Monday, December 31, 2018

practicing end of year

we sat in silence

then chanted prajnaparamita --

in circle of poetry back in house

wide gaps of listening

nearing new year

not a drop of wine

in my house --

at least an old friend

in Mexico has his Merlot

this, from a hymn, office of readings

The zen monk cycling across Canada, the US, and Central America told us that his koan throughout was "What is this?"

     Good Christian friends, rejoice
     With heart and soul and voice;
     Now ye hear of endless bliss:
     Jesus Christ was born for this!
     He has opened heaven's door,
     And we are blest forevermore.
     Christ was born for this!
     Christ was born for this!

     Tune: In dulci jubilo   Music: Klug’s Geistliche Lieder, Wittenberg, 1535.   Text: In      dulci jubilo: Latin and German, fourteenth century.   Translation: John Mason Neale, 1818-1866

"This" is what truth and reality is in zen awareness.

It is what Christ was born for.

Or, as another hymn says, "This, this, is Christ the King".

Pray for the grace of accuracy to be able to say throughout this coming year --

This is
what I am


this is 
what I am


this is 
what I am

here and now!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

mattock in winter

December 30th, 2018

Meeting an old Monk in deep Mountains

A cassock of coarse threads
A mind of moonlike kind;
A short mattock in his hand
To hew the sticks he finds.
By dark stones on the streamside
Over fallen leaves he goes;
A few wisps of cloud 
Trail two brows of snow.
- Guanxiu (832-912)

ah, 4am

The hour when everything is at ready.

When prayer seems silent necessity.

And we are invited to listen as night confesses it's true allegiance. 

Saturday, December 29, 2018

even more credible

There's something about reading from the iBreviary at side of a man the nurse says “is waiting for the angels to come tonight” that makes the words more real.
Ever since we heard this we have been praying for you unceasingly and asking that you may attain full knowledge of his will through perfect wisdom and spiritual insight. Then you will lead a life worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way. You will multiply good works of every sort and grow in the knowledge of God. By the might of his glory you will be endowed with the strength needed to stand fast, even to endure joyfully whatever may come, giving thanks to the Father for having made you worthy to share the lot of the saints in light. He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. Through him we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.
—from letter of Paul to Colossions 1, 1-14

The goodness and humanity of God our Savior have appeared in our midst. We thank God for the many consolations he has given us during this sad exile of our pilgrimage here on earth. Before the Son of God became man his goodness was hidden, for God’s mercy is eternal, but how could such goodness be recognized? It was promised, but it was not experienced, and as a result few have believed in it. Often and in many ways the Lord used to speak through the prophets. Among other things, God said: I think thoughts of peace and not of affliction. But what did men respond, thinking thoughts of affliction and knowing nothing of peace? They said: Peace, peace, there is no peace. This response made the angels of peace weep bitterly, saying: Lord, who has believed our message? But now men believe because they see with their own eyes, and because God’s testimony has now become even more credible. He has gone so far as to pitch his tent in the sun so even the dimmest eyes see him. 
from a sermon by Saint Bernard, abbot (Sermo 1, in Epiphania Domini, 1-2: PL 133, 141-143)
We breathe together.

We think of peace.

Friday, December 28, 2018

you don't say

Have you seen that which cannot be seen?

Of course you have.

Seems paradoxical, eh?

We see.

But cannot say what we see.

All that can be done is act with compassion.

