“. . . Vainly we offer each ample oblation. . .” (Reginald Heber)

Each ample oblation

Each ample oblation

Creative non-fiction. That’s what I’d write if I were not self-absorbed. Knew more people and listened to their stories. Read more news—personal news. “UTD professor runs math tutoring program in low-income neighborhoods.” Write about Prof. Lee and his work and what makes him tick. An essay about the way his program has changed the life of one student.

Something interesting. Something important. The purpose of education. A creative piece about learning to do math.

But I can’t even write in complete sentences when I think about such topics.

Yesterday I had in mind to write a lovely creative non-fiction piece about the American traditional shape-note hymn, “Star in the East.” It’s from Southern Harmony of 1835. I have a facsimile copy of the 1859 edition of Southern Harmony, but by 1859 the hymn was set to a different tune.

The tune from the 1835 edition is in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982. The Episcopals, in their diligence to be authentic, used the earliest version rather than the one most 21st-century churches would (I think) be more comfortable with, the 1854 edition in four parts. I wanted the four-part version to record and post on Facebook.

Sorry. Who besides Charles Hiroshi Garrett wants to read musicological arcana?

I’ve had the tune running in my head since the Epiphany. I was exercising in the therapy pool that day singing Epiphany hymns to myself. That was one I thought of. Big mistake. I’ve been singing it for 10 days.

The next step, of course, (of course?) should have been to record the tune on my organ as an Epiphany post on Facebook. I don’t care about the Epiphany, but church observances as they come around every year give me a structure for my inner musical life. And a reason to post little ditties on Facebook.

I couldn’t find a transcription of the 4-part version of “Star of the East” from 1854, so I delayed. I didn’t want to bother writing it out myself or making myself play it from the shape-note open score (four different staves).

Yesterday I decided it’s time. Christmas and Epiphany and the star in the east and the Wise Men are long over. If Christmas can start before Halloween, can’t it as logically end after Valentine’s Day?

But now to the truth. I delayed until today because I couldn’t find my copy of Southern Harmony (that facsimile of the 1859 edition).

I was assuming my copy had the tune in 4 parts because that was the “improvement” of the 1859 edition—all tunes had four parts. What I didn’t realize was that those words had a different tune by that time.

I want a wife husband. Thanks to Judy Brady. I’ve stolen her idea before. It’s likely even in Texas that will soon be a possibility. In Judy Brady’s parlance, I want

. . . a wife husband who will keep my clothes clean, ironed, mended, replaced when need be, and who will see to it that my personal things are kept in their proper place so that I can find what I need the minute I need it.

This desire is not new in my senescence. I’ve always wanted a husband who could do those things. Because I can’t.

Keep track of my copy of Southern Harmony, for example.

I’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating. Not repeating, revising. The last time I wrote about not being able to find something—that is, living in disorganization and monumental disorder—I was only 67 years old. I had plenty of time left to get the clutter out of my life and begin to work in peace and order. Accomplish something.

Predictably, not much has changed—not much except the urgency. I’m 70. Statistically, living in Texas, I can expect to live 8 more years. If I want to improve those odds significantly, I need to move to Hawaii, or the District of Columbia.

It’s time. I’ve said it before.

I mean it now. I want to be rid of everything I own that won’t fit in my car. And then I want to move it all into a new tiny apartment and get rid of my car. That, of course is my plan in extremis. It’s not necessary. But I want to get closer and closer to that possibility.

Get rid of stuff.

Every morning while I’m making my coffee, this is what I see.
photoI have no need for those books (and the other hundreds in my apartment). Nor those containers of things—knives, kitchen utensils. The radio, fan, lamp. You say, “That’s useful stuff. You just need to get organized.”

No, it’s not. I don’t believe the common wisdom that clutter in our homes is analogous to or symbolic of clutter in our minds. And I don’t agree with Peter Walsh that we can’t be at peace in a cluttered home.

It’s not the clutter that prevents peace. It’s the ownership. I own this stuff. I could live in complete clutter and be at peace if I did not own the stuff.

Here I make a sharp at least 90-degee turn in logic and pretend I’m writing creative non-fiction.

