor wrong
Dusty tracks all end, and
The world is far away.
White clouds and gulls
Have no hidden plans.

- Han-shan Te-ch'ing (1546-1623)

Two women, one man, two dogs, and a cat.

Warm damp fog drapes Ragged and Bald Mountains.

If there was anything to say it would probably not need saying. Cat mewed and was let out. Dog barked and was rolled a zafu. Heart Sutra chanted with help of voices in moderate pace. Candles extinguished. Windows closed. Cabin screen door held by roller latch.

Now, hours later, Sando gets medicine.

Day closes itself with night.

It is merely practice.