Compassion is the only way to say what cannot be seen.

doing only what we are

these five days
by many beds
in hospital
balancing patient
visiting with hospice
sitting and prison
teaching -- all three
a conversation with
my community --
our family sentience
one recognition
after another
walking frigid
mountain trail
icy brook
frozen field
my family
late december

Thursday, December 27, 2018

sitting when all are standing

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died - (591).                                                                                                       BY EMILY DICKINSON  

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died - 
The Stillness in the Room 
Was like the Stillness in the Air - 
Between the Heaves of Storm - 

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry - 
And Breaths were gathering firm 
For that last Onset - when the King 
Be witnessed - in the Room - 

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away 
What portion of me be 
Assignable - and then it was 
There interposed a Fly -  

With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz - 
Between the light - and me - 
And then the Windows failed - and then 
I could not see to see -

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

each atom, each element, each breath

yes --

it's all

we know

of god

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

haiku (christmas)



is what

I think

of you

Monday, December 24, 2018

eve of birth remembrance

Finally, Christmas Eve Vesper's antiphon:
Ant. When the sun rises in the morning sky, you will see the King of kings coming forth from the Father like a radiant bridegroom from the bridal chamber.

sunday's O antiphon

Ant. O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

all true speech

When you hear the sound of voices speaking truth, harden not your hearts, pay attention, and smile.
MS. TIPPETT: Right. Very interesting. I would love for you just to read a little bit more a psalm that you love right now. 
MR. BRUEGGEMANN: The Book of Psalms ends with these outrageous doxologies. “Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire, hail, snow, frost, stirring wind filling his command, mountains and all hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild animals and cattle, creeping things and flying birds, kings of the earth, princes and all rulers, young men and women, all old and young together.”
It’s an image of all creatures joining in doxology. I love that, to think that sea monsters — I don’t know how sea monsters howl or how they express their faith, but it’s an early form of [sings] “All creatures of our God and King.” The whole world is coming in doxology, and I just think it’s so wonderful.
I just read a book recently, and I don’t know whether it’s right, but it says that Socrates said that all true speech ends in doxology to God. I hope he said that. If he didn’t, he should’ve. [laughs]
(--from OnBeing, The Prophetic Imagination,) 
As good a Sunday service as I might've attended.

Bless their hearts!

(And thank you, Alexander Di Lella ofm, for your scholarly teaching on the Prophets fifty years ago)

one within the other

Never is light so strong as when darkness says "I have beaten you".
Light looks right through darkness, saying, "I love your diaphaneity in my presence."
Light suffuses darkness, allowing it to remain itself throughout interpenetration.
Hence, getting along, one with the other.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

saturday's O antiphon

Ant. O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.


Sleeping dog

First morning returning light

His sweet breath on gray rug

Friday, December 21, 2018



but rain --

first winter night

friday's O antiphon

Ant. O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. (Vespers)

late and soon

“The world is too much with us; late and soon” (—Wordsworth).

Let planet tip and turn, returning light from darkening descent. It is time to look beyond posturing prancing and begin upclimbing ascent to clear and unambiguous truth in joy! She, mother of light, will point.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

a scary story

Everyone knows what a rotten piece of fruit tastes like. But the third and fourth bites, when taken, signal it's not about enjoying the fruit -- no -- it's about what you want from the person watching who gave it to you.

The torpid men with rancid juice dripping down their jowls are watched by gnarly eyes of smarmy face looking out from wretched man temporarily occupying Oval Office in deficient decline toward terminal throes of ill-gotten reign of democracide and denigration.

What so proudly we hailed is in danger of dark decomposition and decompensation.

The chickens, so to speak, are coming back to Washington, to get another vote and more putrid fruit from desiccated hands of poseur president on brink of vacating completely the unstable office he sits in shadows within.