First, a tiny bit of word history. According to the online etymology dictionary, “own” and “owe” come from the same root. I don’t pretend to be a philologist. But I see a connection. We “own” and “owe” at the same time. Everything we “own,” we “owe.” I don’t know to what or whom.

If we “owe” our stuff, then paying it off ought to give us some satisfaction, some peace, some sense of freedom—something.
Here’s my guess, however. We’re caught in a catch-22 of our own making. We own all this stuff, and we owe it. But we can’t even give it away. We’re too attached to it and we’ll think we’ve accomplished something by giving it away. We will clear our minds and souls. Because we think we will have done it, it won’t happen.

We need a whole new relationship with our things.

I don’t know what it is.

The funny old hymn says it. You don’t have to believe in the Baby Jesus or the Wise Men to see this.

Vainly we offer each ample oblation;
Vainly with gold we his favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration;
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Vainly. We have to do it, but it’s in vain.

(Anglican) Bishop Reginald Heber (1783-1826)
1 Hail the blest morn, see the great Mediator,
Down from the regions of glory descend!
Shepherds, go worship the babe in the manger,
Lo, for his guard the bright angels attend.

2 Cold on his cradle the dewdrops are shining;
Low lies his bed with the beasts of the stall;
Angels adore him, in slumbers reclining,
Wise men and shepherds before him do fall.

3 Say, shall we yield him, in costly devotion,
Odors of Eden and offerings divine?
Gems from the mountain, and pearls from the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest, and gold from the mine?
4 Vainly we offer each ample oblation;

Vainly with gold we his favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration;
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

5 Low at his feet we in humble prostration,
Lose all our sorrow and trouble and strife;
There we receive his divine consolation,
Flowing afresh from the fountain of life.

6 He is our friend in the midst of temptation,
Faithful supporter, whose love cannot fail;
Rock of our refuge, and hope of salvation,
Light to direct us through death’s gloomy vale.

7 Star of the morning, thy brightness, declining,
Shortly must fade when the sun doth arise:
Beaming refulgent, his glory eternal
Shines on the children of love in the skies.

It’s a conundrum.

Vainly with gifts would his favor secure

Vainly with gifts would his favor secure

“. . . You gave me What you did not have. . .” (Alberto Ríos)

If everyone lit just one little candle on WABD (now Fox WNYW) TV

If everyone lit just one little candle on WABD (now Fox WNYW) TV

In 1952—the year Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected President, defeating Adlai Stevenson—Roman Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) defeated Edward R. Murrow, Lucille Ball and Arthur Godfrey for the Emmy for Most Outstanding Television Personality. He was a televangelist before there were such things.

I remember the show because my father belittled the good Bishop, not (overtly) because he was Catholic but because he was sentimental and entertaining. I also remember ad nauseam the last phrase of his show’s theme song, which swelled in the background as he gave his blessing, “And if everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world this would be.”

That song was not the stuff of my father’s Baptist preaching. The actions of human beings, no matter how noble or well-intended, were not going to make the world a better place. That job was for the deity.

The good Bishop was recently on his way to Canonization as a saint, but the process came to a halt last year when the Archdiocese of New York refused to give his body to the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, for the examination—and taking the “relics”—required for sainthood. New Yorkers know the value of an Emmy-Award-Winning Personality.

Most of us believe we have award-winning personalities (caveat: assuming most of “us” have the time and wherewithal to be thinking about ourselves, as opposed to most of “them” who are struggling simply to survive). If we don’t assume we have award-winning personalities, we have plenty of clothes from Ross-Dress-For-Less or Nordstrom-Dress-For-More, and apps for our iPhones, and Rear-View-Monitoring Systems for our cars to make up for it.

I used to worry about my personality. I began worrying when I began to understand (in about 4th grade) I’m an odd duck. I’ve never quite fit in. That’s not sour grapes, it’s not trying make excuses for myself, and it’s not wishful thinking. In 4th grade I was the teacher’s pet, overweight, an organ student rather than a Little Leaguer, and often wore clothes my mother made. The preacher’s kid, too. And gay. And knew it.

