Saturday, June 23, 2007

Letter to Vice President Richard Cheney
23 June 2007

Mr Vice President,

Happy summer! I hope you get a chance to rest and refresh yourself.

I write to say that I am not happy with so much about the way the important office of Vice President is being conducted.

I fear you and your staff are, wittingly or unwittingly, gutting the traditional rule of law, constitutional separation of powers, international agreements of conduct in times of war, and the moral integrity of the United States -- both within the country and across the world. It concerns me that so much negativity is generated from the Executive Branch (and whatever branch of government the Vice Presidency will ultimately fall under).

There is a vast countryside of diverse people in this great land who wish you and your colleagues would just stop the secrecy, hidden government, and fear tactics -- and open the government to just and responsible accountability with transparency. As you remember from your youth, we as a people long for justice, peace, and truth. These longings are not covert. They seek open engagement.

I invite you to Maine to sit and converse about the vital matters of ethics and morals, personal and governmental. It's what we do nightly at the shop -- converse about vital spiritual and personal matters

I assume you have good reasons for your agenda. It might be helpful to converse your point of view alongside differing points of view. I know how impossible the public glare makes authentic conversation. We are a small space, and confidentiality is respected. (Unless someone's well-being is threatened -- and then there has to be public disclosure). We will keep in focus the well-being of one another, the country, and the world at large. God help us! (Of course we'll invite God-Consciousness to dwell among us.)

The coffee and tea are always on the house at our bookshop.

I wish you good health and an honorable completion of your office.

Let us know when you'll be able to visit. Saskia will bake a delicious torte for us all.

Bill Halpin
Meetingbrook Bookshop and Bakery
Camden, Maine

Friday, June 22, 2007

32 Years Ago

Before he died, he lived.

Afterwards, we saw him

No more.

His body, yes. But not him.

He'd gone inside.



We're out here.

(--Poem by wfh, 22june07)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

We must, humbly, protest. War cannot be seen. In the same way, we cannot be seen. Only external acts and their results can be seen. War is as hidden and unknowable as is the self it attempts to satisfy.

Somewhere deeper than war and self is our truest way of being in the world. That way, too, is difficult to arrive at. Much dangerous territory must be crossed. Still, we must cross.
In contrast to Heidegger and Dogen, Derrida agrees that death can be characterized by mineness in the sense that it is irreplaceable. Although it is true that no one can die for another person, Derrida reinterprets "my death" to mean the death of the other in me.
(p.170 in ch 7, Time and Death, from Zen And The Art Of Postmodern Philosophy, two paths of liberation from the representational mode of thinking, by Carl Olson, State University of New York Press, c.2000)
There's a koanic reading to the phrase, "the death of the other in me." To "die on the cross" takes on a new meaning.
"...I know that if I ever allow genuine compassion to be taken over by personal ambition, I will have sold my soul. The only way I can justify my role is to have respect for the other person's predicament. The extent to which I do that, is the extent to which I become accepted by the other, and to that extent I can accept myself."
(--James Nachtwey, photographer, in War photographer, A Film By Christian Frei, 2001)
We need help seeing our deepest self through the self that greedily desires, hates, and thereby slobbers egoistic drivel all over others and on the world stage. War needs to be seen as a terrible ugliness covered by make-up of patriotic nationalism, righteous ethnicity, super-power pretense, and religious exclusivity.

In the world, church (real gathering, not mere membership) is attempting to come into being. It is mostly not-yet. Just as Nachtwey holds that photographing war is protest against war, church is protest against the triumphant solipsism of certitude and arrogance found in propagandist human discourse and delusional quests for power.
As a gathered people, we want to demonstrate that, in Christ, people can live together in genuine love and peace.

We believe God intends Christians to live out the pursuit of holiness not just individually but with a people, with a local church. And we believe that the mission of the church is to be the church for the world.
From the beginning of time, human beings have built walls against each other. We have built these walls with many things, including violence, resentment, feelings of superiority, emotional isolation, racism and economic oppression. The church is called to let God tear these walls down among his people by experiencing his love together and as a body trusting him. The walls have come down so rarely in human history that we and the world need to see that reconciliation and love among people are possible. Our calling is to be a demonstration plot where the world can see God’s love at work.