thursday O antiphon

Ant. O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

just to maintain perspective

Observable universe
Observable Universe with Measurements 01.png
Visualization of the whole observable universe. The scale is such that the fine grains represent collections of large numbers of superclusters. The Virgo Supercluster—home of Milky Way—is marked at the center, but is too small to be seen.
Diameter8.8×1026 m (28.5 Gpc or 93 Gly)[1]
Volume4×1080 m3[2]
Mass (ordinary matter)4.5 x 10 51 kg [3]
Density (of total energy)9.9×10−27 kg/m3 (equivalent to 6 protons per cubic meter of space)[4]
Age13.799±0.021 billion years[5]
Average temperature2.72548 K[6]
ContentsOrdinary (baryonic) matter (4.9%)
Dark matter (26.8%)
Dark energy (68.3%) [7]
From Wikipedia:
The observable universe is a spherical region of the Universe comprising all matter that can be observed from Earth at the present time, because electromagnetic radiation from these objects has had time to reach Earth since the beginning of the cosmological expansion. There are at least 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe.[8][9]Assuming the Universe is isotropic, the distance to the edge of the observable universe is roughly the same in every direction. That is, the observable universe has a spherical volume (a ball) centered on the observer. Every location in the Universe has its own observable universe, which may or may not overlap with the one centered on Earth.
The word observable in this sense does not refer to the capability of modern technology to detect light or other information from an object, or whether there is anything to be detected. It refers to the physical limit created by the speed of light itself. Because no signals can travel faster than light, any object farther away from us than light could travel in the age of the Universe (estimated as of 2015 around 13.799±0.021 billion years[5]) simply cannot be detected, as they have not reached us yet. Sometimes astrophysicists distinguish between the visible universe, which includes only signals emitted since recombination—and the observable universe, which includes signals since the beginning of the cosmological expansion (the Big Bang in traditional physical cosmology, the end of the inflationary epoch in modern cosmology).
According to calculations, the current comoving distance—proper distance, which takes into account that the universe has expanded since the light was emitted—to particles from which the cosmic microwave background radiation(CMBR) was emitted, which represent the radius of the visible universe, is about 14.0 billion parsecs (about 45.7 billion light-years), while the comoving distance to the edge of the observable universe is about 14.3 billion parsecs (about 46.6 billion light-years),[10] about 2% larger. The radius of the observable universe is therefore estimated to be about 46.5 billion light-years[11][12] and its diameter about 28.5 gigaparsecs (93 billion light-years, 8.8×1023kilometres or 5.5×1023 miles).[13] The total mass of ordinary matter in the universe can be calculated using the critical density and the diameter of the observable universe to be about 1.5 × 1053 kg.[14] In November 2018, astronomers reported that the extragalactic background light (EBL) amounted to 4 × 1084 photons.[15][16]

beyond belief

What if, taken in the light of modern physics (as far as it goes), we came to understand these words with visionary mind?
Canticle — Colossians 1:12-20
Christ the first-born of all creation and the first-born from the dead
Let us give thanks to the Father
for having made you worthy
to share the lot of the saints
in light.
He rescued us
from the power of darkness
and brought us
into the kingdom of his beloved Son.
Through him we have redemption,
the forgiveness of our sins.
He is the image of the invisible God,
the first-born of all creatures.
In him everything in heaven and on earth was created,
things visible and invisible.
All were created through him;
all were created for him.
He is before all else that is.
In him everything continues in being.
It is he who is head of the body, the church!
he who is the beginning,
the first-born of the dead,
so that primacy may be his in everything.
It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in him
and, by means of him, to reconcile everything in his person,
both on earth and in the heavens,
making peace through the blood of his cross.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
 as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
Ant. The Spirit of the Lord rests upon me; he has sent me to preach his joyful message to the poor.
READING Philippians 3:20b-21 vespers, 19dec18

...   ...   ...

Would we come to see the isomorphic interface between wording and physicality -- how each vibrational breath is, at origin, the inchoate inception, and real conception of what is to be, as it emerges from. emptiness into particularity, then returning to emptiness again?

And would our coming to see (and become) our particular emptiness between arrival and departure assist our time in this interim to be less contentious, combative, and filled with illusory belief in  accretion, acquisition,  or accumulation? 

The ethos of domination, control, and personal wealth rifles our human culture.

We do not yet see.

just so

Everything is quiet,
And the night is clear:
The perfect time to raise your pillow
And cultivate your mind. 
- Daegak Euchon (1055-1101) daily

wednesday's O antiphon

Ant. O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid

thank you vinnie

fiifty years ago 

today vinnie d

ended the Vietnam 

war by stepping

on the ground

in 1968

unleashing a grenade

so that everyone

might come to love

the beauty

of this left-handed

sandlot catcher

who knew who his

people were

with equipoise

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

we wake up sometimes

Deepak Chopra at MIT, his talk, "The Nature of Reality", December 2018.

