From dust

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It was warm and we were ambling. Glorious cloud formations floated in the blue dome above us and I suppose I must have been waxing lyrical a bit! ‘Where does your imagination come from?’ my friend asked. ‘From dust,’ I replied immediately. ‘Or, to be more precise, from dust flecks in my eyes.’

Everyone’s experienced them. Perhaps lying in sunshine, on a freshly mown lawn in August. I didn’t know then, as a very small boy, about the Hebrew vision of Creation formed out of dust. But, in company with summer daydreamers all over the world, I could see – behind closed eyelids – little floating flecks of dust (or whatever it is that floats there) and thus began the habit of a lifetime: ‘watching’ a Creator’s playtimes. The beginnings of meditation, one might say. Knowing with a faith-full certainty that there are colours and causes, glories and great wonders, lights and shades of darkness, silences and sounds, warmth and coolness, profound music and mysteries, that are already ‘accessible’ to us long before we complicate our lives by straining (or training!) to see, or hear, or smell, or touch, or taste.

And in that garden ‘knowing’ I learned that faith is about something deeper and greater than humankind could possibly draw ultimate boundaries around. So, for me, our philosophical, political and religious convulsions, and our loves and hates – important though they be – are situated in a space much larger and freer than we usually inhabit.

And here, and there, in the poetry of eternal creativity, I anticipate, I imagine, and whether my eyes are closed or open, for me and for all of us, I hope. Today’s flecks of dust – ourselves and all created things – will be reshaped for the joy of creation.

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The Wind on the Downs

The Wind on the Downs

I like to think of you as brown and tall,
As strong and living as you used to be,
In khaki tunic, Sam Brown belt and all,
And standing there and laughing down at me.
Because they tell me, dear, that you are dead,
Because I can longer see your face,
You have not died, it is not true, instead
You seek adventure in some other place.
That you are round about me, I believe;
I hear you laughing as you used to do,
Yet loving all the things I think of you;
And knowing you are happy, should I grieve?
You follow and are watchful where I go;
How should you leave me; having loved me so?

We walked along the towpath, you and I,
Beside the sluggish-moving, still canal;
It seemed impossible that you should die;
I think of you the same and always shall.
We thought of many things and spoke of few,
And life lay all uncertainly before,
And now I walk alone and think of you,
And wonder what new kingdoms you explore.
Over the railway line, across the grass,
While up above the golden wings are spread,
Flying, ever flying overhead,
Here still I see your khaki figure pass,
And when I leave the meadow, almost wait
That you should open first the wooden gate.

Marian Allen
from The Wind on the Downs,
Humphreys, 1918

Friendships, peace, and freedom of movement in Europe and beyond are of profound importance to me.

I’ve always failed to understand the attraction of too-proud-nationalism – on the battlefield or the sports arena. I cannot begin to imagine the horror of being required to take up arms against another person.

I cannot be persuaded that my political, religious or social beliefs and opinions are the only ones worth having. I have virtually no inclination to set myself in competition with anyone. I’m frequently dumbstruck by the casual violence implicit in the way some people speak of others.

I smiled wryly when I recently read an earnest report about the (relatively benign) effects of light pollution, wishing dearly for higher concentration instead on the thumping noise pollution that blights town and countryside alike. I’m genuinely and generally horrified by the uninvited racket that accompanies such a great deal of cinematic and television output, and even just ordinary social engagement.

And I am frequently beleaguered by the impression that some in our society are absolutely obsessed with gratuitous violence as forms of filmed and televised “entertainment”.

I was touched to the core when I first read Marian Allen’s The Wind on the Downs. I felt I knew her. But more, more even than that, my heart was touched by the millions of other hearts who, for similar reasons, have written poems like this one throughout human history; and by those who are writing similar poetry today, and will be – perhaps with stubby pencil on scraps of paper whilst crammed on board a dangerously overloaded inflatable boat, or perched in the midst of bombed-out dusty concrete dereliction in Syria, tomorrow.

Here still I see your khaki figure pass,
And when I leave the meadow, almost wait
That you should open first the wooden gate.

I want to learn from Marian Allen’s humility, and from the sacrifice of her beloved. And I pray for a personal way of life, and for a humankind, whose first and last priority is – here-and-now – a generously humble, inclusive, quietly reflective and loving heart.