To put it in Jack Bernard’s words, our mission is to “learn to live together in genuine peace and love, and let others in on it.” God has already given us his peace and love; our task is to live into that reality and to invite others in.
We know we will often fail at this task, but we will try to take our sin and failure as an opportunity to renew our trust in God’s faithfulness and grace. We are clear that on our own we will never be a demonstration of anything good. That will only happen as the Holy Spirit acts through us as we seek him in our weakness, especially in prayer and studying his word.

(--from Our Values, The Church of the Sojourners, a live-together church community, San Francisco, at
There is talk of a "new monasticism" arising. If so, then the work of James Nachtway serves as precursor, as witnessing agent whose purpose is to unblinkingly see what is taking place with accuracy and fidelity.
The Twelve Marks of a New Monasticism

Moved by God’s Spirit in this time called America to assemble at St. Johns Baptist Church in Durham, NC, we wish to acknowledge a movement of radical rebirth, grounded in God’s love and drawing on the rich tradition of Christian practices that have long formed disciples in the simple Way of Christ. This contemporary school for conversion which we have called a “new monasticism,” is producing a grassroots ecumenism and a prophetic witness within the North American church which is diverse in form, but characterized by the following marks:

1) Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.

2) Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.

3) Hospitality to the stranger

4) Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities
combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.

5) Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.

6) Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the
community along the lines of the old novitiate.

7) Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.

8) Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.

9) Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.

10) Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.

11) Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.

12) Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

May God give us grace by the power of the Holy Spirit to discern rules for living that will help us embody these marks in our local contexts as signs of Christ’s kingdom for the sake of God’s world.

(Rutba House Community, Durham NC,
I notice my feet have taken a step away from the daily fare of madness masquerading as reasonable action or speculative thought, even political ideology.
People who study Buddhism
Should seek real, true perception
And understanding for now.
If you attain real, true perception
And understanding,
Birth and death don’t affect you;
You are free to go or stay.
You needn’t seek wonders,
For wonders come of themselves.
- Linji (d. 867)
Suffering and cruelty do affect us. They are complicated and exacting ways of conquest.

Something simpler longs to inhabit our being.

It starts with watchful presence.

Moves through selfish ambition.


Arrives at empty realization.

Feels kinship companioning.

Gathers engaged compassion.

Is what church could be.

What sangha could be.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Last night of spring.
My teacher said to me,
“The treasure house
within you contains everything,
and you are free to use it.
You don’t need to seek outside.”

- Dazhu (487–593)
Some light sadness at things failed at.

Things left undone.

A foundering.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What implications if we are alone with What Is Alone?
A buddha is one who does not seek.
In seeking this, you turn away from it.
The principle is the principle of
Nonseeking; when you seek it,
You lose it.
If you cling to nonstriving,
This is the same as striving.
Thus the Diamond Cutter Scripture
Says, “Do not grasp truth,
do not grasp untruth,
and do not grasp that
which is not untrue.”
It also says, “The truth
that the buddhas find has no
reality or unreality.”

- Pai-chang (720-814)
Is it the case that beneath the stories we tell to buoy our frightened mind there is a deep and radical emptiness through which we will not fall, but within which peace is encountered as nothing other than one's existence itself? Or do we imagine the Holy One as sitting in a chair with teacup and cookie plate on table with flowery cover?

The practice of solitude entails remaining well within yourself while understanding the emptiness of any separate reality other (or no other) than the Wholly Oneself.

In Catholic calendar it is the feast of Romuald. He saw something that he awkwardly yet effectively attempted to show to others.
St Romuald (c.951 - 1027)
He joined a Benedictine monastery but made himself unpopular there by trying to get the lax monks to mend their ways and so, with the permission of his abbot, became a wandering hermit. In a constant fight against the degenerate monasteries of the day, he founded hermitages and monasteries where a life of prayerful solitude could be truly lived. The monastery at Camaldoli, which he founded and where he remained as abbot for a number of years, became the first house of an order of hermits which still exists. But Romuald took to his wanderings once more, and died in a monastery he himself had founded at Val di Castro – as he wished, alone in his cell.
It sounds like a trick phrase, "alone in his cell." Are we not alone in our cells?