Vivid and fascinating.

In it he quotes Wittgenstein:
“We are asleep. Our Life is a dream. But we wake up sometimes, just enough to know that we are dreaming.”  (― Ludwig Wittgenstein)
Mind me this --

Now, then, where are we?

rising light

What if “God” were to refer to the whole of reality without limit, the rising interconnectiveness of dawn’s light gathering everything into light itself?

And Paul’s words? The realization that, if one cuts oneself off from the healing wholeness, one believes in the wretched severance of a modern day fracture of division and loneliness fabricated by narrow thinking unenlightened individuals.
For this reason the Lord himself gave as the sign of our salvation, the one who was born of the Virgin, Emmanuel. It was the Lord himself who saved them, for of themselves they had no power to be saved. For this reason Paul speaks of the weakness of man, and says: I know that no good dwells in my flesh, meaning that the blessing of our salvation comes not from us but from God. Again, he says: I am a wretched man; who will free me from this body doomed to die? Then he speaks of a liberator, thanks to Jesus Christ our Lord. 
 (—from, Second reading, From a treatise Against Heresies by Saint Irenaeus, bishop, Office of Readings, Wednesday)
The sign of our salvation is the rising of light within and without.

This light rises in the darkness. It does not eliminate darkness; it suffuses darkness.

Call this Christ, sunrise, awakened mind, or compassionate caring — we long for the reality.

Of course we differ over the formulation of the words, beliefs, creeds. But not the reality.

It is not of us.

It is given.

Face to face -- we receive, experience, and incarnate the reality.

It is late advent.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

tuesday's O antiphon

Ant. O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free. (Vespers)

primary education

Look at this.

No need to conclude anything.

Just look at this.

It will reveal to you everything you need to know.

monday's O antiphon

Ant. O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation. (Vespers)

not think at all

December 17th, 2018

From dawn to dusk
Spending the day
Gathering clay for my pottery:
Surely Buddha would not
Think this a trifling matter.
- Rengetsu (1791-1875), daily zen 

Monday, December 17, 2018

worry or optimism

Theres much lost to worry about.
So far, the independent judiciary has still not faltered, despite the GOP’s efforts to pack it with unqualified right-wing hacks. The special counsel and the U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York, as well as attorneys general in several states, are systematically investigating and prosecuting those who sold out America to enrich the criminal enterprise surrounding Donald Trump. And the press has begun to dig, dig, dig, especially as it comes to grips with the threat Trump poses to journalists and the First Amendment.  
Democracy will take its country back. After experiencing the corruption, brutality, and amorality of this regime, the people and their duly elected representatives will put in the safeguards to ensure that this nation never faces this kind of perfidy and darkness again. 
(—from, The Russians meddled in our Democracy, but they had All-American Help, by Carol Anderson, HuffPost, 13dec2018)
There’s much remaining to recommend optimism.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

the highest standpoint of all comes into view

Sitting four hours with a one year old -- holding him, feeding him, rocking him in cradle, listening to lullabies from iPad, until, finally, he fell asleep, his harsh cough rousing momentarily, then settling back as I continually rocked cradle leaning over, watching his face, hands, Rocky Balboa arms shooting up by him over his head in victory salute, lowering again in slumber.

He shouldn't, they say, have lived this long with such brain deprivation.

The non-separative emptiness of the interrelation.

