Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Poetry October 2014


Words fail,
Only if you let them:
Only if you ignore the Silence
From which they arise
And refuse to give them back to It.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Barriers Become Gates: Reflections on Interfaith Dialogue

I recently read Father John Garvey’s book Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking about Other Religions,1 which is, among other things, an admirable effort toward encouraging Orthodox Christians to gain insight into the religious traditions that inevitably surround us these days and toward discovering the proper way to regard them.  Father John recognizes our understanding of these other faiths to be limited by our inability to enter into them completely, yet, with an

Three New Poems

An Offering to My Enemies

Until I’m able
To understand
The boundary
Between us

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Brief History of Christianity

Those who manage to connect
With God don’t use the intellect.
It isn’t “it” (nor “he,” nor “she”),
Nor “is” (nor “was” nor “yet to be”).
The mind quite reasonably balks
When faced with this great paradox,

New Poetry, Summer 2013

People Might Get the Wrong Idea

To pray for you
May be nothing other than the impulse to hold you
In my arms and share what you’re going through,
To take the suffering away from you
And give you whatever part of me happens not to be sad or afraid.
This being the best I can do in face of the fact that
God doesn’t usually honor my requests to eradicate your suffering.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Poem: Near-Enemy

There’s generosity.
And then there’s something that resembles it.
It wants the favor returned,
This thing that mimics generous.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

We Catch Fire: Some Observations about the Transmission of Knowledge

“It is a common mistake to think that education is on the level of ideas. No! It is always a transmission of experience…. People are not convinced by reasoning; either they catch fire or do not.”—Father Alexander Schmemann1

There’s a tradition in Mahayana Buddhism that the Buddha once gave a sermon without uttering a single word. An expectant assembly had gathered around him. Some of them may have sensed from observing him that something remarkable had happened. Maybe some had heard that there was something about the quality of this man’s presence that inclined one to listen to what he had to say by way of explanation. He regarded the crowd with compassion, wondering, I like to think, if it would even be possible to convey anything about what he had come to understand.  Then he did something unexpected: he picked up a flower and held it up for them to see. He scanned their faces for hints of

Monday, April 1, 2013

Not-Religion: Reflections and Theologoumena

The tiny stone church of Osios David, named for a saint who lived in a nearby tree, is up a steep hill in the Ano Poli neighborhood of Thessaloniki, Greece. It’s thought to have been built in the late fifth or the early sixth century as part of the long-gone Latomou Monastery. It now seems to serve as the neighborhood parish, but the nave is so small that it couldn’t hold many people even if they were to spill out onto the pretty terrace, which I assume they do on feast days.
            The mosaic of Christ in the semi-dome of the apse is the main attraction. It’s from the same era as the church’s construction, thus it’s one of the rare examples of a large Christian image that pre-dates the iconoclastic controversy of the eighth and ninth centuries. It’s said to have been successfully hidden from the anti-image activists under a goatskin. A few hundred years later, it was plastered over by the Muslims who prayed there during the Ottoman period, only to be rediscovered in the 1920s around the time of the exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece that took place then, when many of the churches that had been made into mosques were restored to their original purposes.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Poem: A Simple Step

What passes for faith
Might better be described
As pretending,
Ninety-nine times 
Out of a hundred.
But the one person 
Out of that hundred
Who takes the step, 
Simple and inevitable,
Past pretending
Saves the other ninety-nine.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Poem: Liturgy

There are as many ways to stand in church 
As there are neuroses. 
You can do it with righteous gratitude like the Pharisee. 
You can do it for fear of doing something wrong, 
Or in hope of Doing Something Right. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Faith and the Magic Loudspeaker

“The inhabitants of the moon are more of a uniform size than the inhabitants of the earth, being about 6 feet in height. They dress very much like the Quaker style. . . . They live to be very old; coming generally, near a thousand years.   This is the description of them as given by Joseph the Seer, and he could ‘See’ whatever he asked the Father in the name of Jesus to see.”
—Oliver B. Huntington, citing a revelation received by the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Joseph Smith1

The above howler is just a drop from the fountain of weird beliefs that flow from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and that modern Mormons are so skilled at spinning when their efforts to keep them hidden fail.  If they were to explain this one away, as I’m sure they can, they still can’t spin the fact that they very literally believe that God the Father lives on the planet Kolob with his many wives, that Jesus and Lucifer were rival brothers in some pre-earthly existence, and that, as he ascended into heaven, Jesus made a side trip to North America to preach to the natives, who were none other than a lost tribe of Israel. The usual Mormon tactic when confronted with the hard-to-swallow tenets of their faith is a question they hope will be taken rhetorically, along the lines of:  "Well, now, doesn’t every religion have its own peculiar beliefs?" 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Poem: The Cure

Our great shared illness: 
Belief in the Supernatural. 
Koan becomes a riddle to be solved  
(with a prize, naturally, expected). 
Eucharist becomes a magic trick.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Poem: Karma

It’s really only this: 
That you don’t get away with anything. 
Which comes as a surprise 
Only if you ignore the incontrovertible evidence 
Of consequences.
It’s not so much that your eczema 
Is payback for that slave you mistreated, 
Back when you were Cleopatra 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Poem: Accusation

They lie 
Who say awakening is joy, 
Because that’s only part of the story. 
Because what you wake up to 
Transcends joy and sorrow— 
Or any other emotion you can identify—
Even as it includes them. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nothing to Worry About

“Jesus said…Split a piece of wood. I am there. Lift up the stone and you will find me there.”—from logion 77 of the Gospel of Thomas1

There’s a tradition in Buddhism as it’s practiced in North America called the circle talk.  It’s a ceremony of closure at the end of a meditation retreat, at least in the Zen and Vipassana traditions in which I’ve practiced. For those unfamiliar with them, retreats  generally consist of multiple days spent sitting motionless on a meditation cushion mentally following one’s breath or concentrating on some confounding question like, “What is my face before my parents were born?” This punctuated only by short periods of walking, meals, work, and sleep  during which an attempt is made to maintain the same quality of attention.   The circle talk occurs at the end of the final period of “sitting” on the last day.  Meditation cushions are drawn around into a circular formation, everyone takes a seat, and, going around the circle one by one, each retreatant is given a chance to say a few words. Because the idea of verbalizing the experience feels counterintuitive to me, and I’d usually prefer to say nothing at all, I’m amazed at the volume of words that gush forth from my co-retreatants. I take the impulse to “share the experience” in this way to be a particularly American phenomenon.  I suspect they don’t do circle talks in Asia. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Poem: Revelation

Here’s the secret: 
To learn gratitude for those moments 
When, by Grace (which is the only way it happens), 
We perceive the elements of our ignorance.
Because without that gratitude 
We can be convinced that one single moment of insight 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

In Memoriam: Brian Boland

It was my great good fortune to be befriended by Brian Boland in my early days working for Shambhala Publications. My strongest impression of him from those days--and this is something that never changed in the almost twenty-five years I knew him--was his infectious excitement over the people and things he found to be wise, beautiful, or real.  I can't count the number of times he told me, “You have to see this,” anxiously calling me over to his office or his apartment to introduce me

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Poem: Apophasis

I greet the day, I sip my tea, 
Though apophasis hovers ‘round
The warming rays, the slurping sound.
And also doesn’t hover much
Not-not-hovering and such.
I savor now the sweet infusion
Making friends with my confusion.