If you didn’t worry about your personality in 4th grade, you were either one of the in-crowd and knew it, better adjusted than any 4th-grader I’ve ever known, or hopeless.

The odd duck

The odd duck

I’ve written several times about the $20 bill I keep folded and hidden in my wallet for the purpose of giving it to a (homeless, street, needy, crazy) person. I began the practice when I received a tearful, grateful hug from a small elderly Asian waitress for whom I left a $20 tip at a Denny’s restaurant in Seattle about 15 years ago. It’s no big deal. It’s not generous or gracious or altruistic on my part. I’m the one, this odd duck who almost always feels out of place, who got the hug—the assurance that I’m still part of the human race and not an Anas discors.

If I am making the world bright, the light’s falling on me, not on the recipients of my $20 bill. But it’s not because I’m doing something so wonderful that I deserve it.

So now I drift off into the same kind of sentimentalism my father found in the teaching of Bishop TV Personality.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably say it again. If you want to stop feeling like an odd duck, or even a Cygnus buccinators, give someone who needs it a $20 bill. I know most everyone who might be reading this gives a beggar on the street corner a quarter now and then, mostly to assuage guilt for all the times we have “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:25-37).

Advice: It’s a lot more assuaging to drop a $20 bill in the woman’s hat. You can not only feel noble, but you might—if you’re lucky and the world’s truly becoming a “bright place”—get an unmerited hug out of the deal. You know, physical human contact, probably contact you’ll remember all day because you’ll worry that you’ve picked up some of her odor. You’ll remember it because you don’t deserve it

I have a couple other suggestions. If you’re worried about, terrified of, disgusted by “illegal immigrants,” go teach an ESL class at, say, the Aberg Center for Literacy in Dallas. Or send Judge Clay Jenkins an email offering to help take care of some of the illegal kids down on the border (his program turned out to be unnecessary, but you’ll be on his distribution list and learn about all sorts of stuff on the other side of Dallas you didn’t know about).

Or get yourself a meager-paying job as a tutor for athletes at some college who are being abused by “the system” of school athletics and help them find their true potential (or if you don’t want to be grandiose, just help them pass College English 101).

Or the next time your church sends you an email asking you for a donation to help Syrian kids in refugee camps in Lebanon, send them the $20.

Or tell your friend who puts racist comments about President Obama on your Facebook page to cut it out. Tell them. In public.

Want to see the jolliest moment of your day? Watch the instant and oh-so-real communication between a guy with a cane holding the door for a guy with a walker. You’re not going to get a ray of the brightness of the world any better than that.

This sentimental old fool has two words of advice for you youngsters. If you plan on being old, take care of your hips. And, if you plan on being old, cut out living as if you’re the only non-odd duck in the world and start carrying a $20 bill.

This is not new advice. I just keep discovering its aptness day after day. And I am more grateful than I can say for all the people who light candles to light my way.

“When Giving Is All We Have,” by Alberto Ríos (b. 1952)
One river gives
Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

The Ugly duckling grown up.
Trumpeter-Swan_B9H7775

“They remember, however, that there is something they cannot remember.” (Robert Penn Warren)

The Ministry of Truth, 1984

The Ministry of Truth, 1984

A couple of days ago I wrote about ultimate reality. Today I think I’ll write about faith.

Not that I have any.

In much of anything.

Immediately after the bombings of “9-11,” President Bush announced the creation of the “Office of Homeland Security,” with former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as director. On November 25, 2002, the “office” was elevated to a Cabinet-level “Department” of the Federal Government.

At the time I—like many other wannabe “liberals”—was profoundly uncomfortable with the use of the word “homeland” because it smacked of Hitler’s use of the word to instill an overwhelming sense of nationalism in the German people.

Hearing “homeland” (always with “security”) even now causes an involuntary tightening in the back of my throat. Especially when I have to take off my shoes at the airport (Oops! I no longer have to do that because I’m so old).

It’s not so much that I dislike peripheral connotations of the Third Reich (although I do) as that I’m mystified by what the government counts, and the people accept, as “security.” No one can actually believe that my taking my CPAP out of my suitcase with one hand while I hold my cane with the other is making the airport—much less our nation—safer. It’s just crazy.

