Saturday, December 22, 2007

Nears the time of appreciation of each as each.

The older brother sat listening to younger brother. He'd been fly-fishing in the St. George River after wading hip deep in snow to get there. Fire in firebox.

A plane flies from Africa with young child and father to new room in New England house. Czechoslovakia, Holland, Iran and France by way of Canada and United States comes this sweet young Guinean-American girl to a festive house.
When I say there is nothing outside,
Students who do not understand me
Interpret this in terms of inwardness,
So they sit silent and still,
Taking this to be Zen Buddhism.
This is a big mistake.
If you take a state of unmoving clarity to be Zen,
You are recognizing ignorance as a slave master.

- Linji (d. 867)
Three Stolen bake in upstairs oven. Sour cream apple coffee cake being prepared by Saskia. We linger at the shop. Feels like Christmas Eve. It's not. It's the first day of winter. Light has taken a stand. Stopped downhill roll and stood still, then turned. Yes. Time to ascend. Once more to the climb. First, though, to gather gear and plot a course. Last night light remembered its source.
We observe the Feast of Solstice Night. This great night was for a thousand years the night we observed the Great Feast of Christmas.

Then when Pope Gregory reformed the calendar in the 16th century - every day on the calendar slipped three days earlier. In the revised calendar, Solstice was now the night of the 21st rather than the 25th.

This put Christendom in a quandary. What to do with the date of Christmas - should it be changed to the 21st or left on its traditional day of the 25th.

After great theological debate - an answer arrived.

Solstice literally means 'sun stand still.' To the naked eye one cannot see the light of the sun increasing until three mornings after Solstice night.

That was the answer. On the third morning after Solstice - the earth and all people of the Northern Hemisphere rejoice - for we now experience light re-born!

(--from A Christmas Message from Alexander J. Shaia, of The Journey of Quadratos)
Garrison Keillor cheers us again, this time from Bethlehem Pennsylvania. His ersatz gospel of ordinary touch, good humor, and memorable images drifting into recollection.
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.
For this, God has raised him high, and given him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bend, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth,
and every tongue will proclaim “Jesus Christ is Lord”, to the glory of God the Father.

(--Philippians 2, from Vespers, Saturday Night)
Christmas is a good time of year. Light and food, reconnection and essential solitude.

It is a time of ordinary life experienced in the guise of especial effort and radiance. But it is, really, ordinary life. There's family and celebration of presents. There's the pervasive sense that we are not isolated and at odds, but rather part of a very large truth slowly becoming recognizable.

David Wagoner ends his poem Staying Found with the following lines:
When he stumbled onto the road again, his mind
Had changed. He was no longer lost in the woods
Or in cities as he had always been,
Not knowing it. Now, he would stay found.



Friday, December 21, 2007

For those not comprehending 'Holy Spirit' -- there might be approach another way.
Strange Peak

Looming up rough and steep
What force
The trees look like works of magic
And all of the stones
Are possessed of powers
Once you climb the peak
Your eyes will start from your head
But until then it stands veiled
In unbroken fog and mist
-- Muso Soseki (1275-1351)
Martha Heyneman's final chapter in The Breathing Cathedral is about the Christmas Tree. Before and above the big bang (the top of the tree) is the Invisible. The hanging balls are planets, the lights are stars, and at the lowest point a creche, the lowest point of which is the child -- here, Jesus. We are talking about this in prison today.

Around table we are talking. As Joe speaks, an insight occurs: It is the Invisible that engages my attention.

The Wholly Invisible is that before, beyond, between, and because,

The Wholly Invisible is source and emanation.

Kenotic emptiness, simple shunyata, and divine eternal presence.

It is to this, for this, and as this -- arises prayer, and thought, and grateful thanks.

Comes this Solstice.

Comes this Christmas.

Comes this.

And this.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

I am not my self, but the no-self I am.
In field or mountain,
Nothing stirs
On this snowy morning.

- Chiyo-Ni
There is a place where nothing is hidden.

Here is where nothing is revealed.

Sit still.



Wednesday, December 19, 2007

For Spinoza, freedom is the recognition of necessity.

Necessity is non-accidental.
I stop worrying about anything
I give up activities
I’m full of my life
I no longer go to
The temple evening and morning
If they ask me
“What are you doing in your old age?”
I smile and tell them
“I’m letting my white hair fall free.”

- Muso Soseki (1275-1351)
Inner, not outer, cause.

For a monist, we are of it all.

There is only experiencing itself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

However much we like our stories, the story about the thing is not the thing itself.

The story about Jesus in Bethlehem is not the presence of Christ in this room.
Both field and mountain
All taken by the snow
Till nothing yet remains.
- Joso
The story about Siddhartha Gautama is not the presence of enlightened awareness within the form you are.

Without a story the reality is the reality.

With a story everything depends upon who tells the best version and wins the elocution award for holy discourse.

Tonight, no story.






(You don't say?)

Monday, December 17, 2007

I imagine myself dead. There's nothing there. So I'm not imagining myself dead, I'm thinking of nothing there. There's a difference.

As I live and breathe things are right here in front of me. Smell of stir fry comes up stairs. Root rumble of heating system converts propane through fire to heated air blown into metal conduits to registers on walls and floors. Sound of three tiered bell hanging from cedar tree at northeast corner of house tells of conversation with wind I cannot make out.
Snow Valley

Each drifting snowflake
Falls nowhere but here and now
Under the settling flowers of ice
The water is flowing
Bright and clear
The cold stream splashes out
The Buddha’s words
Startling the stone tortoise
From its sleep

- Muso Soseki (1275-1351)
The here and now is comforting. Even when trudging with Saskia and Britta (Erika's excitable German Shepherd) through woodland depths of Ragged Mountain snow, boots crunching through to wooden bridges across double brook, cold wind penetrating gloves freezing fingers wrapped around walking poles, there is comfort in the experience of the things in sight, under foot, and in mind.

