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Pathway Poem #5

I continue to share poems from some of my favorite poets. I have found poetry a way of spiritual growth, so I share these that we might grow together.

Today’s poet is Malcolm Guite. The poem is entitled “What if …” It is found in The Singing Bowl: Collected Poems by Malcolm Guite. As always, I encourage you to read this poem aloud. This one is really fun to do so–unless you get tongue-tied.

What if every word we say
Never ends or fades away,
Gathers volume, gathers way,
Drums and dins us with dismay,
Surges on some dreadful day
When we cannot get away
Whelms us till we drown?

What if not a word is lost?
What if every word we cast;
Cruel, cunning, cold, accurst,
Every word we cut and paste,
Echoes to us from the past,
Fares and finds us first and last,
Haunts and hunts us down?

What if every murmuration,
Every otiose oration,
Every blogger’s obfuscation,
Every tweeted titivation,
Every oath and imprecation,
Insidious insinuation,
Every verbal aberration,
Unexamined asservation,
Idiotic iteration,
Every facile explanation,
Drags us to the ground?

What if each polite evasion,
Every word of defamation,
Insults made by implication,
Querulous prevarication,
Compromise in convocation,
Propaganda for the nation,
False or flattering persuasion,
Blackmail and manipulation,
Simulated desperation
Grows to such reverberation
That it shakes our own foundation,
Shakes and brings us down?

Better that some words be lost,
Better that they should not last,
Tongues of fire and violence.
Word through whom the world is blessed,
Word in whom all words are graced,
Do no bring us to the test,
Give our clamant voices rest,
And the rest is silence.

One word of explanation; in the final stanza lines four and five the term “Word” is a reference to the ancient Greek philosophical term logos. It was also used in the New Testament book the Gospel of John. In both contexts, The logos is the prism through which the world was created.

Guite reminds us of how the words we use are filled with destructive power. The poem closes with an affirmation that useful words are more likely to be spoken out of the background of silence. In calm silence, right words, helpful words, even holy words, can arise to bless all who will hear them. May we practice a little silence.

Peace to you all,
LaMon


Redwood Wisdom

Michael Guite in The Word in the Wilderness reminded me that poets are more than simply names on our bookshelves. The purpose of good poetry is to delight and instruct. First and foremost it delights,…and then it leads to truth, teaching us something worth knowing (p. 84).

Today’s Pathway Poem is by Pamela Cranston in Searching for Nova Albion (Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications, 2019)

Why Redwoods Grow So Tall

Watch a coastal redwood
long enough, you’ll catch it
listening. It rises so high,
at first you think it is star-pulled,
winched from outer space–
solitary, detached from the cares
of lowly earthworms and sparrow cries.

But no redwood ever grows alone.

Look with eyes closed and see
how wide its root-thrust extends.
Not from a single taproot,
but from an intricate, buried web
of sturdy thatch.
Redwoods march together,
a family of giants
with arms linked together,
sharing their stories.

And not just with each other
but with raven and deer,
cougar and salmon, with dragonfly
and inchworm–even stories
of you and me. Together
our storylines climb the rings
rising up the core, and carve
a thousand trenches
in weathered bark.

A redwood grows wise
by attending to its neighbors,
then takes each story
and offers it
with upstretched hands.

It has done this so long,
its fingers
touch the fringe of heaven.

Honestly, almost every time I read this poem (aloud, of course!), it seems that something new is learned. But the first thing that caught my attention earlier this year was that single line, “But no redwood ever grows alone”, coupled with images of intermingled roots and arms.

I was reminded of how much of the good in my life comes from my friends, both personal and literary. Choosing our friends is one of the most important things we can do, whether these friends are found in immediate relationships or are the authors of significant books.

redwoods’ lesson:
no one can grow strong alone
find a few good friends

As always, you may share this blog and encourage others to follow.