Oh, I know, I know. We all have to do it in order to prevent the one person who might be up to no good from getting on a plane to do something unspeakable. That’s reasonable, logical.

Well, maybe. If that’s so, why do “frequent fliers” and “executive class” airline passengers not have to do it? None of them could be a terrorist?

The whole kit and caboodle is nonsense.

We only do it because we have elevated the Department of Homeland Security to the level of, oh, say, the Pope as the arbiter of a belief, a FAITH, if you will. And don’t let Bill Maher or any other atheist who puts up with taking off their shoes at the airport tell you otherwise (of course Bill Maher flies around the country being important so he doesn’t have to do it—executive class, don’t you know). It’s a religion.

And so is investing in the stock market as a hedge against poverty in retirement.

And so is voting for a Republican. (Sorry, I had to say that.)

If you listen to people (your next door neighbor or the Attorney General of the United States) talk, and you have any ability to hear what people are really saying, you will understand that we are living out the prophecy of George Orwell in 1984.

Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable
exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room.
The self-satisfied sheep-like face on the screen, and the terrifying power
of the Eurasian army behind it, were too much to be borne: besides,
the sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger
automatically. He was an object of hatred more constant than either Eurasia
or Eastasia, since when Oceania was at war with one of these Powers it was
generally at peace with the other. But what was strange was that although
Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day and a
thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers,
in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the
general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were—in spite of all this,
his influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes
waiting to be seduced by him. A day never passed when spies and saboteurs
acting under his directions were not unmasked by the Thought Police.
He was the commander of a vast shadowy army, an underground network of
conspirators dedicated to the overthrow of the State.

I’m not making any judgment about whether or not ISIS or Al-Qaeda or Vladimir Putin or Obamacare is out to destroy America. I frankly don’t know. Here’s the point. You don’t know either. None of us knows.

We believe.

And our belief brings us to faith in the Department of Homeland Security (and in other things, such as “open-carry” and “stand your ground” laws).

The Holy Sacrament

The Holy Sacrament

To be clear. I am not advocating disbanding the DHS or any other radical action. I’m too old to care (and I was too meek and scared before I got too old) how we structure things to keep us “safe.”

All I’m advocating is that anyone who wants to live in reality look carefully at their faiths—what they put their faith in. What’s your God?

I don’t know if God—as anyone understands it/him/her/them—exists. But I know this for sure. It/him/her/them has nothing to do with the DHS in which the vast majority of Americans put their faith.

The Holy Bible with which I grew up says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). We hope for security and we are convicted that that DHS is protecting us. Neither of which is based in fact.

I didn’t say the conspiracy to kill us is not true or that DHS isn’t protecting us. I’m simply saying that, as for me, I don’t know. I have no faith.

Is that an ambiguity, a conundrum, I’m willing to live with?

There’s another interesting thing about faith in the DHS: It’s a middle and upper class religion. Poor people don’t have to take their shoes off at the airport. And the top 1% are free to ignore the religion altogether.

Because poor people don’t fly and the rich are exempt.

The poor are at home trying to keep from starving. Yes, in this country. My guess is anyone living in food insecurity is not buying a plane ticket (except in some mythical la-la-land dreamed up by the Tea Party where the poor are really selfish monsters).

That Holy Bible I mentioned above also says (in a translation I remember from childhood), “Put not your trust in idols or anything made by man” (Leviticus 19:4). So we trust DHS in direct contradiction of the Holy Bible most Americans say they believe in.

So when I say, “. . . write about faith. Not that I have any. In much of anything,” I mean just that. I’m left sort of dangling out there in space without much to hold onto. If God exists, I don’t know it any more. I used to. In my own way which I was never quite able to explain to anyone else. But now I don’t know. I’m 70 years old, and lots of people—most people—die when they’re this age, give or take a very few years. I think if you’re my age and not actively thinking about what the end of this life means, you’re living in another la-la-land. You’re in for some sort of surprise. Soon.

And see, the DHS isn’t going to protect you.

So what’s the take-away here?

I don’t know.