Emptiness is the teacher.
The traditional East has always held that solutions to practical problems are the only ones that can be worked out through theoretical reasoning at the level of consciousness. True thinking, which is “moral thinking,” i.e. finding answers to fundamental questions, such as the meaning of life, our responsibilities towards others, and so on, is existential thinking, and takes place in the context of particular circumstances, which are my own circumstances, my place in society, the people I know, the country I live in. Obviously, what I can do about the environment or racism, for instance, is not the same, whether I am a social worker, or a farmer, or the Prime Minister, and whether I am in the UK, or the US, or Brazil, or whatever. Reason works out answers by applying an intellectual grid of causes and effects on a representation of the general problem on the field of consciousness. Such representation is an abstraction which more often than not pro- vides an excellent description of the issues, but do not even begin to suggest solutions. Einstein famously said “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” and “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.” In real life situations, there are specific problems which we encounter, and a need for a personal response to them: actions we should take and, possibly more often, actions we should refrain from. Critics of Nishitani have alleged that he does not provide a concrete ethical system comparable to what we find in Kant’s philosophy. For Bud- dhists both problems and answers are “contextualised” and, apart from the basic pre- cepts given to beginners, no Buddhist master will ever tell his/her disciples what they should do. Instead he/she shows them how to realise the mode of emptiness where they will find their own answers.  
Emptiness, then, is the teacher. Once fully appropriated, emptiness is experi- enced not only as a state of clarity where you are “enlightened” by all things, but also as a wellspring of goodwill toward all beings. Because Sartre did not extend nothingness to the self, he missed the experience of nothingness as spontaneous altruistic concern which would have transformed his existentialist philosophy into a genuine humanism. In the Buddhist mode of emptiness, I feel compassion toward all beings, I wish them well. It is only when, on the field of consciousness, I (i.e., my representation of myself) feel threatened that I may be resentful of others, and this is a state where no one enjoys dwelling. But when I (which is really non-I at that point) dwell in the mode of emptiness, I experience an all-embracing loving kindness and an unconditional wish to do what is good for others. I treat them with re- spect and reverence, not because they have “rights,” but because this is what I spontaneously want to do. “In religious Love or Compassion, the highest standpoint of all comes into view.” (Ibid, 281) 
(--from, THE FIELD OF EMPTINESS AS THE FIELD OF THE GREAT AFFIRMATION, The Kyoto School of Philosophy, Nick Bea)
It is that view, the one of love or compassion, the lullabies of embrace, that plunges us into the Great Affirmation -- this, this, is our body.

This, this, is 

What Is, Real!

Resplended resonance of Christmas lyric -- "What Child Is This?"

Saturday, December 15, 2018

where haiku will not go

          (after Basho)

flapping wings --

lift off, lift off, fly away --

soon, a vacant branch vacates

dark and dank

To the Washington Post:
Ach du meine Güte! 
For years I've worried that something stupid would unseat the thoughtful and considered rule of law and common sense holding up this country.When the Republican Party dissolved into the "What, me stupid?" method of governing by nonsense and narcissism, I began to breathe the new atmosphere as one does stale air in an abandoned mineshaft. The Republican Gemeinshaft has become dark and dank. Worry gives way to reality. They have been coal in our stocking.   
Ah, Christmas!
(My dear friend, Richard, departed farmer from Warren, would cluck and shake his head over such public comment on such low intelligence politics.)

Friday, December 14, 2018

incline to one or the other

Light and dark. It's where we live.

Not in the light; not in the dark.

We live in the light and the dark.

The admixture.

In prison earlier a man says that we incline toward a community of common desire.

In each moment, in each instant, we incline either toward manifesting light or dark.

But we live in the light/dark, or, dark/light.

We participate every moment in the choice to embody or manifest one or the other.
Pray for the grace of accuracy 
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination 
stealing like the tide across a map 
to his girl solid with yearning
(--from poem, Epilogue, by Robert Lowell) 
But we live, simultaneously, in both.

There is no separation.

There is only the moment of desire to incline to one or the other.

We step into the field of emptiness.

We move.

We open our mouth to say something.


what is


is what

Thursday, December 13, 2018

gracias el amigo

Yesterday, in Mexico and all the America’s, the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Three days prior, that of Juan Diego. In America Magazine yesterday, this article — 10 things to know about the Virgin of Guadalupe, by Andrew Chesnut.