Peace,
LaMon


Pathway Poem 3

I’ve have learned the secret for reading poetry. I read it aloud and slowly. Usually, if there is any movement in my heart or mind, I will read it a second time. So, again, I encourage you to read today’s poem aloud and slowly. Let the sound and the words sink into your heart and mind.

Today’s poem is by Mary Oliver. It is entitled “Of Love” and found in Red Bird. Oddly, at least to me, it is not found in the huge book Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver. Other poems from Red Bird are there, but not this one.

I have been in love more times that one,
thank the Lord. Sometimes it was lasting
whether active or not. Sometimes
it was all but ephemeral, maybe only
an afternoon, but not less real for that.
They stay in my mind, these beautiful people,
or anyway people beautiful to me, of which
there are so many. You, and you, and you,
whom I had the fortune to meet, or maybe
missed. Love, love, love, it was the
core of my life, from which, of course, comes
the word for the heart. And, oh, have I mentioned
that some of them were men and some were women
and some–now carry my revelation with you–
were trees. Or places. Or music flying above
the names of their makers. Or clouds, or the sun
which was the first, and the best, the most
loyal for certain, who looked so faithfully into
my eyes, every morning. So I imagine
such love of the world–its fervency, its shining, its
innocence and hunger to give of itself–I imagine
this is how it began.

When I came to the end of the poem, I just had to sit silently and dwell on that last line, “I imagine this is how it began.” I jotted a few lines below the poem. I revisited it from time to time until this haiku emerged:

creation
love of God incarnate
intrinsic beauty

As Spring begins to blossom may you sense the inherent beauty of love in all of creation.

As always, feel free to share this blog with others. All who are interested are encourage to follow in order to receive them in your email.

Peace,
LaMon

Pathway Poem 2

I begin with a word from another poet from whom a poem will appear in the future. In his book Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, he wrote, “And one thing that would make it even more countercultural would be to dare to read these poems aloud and slowly, in defiance of the silent skim-reading that has replace an older tasting of language.” p. xi

Now a poem by another favorite poet of mine, Scott Cairns. It is found in Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life. In this book he composes poetry that reflects the thought of various mystics. The poem I have chosen is inspired by Nicholas of Cusa. It is the last sentence that has stayed with me over the years.

His Mercy

I have proposed, Master, by way
of likeness, by crude figures of speech,
a sort of foretaste of Your nature.
For this, You who are ever-merciful, spare me
for attempting to trace the untraceable
savor of Your sweetness. Who am I,
wretched and sinful, to attempt
to show Who cannot be shown,
to make visible Who is invisible,
to offer a taste of Your infinite, utterly
inexpressible sweetness? I have never yet
merited so much as a sip of it myself,
so certainly my words will diminish
rather than magnify this sweetness
I desire, and desire to name. So great
is Your Goodness, even so, that You allow
the blind to speak of the light.

That last line expresses a humble desire to speak of God or the Divine or Ultimate Reality while knowing that such speech always falls short. And yet, we are compelled to speak.

As ever, you may share this post with others and encourage them to follow my occasional blog if they find it meaningful.

Peace,
LaMon

The Pathway of Poetry

I don’t eat as much fried chicken as I used to, but this rule of thumb is still true. Fried chicken without the skin is not as tasty. Sure, the meat is still there, but something important to the experience is missing. Reading poetry silently is a bit like eating skinless fried chicken.

Some poems have rhyming words as the end of lines, but most modern poetry seems to lack that. However, often poets will craft poems that feature alliteration and assonance and interior rhymes. Many times reading a poem aloud will help the reader not only to taste the poem, but perhaps even get meaning that might otherwise be missed.

Like all the pathways I have talked about, none of them seem to fit everyone and this one may not, at first, attract you, but I hope that you will give it a chance as I share poems for the next several posts.

I begin with a poem by Wendell Berry. It was first published in The Country of Marriage in 1973.

The Wild Geese

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.*

Is there a phrase or an image that moves you? Is there something in this poem’s path that might help you along the way? I would love to hear from you.