Robert Penn Warren says you would think nothing would ever again happen. And thinking that, knowing that, may be the way to love God.

“A Way to Love God,” by Robert Penn Warren (1905 – 1989 )
Here is the shadow of truth, for only the shadow is true.
And the line where the incoming swell from the sunset Pacific
First leans and staggers to break will tell all you need to know
About submarine geography, and your father’s death rattle
Provides all biographical data required for the Who’s Who of the dead.

I cannot recall what I started to tell you, but at least
I can say how night-long I have lain under the stars and
Heard mountains moan in their sleep. By daylight,
They remember nothing, and go about their lawful occasions
Of not going anywhere except in slow disintegration. At night
They remember, however, that there is something they cannot remember.
So moan. Theirs is the perfected pain of conscience that
Of forgetting the crime, and I hope you have not suffered it. I have.

I do not recall what had burdened my tongue, but urge you
To think on the slug’s white belly, how sick-slick and soft,
On the hairiness of stars, silver, silver, while the silence
Blows like wind by, and on the sea’s virgin bosom unveiled
To give suck to the wavering serpent of the moon; and,
In the distance, in plaza, piazza, place, platz, and square,
Boot heels, like history being born, on cobbles bang.

Everything seems an echo of something else.

And when, by the hair, the headsman held up the head
Of Mary of Scots, the lips kept on moving,
But without sound. The lips,
They were trying to say something very important.

But I had forgotten to mention an upland
Of wind-tortured stone white in darkness, and tall, but when
No wind, mist gathers, and once on the Sarré at midnight,
I watched the sheep huddling. Their eyes
Stared into nothingness. In that mist-diffused light their eyes
Were stupid and round like the eyes of fat fish in muddy water,
Or of a scholar who has lost faith in his calling.

Their jaws did not move. Shreds
Of dry grass, gray in the gray mist-light, hung
From the side of a jaw, unmoving.

You would think that nothing would ever again happen.

That may be a way to love God.

And that may be the way to love God.

Freedom Tower, 2014

Freedom Tower, 2014

“Who shall doubt consciousness in itself of itself carrying. . . ” (George Oppen)

Like as the Palestinian gazelle desires the water brooks. . . (Psalm 42)

Like as the Palestinian gazelle desires the water brooks. . . (Psalm 42)

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George Oppen is a poet English majors want to be sure everyone knows they have read. Not one English major has read his work, however, because it is incomprehensible. Unless, of course, the English major also has the temerity to say they have read and understood Heidegger’s Being and Time. Which I suppose is possible. But not likely. Understanding, that is.

My purpose today is to contemplate reality.

Ultimate reality.

You may now giggle, either aloud or to yourself—no matter.

You ask if I have read Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, Langer, Kristeva—and before them, Plato, Socrates, Boethius, Kierkegaard, Kant, Wittgenstein. Yes, I have. Well, sort of. I’m not smart enough to figure most of those folks out. I always have the sense, reading them, that either their brains are more highly evolved than mine (and, most likely, yours) and I am not even in the same world they are in, or they are having us on, sounding profound when they are, in fact, stumbling around looking for ways to explain things exactly as the rest of us are.

The epigraph Veritas sequitur . . . [of the poem, “Psalm,” by George Oppen] evokes the conceptual framework and spirituality of Thomas Aquinas who in the thirteenth century argued for the Divine as an efficient cause for everything that manifests, that is, for the entire created world. It would be incorrect to understand Oppen as involved in any theology, however, even as the poem possibly demonstrates a religiosity; but what might give rise to religious sentiment is within Oppen’s purview (Burt Kimmelman).

Veritas sequitur. “Truth follows.”

On January 5, 2015, my brain had some sort of seizure activity in the morning. I say “some sort” because I’m almost certain it was, but my neurologist concluded from my description that it was likely not a seizure. I know how my seizures feel, and I can say without doubt that it was—at least at the outset—a seizure. Most likely our difference in designation comes from the fact that the sense of dissociation that is the main result of seizure activity in my brain lasted all day. Seizures (my particular brand, at any rate) are momentary. Unless I black out and am gone for a short period of time. Then all bets are off.
oppen
“Do you need to go to the hospital?” the nice policeman asked a few years ago when I came to in a Target store and a small gaggle of concerned people was standing around me. “No, I’ll go home. My car is right out there.” “No, we’ll drive you home,” the other nice policeman said.