It's the birthday of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). I like the idea that "despair, [and...] disillusion, are, [...] no illustration of personal weakness."
Mathematician, physicist, and theologian, inventor of the first digital calculator, who is often thought of as the ideal of classic French prose. Pascal lived in the time when Copernicus' discovery - that the earth moves round the sun - had made fallen human beings insignificant factors in the new order of the world. Facing the immensity of the universe, Pascal felt horror - "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me." For him the world seemed empty of ultimate meaning or significance without Christianity, which he defended against the assaults of freethinkers. While Montaigne lived at ease with skepticism, Pascal was tormented by religious doubt, and took the question Why are we here? with the utmost seriousness, revealing his thoughts in his most famous book, the posthumous PENSÉES.
"Pascal's disillusioned analysis of human bondage is sometimes interpreted to mean that Pascal was really and finally an unbeliever, who, in his despair, was incapable of enduring reality and enjoying the heroic satisfaction of the free man's worship of nothing. His despair, his disillusion, are, however, no illustration of personal weakness; they are perfectly objective, because they are essential moments in the progress of the intellectual soul; and for the type of Pascal they are the analogue of the drought, the dark night, which is an essential stage in the progress of the Christian mystic." (T.S. Eliot in Selected Essays, 1960)
"Those who are accustomed to judge by feeling," Pascal said, "do not understand the process of reasoning, for they would understand at first sight and are not used to seek for principles. And others, on the contrary, who are accustomed to reason from principles, do not at all understand matters of feeling, seeking principles and being unable to see at a glance." But Pascal's belief in God was based on personal religious experience - he saw that reason cannot decide the question of God's existence, but he could appeal to it. In Pensées Pascal wrote: "Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is."

Will we evolve in awareness that we will be able "to see at a glance"? To see at a glance is to have no interference blocking what is there to see.

Solitude can help. Solitude invites what is there to see.

Some men in prison celebrate another kind of solitude today. It is "Juneteenth."
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another, is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All or none of them could be true. For whatever the reason, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.

(from History of Juneteenth,
There are so many layers of solitude, many layers of community within solitude. We are comforted, you might say, by the gift and ability to see at a glance.
"But, if this part of our history could be told in such a way that those chains of the past, those shackles that physically bound us together against our wills could, in the telling, become spiritual links that willingly bind us together now and into the future - then that painful Middle Passage could become, ironically, a positive connecting line to all of us whether living inside or outside the continent of Africa..."
Tom Feelings, in
We ask -- What implications if we are alone with What Is Alone?

We answer -- We are solid, in solidarity, with everyone. Everyone's experience is my (our) experience. God is not absent. God is presence itself -- everywhere at once. How is it God is so denied, even by, (some say, especially by) so-called believers?

Belief, emptied of content, is authentic affirmation -- is radical faith.

Solitude invites us to enter this emptiness.

Where all is.





Monday, June 18, 2007

Silence positions the body between points of view held and spoken -- a presence unbidden. Most conversations never take place. Serial speaking predominates.
The urge to make philosophy into Philosophy is to make it the search for some final vocabulary, which can somehow be known in advance to be the common core, the truth of, all the other vocabularies which might be advanced in its place. This is the urge which the pragmatist thinks should be repressed, and which a post-Philosophical culture would have succeeded in repressing.

The most powerful reason for thinking that no such culture is possible is that seeing all criteria as no more than temporary resting-places, constructed by a community to facilitate its inquiries, seems morally humiliating. Suppose that Socrates was wrong, that we have not once seen the Truth, and so will not, intuitively, recognise it when we see it again. This means that when the secret police come, when the torturers violate the innocent, there is nothing to be said to them of the form “There is something within you which you are betraying. Though you embody the practices of a totalitarian society which will endure forever, there is something beyond those practices which condemns you.” This thought is hard to live with, as is Sartre’s remark:
Tomorrow, after my death, certain people may decide to establish fascism, and the others may be cowardly or miserable enough to let them get away with it. At that moment, fascism will be the truth of man, and so much the worse for us. In reality, things will be as much as man has decided they are.
This hard saying brings out what ties Dewey and Foucault, James and Nietzsche, together -- the sense that there is nothing deep down inside us except what we have put there ourselves, no criterion that we have not created in the course of creating a practice, no standard of rationality that is not an appeal to such a criterion, no rigorous argumentation that is not obedience to our own conventions.