The realm of faith, experiences thereof, articulation and institutionalization, remains a curiosity not easily understood or verifiable.

And yet, and yet, and yet...

10. The tilma upon which the Virgin's image is imprinted is held to be miraculous by devotees. 
Some scientists claim an absence of brush strokes on the cloak while others report that the coloration contains no animal or mineral elements. Perhaps the most spectacular miracle, according to devotees, is the tilma emerging unscathed from a bomb blast. 
In 1921 an anti-clerical radical detonated 29 sticks of dynamite in a pot of roses beneath the cloak. The blast destroyed a marble rail, twisted a metal crucifix and shattered windows throughout the old basilica but the tilma itself was untouched. (article)
We tell the stories and the implications with the ambivalent fascination we relate dreams after waking up from sleep.

The world, it seems, might not be merely binary nor bound by 2+2=4 certitude. This prospect gives me no particular joy. But it does bid me keep my eyes open and my mind inquiring into story and surprise.

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet suggests that human knowledge is limited: 

There are more things in heaven and EarthHoratio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.                         
 Gracias el amigo!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

ever deeper silence

What do we think will happen if we enter silence?

Bliss? Enlightenment? Unadulterated joy?

Or, perhaps, merely, an ever deeper silence?
Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate the development of contemplative prayer by preparing our faculties to receive this gift. . . . It is at the same time a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. This method of prayer is a movement beyond conversation with Christ to communion with Him. [1] 
Centering Prayer is based on the wisdom saying of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:6): “If you want to pray, enter your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Notice that “Father” refers to a personal relationship, whether you call it father, mother, brother, soul-friend, spouse or anything else. 
The first step in Centering Prayer is to enter your inner room, which is symbolized by the heart in most traditions; that is, your innermost self beyond the senses and beyond thinking. . . . 
Second, “close the door,” symbolizing your intention of letting go of all thoughts, preoccupations, memories and plans during this time. As soon as you are overtaken by thoughts, which is inevitable in the beginning, return to your original intention to let go of all thinking. You can do this in a very simple and extremely gently way, like saying a sacred word briefly, noticing your breath, or turning to God with a brief glance of faith in His presence. 
Finally, you pray in secret to the Father who speaks to you beyond words and who invites you to ever deeper silence. . . .
 [1] Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, 20th anniversary edition (Bloomsbury: 2006), 175.
(—from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation,Week Fifty, Contemplation, Centering Prayer, Wednesday, December 12, 2018) 
And what then?

(A clock ticking. Whirling sound of machine making snow at town ski slopes across brook. The engine of pickup truck going up road. The cutting in of furnace from cellar. The field of listening itself attempting to hear itself.)
"What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: 'I will send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'" (Luke 7:24-27)
Jesus is speaking here of John the Baptist.  He could as easily been speaking of different messanger — silence.

Preparing our way.

Before us.

Silence is Spirit. The Holy. Of which we know nothing — not from where it comes, not to where it goes, not it’s name, not it’s meaning nor purpose.

Ours is a silence-deepening life.

Where, in a limitless, boundaryless, and borderless expanse of silence we gaze from silence as silence into silence.

Here is where gaze sees nothing other beyond ...