That’s a real, full-blown seizure.

What I experienced on the 5th of January was a moment of dissociation (they’re a dime a dozen in my world) followed by an entire day of confusion and depression. And more dissociation.

The question I’d like to pose (because I’d truly like an answer) is whether or not the day of confusion, depression, and dissociation is, in point of fact, the norm for Homo sapiens, that our life spent thinking we know what is going on both in our own consciousness and in the world around us is abnormal. A lie we have convinced ourselves is “real.”

In asking the question, I am, in fact, in good company.

Who shall doubt
consciousness

in itself

of itself carrying

‘the principle
of the actual’ being

actual

itself ((but maybe this is a love
poem

Mary)) nevertheless

neither

the power
of the self nor the racing
car nor the lily

is sweet but this
—George Oppen, 1975

I’m not (never was) an English major. I taught college English for 30 years without ever once knowing what I was doing. (Speaking of dissociation!) But I understand “Who shall doubt consciousness in itself of itself.”

Who shall doubt consciousness? Probably not you nor your parents nor your lover, and most certainly not your Congressperson nor your Pastor.

My guess is that anyone who has been given the tandem gifts of a moment of dissociation and a day of depression actually understands consciousness better than people who have never had the experience of that duality.

The first time I pretended to be an English major (spring semester, 1987, Salem State College in Massachusetts) I taught “Introduction to World Literature.” One of my colleagues, a real English professor, suggested I use Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot as the required “novel in translation” for my class. He knew about my dissociation and depression, and I was madly in love with him.

When I want to be sure I’m not alone out here in this dissociative world, I read a little Dostoyevsky or Oppen. “Their fiction and their poetry, they comfort me.” (Perhaps I am an English major; at the very least, I know how to make allusions. Psalm 23.)

Back to contemplating reality.

What’s real?

If you are blessed with seizure activity, you know better than most about reality. It isn’t. That, of course, is nonsense.
But explain to me, if you think you know what’s real, how a deer grazing in a meadow in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming came to be. And how I came to be so I have in my mind indelibly the memory of that deer (the memory will be there, I am convinced, when I know very little else because of the ravages of Alzheimer ’s disease).

Ultimate reality, I said.

Those who have not been given the gift of dissociative seizures might do well someday to find a meadow to sit in, sit still, unengaged, quiet, not trying to control anything and watch for a deer to come and graze. Watch intently. Wait for it.

What’s real in this idyllic scene? The deer or your perception of it. Or neither. Or both.

. . .just as the investigation of being is the primary task of metaphysics, so is the question of truth. Truth designates that which is real, and was real and “that which always is and knows neither birth nor death” (Fr. Andrzej Maryniarczyk).

Those of us lucky enough to feel for a moment now and then that nothing is real, physical, knowable can tell you:
Don’t give it another thought.

“Psalm,” by George Oppen.
Veritas sequitur …

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down—
That they are there!

Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

Their paths
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
Of sun

The small nouns
Crying faith
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.

Oppen says in his notebooks, “I choose to believe in the natural consciousness, I see what the deer see . . .”

My Big Horn Mountains

My Big Horn Mountains

If you pray. . .

10-21-3-wise-men-and-a-wall2.

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Wave of Prayer: This prayer ministry enables local and international friends of Sabeel to pray over regional concerns on a weekly basis. Sent to Sabeel’s network of supporters, the prayer is used in services around the world and during Sabeel’s Thursday Communion service; as each community in its respective time zone lifts these concerns in prayer at noon every Thursday, this “wave of prayer” washes over the world.