A post-philosophical culture, then, would be one in which men and women felt themselves alone, merely finite, with no links to something Beyond. On the pragmatist’s account, position was only a halfway stage in the development of such a culture -- the progress toward, as Sartre puts it, doing without God.

(--from 5. A Post-Philosophical Culture, in Consequences of Pragmatism, Essays 1972-1980, by Richard Rorty; published by the University of Minnesota Press, 1982.)
After two weeks in a position of unbidden presence, the requisite difficulty arises returning to talk that passes time. I concede the neighborliness of talking about what has taken place. Still, silence makes extraneous the need for explanation or persuasion. Presence insinuates itself within silence the same way birds precede dusk with clear and simple song.
In a recent book, To Achieve Our Country, Richard Rorty reasserts the traditional idea that the United States has the unique potential of coming closer than any other nation to the creation of a moral society, one in which "liberty and justice for all" becomes a reality. But he departs from the traditional belief that we have this unique destiny because of our special relationship to God. Instead, he bases his optimistic belief on a political ethos that "has no room for obedience to a non-human authority" but only to "freely achieved consensus among human beings."

Rorty assumes that moral values are created by human beings out of our experience and therefore have no need of any foundation in some entity or force that transcends our needs, desires, and hopes.

(--from, Does American Democracy Need God? - book by Richard Rorty, raises the question of America's belief in, and need for, God -- in Humanist, July, 1999, by Lawrence Hyman)
To say nothing of God. Of which, or, of whom nothing need be said.

I mistrust myself casual benedictions commending Gods blessing on someone. (I knew a man for whom such a salutation sometimes sounded like telling someone to go f**k themselves. His rote dismissal was not believable.) Nor is, I submit, God believable. I suspect God is merely present. In that presence, God is the breath between words, an invitation to converse with authentic, albeit reluctant, speech.

All truth is conversation.

This is spoken; that is responded.

And, for now, we hold this and that with reverent attention.

Until next we pause between inhalation and exhalation.

Where presence perdures.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Syrian-born priest ended his words with -- "Love forgives."

I left. My gratitude for these words was a berry scone and coffee at Chase's Daily, kissing the waitress Kristen who served the surrogate eucherist.
Cease practice based
On intellectual understanding,
Pursuing words and
Following after speech.
Learn the backward
Step that turns
Your light inward
To illuminate within.
Body and mind of themselves
Will drop away
And your original face will be manifest.

- Dogen (1200-1253)
She'd sung last night at an Italian restaurant, forgot some lyrics, and was tired. She was sardonically happy to be in Maine, "Where," she said, "careers come to die."
It is the man who is forgiven little who shows little love.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven’. Those who were with him at table began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this man, that he even forgives sins?’ But he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’.
(--from Luke 7:36 - 8:3)
Faith is love spelled longer. Just as hope is faith spelled shorter.

Driving through upper Searsmont and Liberty I listen to Jane put the finishing touches on her morning radio show on WERU. Judy Collins is singing about being promised to go boating on the Seine, and watching the Paris sun set in her father's eyes.

Later the dyslexic success talking on New Dimensions is saying that we are all of what human can be; we're to acknowledge all of it. I wonder about finding balance in the places where wholeness finds itself in us -- where nothing is excluded, and each fact is at home with us, even as we pack our bags with each act of leaving home.

I end two weeks at harbour room on solitary retreat.

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

(--written by James W. John­son, 1899. Found at The Cyber Hymnal)
What else could we pray for but to be -- True to our God, true to our native land -- eh?

We have to do this alone.

No matter who is near us.

To be true to 'this' is a solitary act.

To be true to 'that' is a solitary fact.

Even forgetting lyrics, we still sing.

Love forgives.