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

get the hell out of here

From “Damn It All,” by Stephen Greenblatt, in The New York Review of Books, 20dec18 issue:
The Penguin Book of Hell, edited by the Fordham history professor Scott Bruce, is an anthology of sadistic fantasies that for millions of people over many centuries laid a claim to sober truth. Not all people in all cultures have embraced such fantasies. Though the ancient Egyptians were obsessively focused on the afterlife, it was not suffering in the Kingdom of the Dead that most frightened them but rather ceasing altogether to exist.  
At the other extreme, in ancient Greece the Epicureans positively welcomed the idea that when it was over it was over: after death, the atoms that make up body and soul simply come apart, and there is nothing further either to fear or to crave. Epicurus was not alone in thinking that ethical behavior should not have to depend on threats and promises: Aristotle’s great Nicomachean Ethics investigates the sources of moral virtue, happiness, and justice without for a moment invoking the support of postmortem punishments or rewards. 
The Hebrews wrote their entire Bible without mentioning hell. They had a realm they called sheol, but it was merely the place of darkness and silence where all the dead—the just as well as the wicked—wound up. For the ancient rabbis, heaven was a place where you could study the Torah all the time. Its opposite was not a place of torture; it was more like a state of depression so deep that you could not even open a book. 
In the Odyssey, Homer bequeathed to the world a much more elaborate vision of the afterlife than the Hebrews ever imagined, one in which Sisyphus ceaselessly attempts to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down again, and Tantalus, standing in a pool, reaches for fruit that forever eludes his grasp and thirsts for water that he can never drink. Yet notwithstanding these isolated examples of exemplary punishment, the land of the dead visited by Odysseus is notable not for the meting out of just deserts, whether pleasure or pain, but for a general sadness, more akin to sheol than to the Christian hell. “There’s not a man in the world more blest than you,” Odysseus congratulates the ghost of the great Achilles. “Time was, when you were alive, we Argives/honored you as a god, and now down here, I see,/you lord it over the dead in all your power.” But Achilles contemptuously dismisses the facile compliment:
No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus!By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man—some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive—than rule down here over all the breathless dead. 
Though life, as Homer’s great poem shows, can be excruciatingly difficult, it is still preferable to even the most honored place in the underworld.
For my personal philosophy, the following proposition applies: Get the hell out of here!

If “here” is all there is, no need to go elsewhere to assess and engage what needs assessment, engagement, and transformation.

by way of defeat

 We don’t understand the central symbol of Christianity, the cross. Nor do we comprehend the most obvious absurdity of the Jesus narrative, the empty tomb. But mostly, this season, the glaring question comes upon us — what does it mean to be born?

To be born is to die on the cross.

Whether the Roman implement of execution, or white nationalist tree limb of lynching, or quiet hospice bed of shallow breathing as something, something we can’t quite grasp, slows to a fragile sliver of breath fading from body, signaling the end of the apparent.

The primary cause of death is birth.

The cruelty of the cross is human denial that we are in this, and soon out of this, together. This denial, as with lynching and the blind ignorance of racism, misogyny, and classist snobbery — points out the devasting harm when willful stupidity slashes across human opinion and prejudice — instead of the conscious compassionate intelligence of spiritual and moral depth.

Chris Hedges, in an article on, writes about the radical theologian James H. Cone:
The cross, Cone reminded us, is not an abstraction; it is the instrument of death used by the oppressor to crucify the oppressed. And the cross is all around us. He writes in “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”:
The cross is a paradoxical religious symbol because it invertsthe world’s value system, proclaiming that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last. Secular intellectuals find this idea absurd, but it is profoundly real in the spiritual life of black folk. For many who were tortured and lynched, the crucified Christ often manifested God’s loving and liberating presence within the great contradictions of black life. The cross of Jesus is what empowered black Christians to believe, ultimately, that they would not be defeated by the “troubles of the world,” no matter how great and painful their suffering. Only people stripped of power could understand this absurd claim of faith. The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.  
Present-day Christians misinterpret the cross when they make it a nonoffensive religious symbol, a decorative object in their homes and churches. The cross, therefore, needs the lynching tree to remind us what it means when we say that God is revealed in Jesus at Golgotha, the place of the skull, on the cross where criminals and rebels against the Roman state were executed. The lynching tree is America’s cross. What happened to Jesus in Jerusalem happened to blacks in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Kentucky. Lynched black bodies are symbols of Christ’s body. If we want to understand what the crucifixion means for Americans today, we must view it through the lens of mutilated black bodies whose lives are destroyed in the criminal justice system. Jesus continues to be lynched before our eyes. He is crucified wherever people are tormented. That is why I say Christ is black.
(—from, The Heresy of White Christianity, by Chris Hedges, truthdig, 10dec18)