Sabeel Wave of Prayer

for January 8, 2015

As a new year begins, we take time to remember the events of the past year. The difficulties, the tragedies, and the hardships are fresh in our minds, especially as we think of Syria, Iraq, Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. Lord, please remind us of your daily mercies, your grace, and your promise of peace.  Lord in your mercy…

The 2014 year marked the United Nations “international year of solidarity with the Palestinian people”; however, it ended with the UN Security Council failing to pass a resolution to end Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land within two years.  Israel has now withheld millions of dollars in revenue owed to the Palestinian Authority (PA). This is collective punishment by Israel for Palestine recently taking the non-violent, legitimate step of joining the International Criminal Court (ICC). Merciful God, we pray that the international community will truly be in solidarity with the Palestinian people by having political will, speaking truth to power, and standing up for justice and peace. Lord in your mercy…

The weather in Palestine and Israel is expected to reach very cold temperatures this week, with predictions of snow.  During this time we think of our brothers and sisters in Bedouin communities who are being displaced and are unprotected from the weather elements and those in Gaza who are displaced, homeless, and living in inadequate housing after Israel’s massive military offensive this past summer.  Lord, give them your strength and warmth to endure the storms.  Lord in your mercy…

Lord, we pray for your blessing upon the celebrations of the Orthodox Christmas this week.  We also ask for your guidance in the New Year as our Sabeel programs begin anew.  We pray for inspiration and creativity in our activism and ministries.  Lord in your mercy…

Lord, we pray alongside the World Council of Churches for the countries of Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.  Lord in your mercy…

Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem

Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem

“Little is certain, other than the tide. . .” (Amy Clampitt)

Birthday number 2 - NOT un-satisfactory

Birthday number 2 – NOT un-satisfactory

This is it! The first day of my 71st year. I’m either bummed out or excited, depending on the hour of the day.

One of the few regrets (but perhaps the major-est) I have at this moment is my lack of discipline in writing. I’m a damned good writer from moment to moment, but I have no ability to sit four or five hours a day and pour over what I’ve done and make it better, make it cohere, make it either beautiful or rhetorically sound. Writing is, as, Pete Hamill, pointed out, “The hardest work in the world that doesn’t involve heavy lifting.” For many years as a professor in writing classes at several colleges and universities, I copied Hamill’s adage at the bottom of my syllabuses. My ulterior motive was to try to convince my students to “do as I quote, not as I do.”

Amy Clampitt (1920-1994) was a poet who either was or was not a “formalist” (whatever that is) according to which literary critic you’re talking to. She either did or did not write poetry with a proper “narrative.” Her work either is or is not too wordy, too descriptive.

I dunno.

I don’t know what an educated, literary person is “supposed” to think of the last stanza of her (longer than it needs to be, I suppose) poem, “A Hermit Thrush,” published in a collection of her work in 1997.

. . . there’s
hardly a vocabulary left to wonder, uncertain
as we are of so much in this existence, this
botched, cumbersome, much-mended,
not unsatisfactory thing.

This botched, cumbersome, much-mended, not-unsatisfactory thing. I suppose the academic literary types who think her poetry is too wordy, too descriptive, would say this string of adjectives is a primary example. But I think it’s both charming and right on the money.

Botched. I’m not going there. But I can remind myself of a failed marriage, several relationships ended without much grace, a PhD instead of a DMA, insufficient savings to live the “lifestyle” I’d like in retirement. Cumbersome. So much left undone because I simply don’t have the will or the energy to finish all I’ve started. And the heaviness of still (at this advanced age!) trying to figure out how to life with freedom and joy. Much-mended. Two messages already this very morning apologizing for insensitivity and inattention to friends.

But all of this is not un-satisfactory. Clampitt doesn’t say “satisfactory” but the double negative “not unsatisfactory.” Does a double negative make a positive or simply imprecise writing? I used to tell students who wrote double negatives they were being needlessly wordy and confusing their rhetorical project by trying to express two contradictory ideas at once. (Speaking of wordiness.) I, however, being no longer an “academic” can say I like the idea: not un-satisfactory.

My life is and has been not un-satisfactory for the most part. I have a photograph of myself on my second birthday (January 3, 1947). I’m sitting outside at a small table with my birthday cake in front of me. Outside because my father’s camera didn’t have a flash so sunlight was necessary. I’m bundled up in a snowsuit and hat that nearly covers my face. Bundled because it’s January in Wyoming. Snow.