The there and whenever is less attractive -- even when described by visionaries and believers as joyful warmth of divine beneficence where nothing spoils or rots and monthly bills don't invite despair any longer.
"Is that really Granddad?" he whispered.
"No," said Onno. "Granddad doesn't exist anymore."
On the other side of the coffin, his sister Trees shot him a reproachful look.
"Granddad has left this earthly life for eternity," she said to Quinten.
He looked agog at the motionless contents of the coffin, without understanding what he saw. Something impossible was lying there. Everything that he had seen up to now in his life had been possible, but it was there; but now there was something lying there that could not possibly be seen and that he still saw. It was Granddad and it wasn't Granddad!

(p.429, from The Discovery of Heaven, by Harry Mulisch, c.1992)
Not to exist anymore is not to stand out from what is there. Quinten's Granddad did not stand out from the body prone in coffin. Whatever once was there, acting and speaking through the animated dance of breath and blood, no longer was on stage. "Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond" -- as the sutra says -- "Awake! Hooray!"
Only What I Can Do
Dedicated to Juan Bernal, died September 9, 2001, at age 41
I write a letter for my client today.
I sit with him on the deck
of the skilled nursing facility.
He eats breakfast, smokes cigarettes.
He wants me to write to his baby brother
in jail doing time.
He dictates: "I love you —
I need a thousand dollars —
I will drive the get-away car."
He has these plans
he needs to convey—tells me
his little brother will tote the gun.

He dictates: "The doctor told me today
I am dying, but he doesn't know
how long it will take."

It is doubtful he will be able to drive
the get-away car when his legs are paralyzed
and two people have to transfer him
from his bed to his wheelchair and back.
He has a direct line morphine drip
he presses every ten minutes.

It is doubtful he will make it
home again, but he wants to go home.
He drifts in and out of sleep, nodding-out
his thoughts stop in mid-sentence,
he loses track of his message to his brother.

He asks if they'll read the letter.
The jail will, I say. He edits out the question
about whether his brother killed someone.
He thinks he did. I suggest he
take out the part about robbing a bank
but he doesn't. He thinks it's a good plan.

(-- Poem: "Only What I Can Do" by Julene Tripp Weaver, from Case Walking: An AIDS Case Manager Wails Her Blues. Finishing Line Press, 2007. On Writer's Almanac)
As far as I know I'm not dying. Not in the "Oh my God, doctor!" kind of way. Still, in this quiet room, here and now, I cannot but think that the bell rung from the bottom of the stairs, tonal invitation to come to kitchen, where chicken and rice, a Sherlock Holmes video, and some leftover strawberry-rhubarb pie with whipped cream after -- seems like a good plan.

So it is.

Just for now.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

In narrow valley pass between two mountains wind hustles through trees banging into everything fixed in place -- windows, walls, broken slats of gate riven in drifted piles. Storm runs through mountains a driven herd of mutating moisture taking shape and consistency like a gaggle of teenagers unaware anyone watches them.
On the old pond
Snow falls on the mandarin ducks
This evening.
- Shiki
I imagine I am an old man -- as indeed I come to be -- a core center of my life, a place with no extension, but everywhere itself mirroring oneself in each revelation of itself.

I have no other image of eternity. I reside in time. I hear no voices, channel no entity, not visited by supernatural beings, no receiver of omen or favor of saint or deity.

Still, I hear the wind. Pushing snow with sleigh shovel up sculpted ramps then pulling back sending payload forward in centrifugal haste. Left ventricular strain, lung complaint, tennis elbow with no racket for years -- the storm and mountain are companions in time -- and tires rushing mountain sluice sound wet and sloppy tracks an interim phantasmagoria of Barnestown Road.

I have been pleased to be here. This earth. This particular geography. These drops of rain, flakes of snow, hardened evolution of wet and softened devolution of Midwest air on way to Maritimes.
the narcissus no longer sacred
under the ant’s footfall
it passes
the paper bridge
into September
How precise the return to “materiality.” The tiny world of life is all around, and the poet notices a lone ant tracking across his notebook page. This coupling of stanzas makes me shiver. I see a trace of the Buddhist-inspired Noh drama of Japan. The paper bridge is a stark, stylized stage setting—it is “the bridge of dreams,” guiding us across to another “world.” Another season. Love has passed, gone with a breath. The world turns into itself, towards fall, and the “it” could be anything—
it passes
the paper bridge
into September

autumn of withered grass
autumn of ghost-like winds
On the mountain we leaned into a circle, lee side of the jumbled ridge, wind whipping the pines about. The pines of the American West look so vividly like Japanese ink paintings. They are ancient Buddhas, Dogen Zenji would say, crouched in concentrated postures. Or stepping forward to gesture madly. By contrast, we humans sat bundled against the now-roaring wind, vulnerable, resolute, working swiftly to finish the poem and get off the mountain. Everyone had to shout their new verse over the wind. You could feel links and shifts crackling about. Basho wrote: “In this mortal frame of mine, which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices, there is something, and this something can be called, for lack of a better name, a windswept spirit, for it is much like thin drapery that is torn and swept away by the slightest stirring of the wind.”

(--from Whirling Petals, Windblown Leaves, By Andrew Schelling, in Tricycle, Winter 2007)
Bell rings.


Note: Today as it snows mightily, with ice waiting down the hours to come lay atop the soft white bed, we think it a good day to stay inside and invite no one out of their own sanctuary.

Thus, The Bookshop/Bakery is closed today, and there is no Sunday Evening Practice this evening.

Stay in, or wander out, safely!