The Ubiquity of a Presence

Writing, like faith, springs and falls in seasons: sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly …

And months have flown by since my last post here and “Fall” is now upon us – in glorious technicolour in my part of the world. As leaves fall reflections rise – ever-renewing the want to meditate, to pray, to reflect and to remember, and to set aside a little time to write.

Today, I think, it was reflecting upon the ever-changing technicolour around me that brought to mind one of Richard Rohr’s daily meditations at the end of September. Writing, beautifully and generously as always, in a piece called “Your Imaginarium“, Rohr cites Joseph Campbell quoting Thomas Merton:

One cannot apprehend a symbol unless one is able to awaken, in one’s own being, the spiritual resonances which respond to the symbol not only as sign but as ‘sacrament’ and ‘presence.’ The symbol is an object pointing to a subject. We are summoned to a deeper spiritual awareness, far beyond the level of subject and object.

Thomas Merton
Symbolism: Communication or Communion?
New Directions 20
(New York: New Directions, 1968), pp 11-12

. . . Mythologies and religions are great poems and, when recognised as such, point infallibly through things and events to the ubiquity of a “presence” or “eternity” that is whole and entire in each. In this function all mythologies, all great poetries, and all mystic traditions are in accord; and where any such inspiriting vision remains effective in a civilisation, everything and every creature within its range is alive. The first condition, therefore, that any mythology must fulfil if it is to render life to modern lives is that of cleansing the doors of perception to the wonder, at once terrible and fascinating, of ourselves and of the universe of which we are the ears and eyes of the mind.

Joseph Campbell
Myths to Live By, p 255
The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell

Here’s a vision that sets the spirit’s wind whistling in my wheels: ‘great poems … the ubiquity of a “Presence”‘.

Ah yes: always and everywhere, no matter the circumstance or season. Vivifying challenge to both the xenophobic and the theologically smug.

Would that all of us might find our locus in poetry’s truths. I’m reminded of some words in Michael D Higgins’ wonderful poem, Take Care

… Belief
requires
that you hold steady.
Bend, if you will,
with the wind.
The tree is your teacher,
roots at once
more firm
from experience
in the soil
made fragile.

Your gentle dew will come
and a stirring of power
to go on
towards the space
of sharing.

Michael D Higgins
from Take Care
New and Selected Poems
Liberties Press, Dublin, 2011

Many waters

The quality of Venice that accomplishes what religion so often cannot is that Venice has made peace with the waters. It is not merely pleasant that the sea flows through, grasping the city like tendrils of vine, and, depending upon the light, making alleys and avenues of emerald and sapphire, it is a brave acceptance of dissolution and an unflinching settlement with death. Though in Venice you may sit in courtyards of stone, and your heels may click up marble stairs, you cannot move without riding upon or crossing the waters that someday will carry you in dissolution to the sea.

Mark Helprin
Il colore ritrovato
The Pacific and Other Stories

Vibrant colours, hot sun overhead, people, surely from just about every nation on earth, boats large and small plying the Grand Canal with surety and speed. Art and architecture that takes the breath away. Hot and intensely busy … until the gondola enters into the water streets behind the immediate gilded attractions. Only moments away from cacophony there is very beautiful water-lapping sanctuary, shade and a near-eerie stillness. Certainly time to dwell for a moment on the extraordinary and colourful sight of a funeral bier we’d seen half an hour ago, precariously wheeling a coffin through cheerful cosmopolitan chaos. The cortege was heading for a funeral barge. We could see the church and the huge churchyard across the waters. It all appeared to be so utterly natural, the tinge of regret, upon the passing of a fellow human being, coloured by the strongest sense, in the midst of all this thronging life, that his or her death could not possibly be their ultimate end.

Venice is so very, very much. Marco Polo was reluctant to say its name, whilst in speaking of any other city on earth he was really describing Venice. For now it’s the “making alleys and avenues of emerald and sapphire” whilst crossing the many waters of life that is in the forefront of my mind. I won’t forget Venice. I know we will meet again.

Where the pot’s not

The uses of not

Thirty spokes
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.

Hollowed out,
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
is where it’s useful.

Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn’t,
there’s room for you.

So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.

Lao Tzu

Ecology, economics, gender, politics, poverty, religion, sexuality. Walls keep getting in the way. So, wearily, we return to same old, same old, same old. Cycling round the same old certainties. And the pot’s become more important than the life it’s made to contain.

In the melting pot of our early 21st century societal debate it strikes me as absolutely true that

Where the pot’s not is where it’s useful. 

When and where we’re hollowed out we learn to hold water.