Here we have two negatives, darkness and cold. But the picture exists. My mother made a cake, and my father set up the picture to record the day. Our family was as dysfunctional as any. But that picture is proof enough to me that I was loved in every necessary way. Life has not been and is not now un-satisfactory.

Dad, brother, and little me - how I know life is more than satifactory

Dad, brother, and little me – how I know life is more than satifactory

I could write seventy years of not un-satisfactory examples, but I don’t need to. Anyone who has any imagination can imagine, can extrapolate a gazillion examples from my life and their own. Mine even includes Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and Bipolar II Disorder. And falling into a tub of boiling water a year after the second-birthday picture was taken. And. . . there’s no reason to belabor the negatives.

I’m having a little party tonight, and a few of my closest friends will attend. About 40. Who has 40 friends? Someone whose life is not un-satisfactory. And to try to keep it that way, my party will include a silent auction for the benefit of the Aberg Center for Literacy in Dallas.

I think the best way to keep my life not un-satisfactory is to remember that I am a white, male, (not-straight), highly educated American, and whatever I think might be unsatisfactory about my life, it’s better than the lives of about 99% of the people in the world—through no goodness or achievement of my own.
Happy Birthday – EVERYONE!

(Here’s Amy Clampitt’s poem. It is wordy, but to heck with the critics: it’s wonderful.)

“A Hermit Thrush,” by Amy Clampitt

Nothing’s certain. Crossing, on this longest day,
the low-tide-uncovered isthmus, scrambling up
the scree-slope of what at high tide
will be again an island,

to where, a decade since well-being staked
the slender, unpremeditated claim that brings us
back, year after year, lugging the
makings of another picnic–

the cucumber sandwiches, the sea-air-sanctified
fig newtons–there’s no knowing what the slamming
seas, the gales of yet another winter
may have done. Still there,

the gust-beleaguered single spruce tree,
the ant-thronged, root-snelled moss, grass
and clover tuffet underneath it,
edges frazzled raw

but, like our own prolonged attachment, holding.

The Hermit Thrush knows

The Hermit Thrush knows

Whatever moral lesson might commend itself,
there’s no use drawing one,
there’s nothing here

to seize on as exemplifying any so-called virtue
holding on despite adversity, perhaps) or
any no-more-than-human tendency–
stubborn adherence, say,

to a wholly wrongheaded tenet. Though to
hold on in any case means taking less and less
for granted, some few things seem nearly
certain, as that the longest day

will come again, will seem to hold its breath,
the months-long exhalation of diminishment
again begin. Last night you woke me
for a look at Jupiter,

that vast cinder wheeled unblinking
in a bath of galaxies. Watching, we traveled
toward an apprehension all but impossible
to be held onto–

that no point is fixed, that there’s no foothold
but roams untethered save by such snells,
such sailor’s knots, such stays
and guy wires as are

mainly of our own devising. From such an
empyrean, aloof seraphic mentors urge us
to look down on all attachment,
on any bonding, as

in the end untenable. Base as it is, from
year to year the earth’s sore surface
mends and rebinds itself, however
and as best it can, with

thread of cinquefoil, tendril of the magenta
beach pea, trammel of bramble; with easings,
mulchings, fragrances, the gray-green
bayberry’s cool poultice–

and what can’t finally be mended, the salt air
proceeds to buff and rarefy: the lopped carnage
of the seaward spruce clump weathers
lustrous, to wood-silver.

Little is certain, other than the tide that
circumscribes us that still sets its term
to every picnic–today we stayed too long
again, and got our feet wet–

and all attachment may prove at best, perhaps,
a broken, a much-mended thing. Watching
the longest day take cover under
a monk’s-cowl overcast,

with thunder, rain and wind, then waiting,
we drop everything to listen as a
hermit thrush distills its fragmentary,
hesitant, in the end

unbroken music. From what source (beyond us, or
the wells within?) such links perceived arrive–
diminished sequences so uninsistingly
not even human–there’s

hardly a vocabulary left to wonder, uncertain
as we are of so much in this existence, this
botched, cumbersome, much-mended,
not unsatisfactory thing.