As always feel free to share this post with anyone else, especially if you have found it helpful.

May you know the peace of what “is here”.

*from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press, 1998, p.90.

Following Circumstances into God’s Presence

This morning I read a story in The Celtic Book of Days by Ray Simpson. It is a reminder that experiencing the presence of the divine may be as simple as being faithful to the circumstances of our lives. Here is the story.

When St. Mungo grew up he became a priest. Perhaps he had dreams of being called to some glorious, sacrificial task. Instead, he was called to visit Fergus, an ailing, old priest who lived about seven miles upstream.

When he arrived, he was dismayed at the weakening condition of the old priest. Mungo stayed with him that night. He prepared supper for him and listened to his stories of his home on the river Clyde. A church had been established there many years earlier by the famous missionary, Ninian. Toward midnight, Fergus had a seizure and died in Mungo’s arms. His last words were, “Promise you will bury me at the church hallowed by Ninian.”

Faithful to his promise, Mungo put Fergus’s body in a wagon to be pulled by oxen. He traveled a day’s journey to the little church by the Clyde. He found the folks who lived there gathered at the church. They were very sad, for they had had no priest for several years.

At the funeral the next day, Mungo was moved by the despair of the people. He knew he could not return home. He believed that God was drawing him to stay and build up this little community. Soon his mother joined him. She called the community “Eglais Cu” (the loved church) because the people lived there as a family. Today, her name for the community is pronounced “Glasgow”.

Following the wooing of God will not always result in something that becomes significant to or remembered by the world, but it likely will result in something important to us as we experience the divine Presence in our lives.

eternal God
holy Presence wooing us
stay attentive

As always, if you find this post helpful, please share it with others. If you are not a ‘follower’ you can click the ‘follow’ button to receive each post in your mailbox.

Peace,
LaMon

Joy-infused Wine

2022-yeah! A new year. A new beginning. Pathways to God is open again! It has been a while since I last wrote and the blogs were few and far between in 2021. Hopefully, this year I will be more productive.

Long time readers will know that the goal of these blogs is to help us all find ways to encounter God in an intentional way. Some of the ways we look at are specifically Christian, but others are present in a variety of religions, spiritualities, and philosophies.

I want to begin this year with a little story about Jesus. Contrary to what many people might think, although Jesus had a serious streak, he also loved parties and parades! In John 2, Jesus is found at a wedding party that had gone on for several days.

Those days were full of food and drink. The wedding family and guests had not restrained themselves. All of the wine had been consumed! It was an embarrassing situation for the family. Jesus worked a miracle, turning water into wine. His wine was the best of all.

full-bodied red
filled with joy and gladness–
Jesus’ wedding wine

The steward of the wedding party was flabbergasted at how good the wine was. In Pamela Cranston’s poem “When Roses Bore Berries”, found in Searching for New Albion, the steward begins to describe the wine,

But at Cana Jesus’ wine was different
When his wine first touched my lips
I tasted stars.

Even now, I can taste the red ruby drops,
melted pomegranates in my mouth.
This wine was perfect, so pure,
it was like drinking a bottled song.

We often think of silence and solitude as ways to experience the presence of God and they certainly are. But I also believe we can experience the joy of God’s presence at gatherings of friends. Of course, it may only be recognized afterwards as we reflect on that experience of happiness.

It may be an overstatement, but it contains truth, this quote from Teilhard de Chardin, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”

in our common lives:
priceless experiences
laughter of friends

Trees

trusting like a tree:
an olive tree in God’s house
always cared for

The haiku was inspired by a reading in the Psalms this morning–Psalm 52:8-9. Today is the birthday of one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. I turned to her book “Thirst” {Beacon Press, 2006) and found this poem that I had been impressed with on the first reading some years ago:

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Nature is a wonderful pathway to God. As we enter the Fall season, I want to be more attentive to the trees–those changing color and those seemingly eternally green. Our attention may be rewarded with a vision of God’s beauty. And perhaps our lives will shine just a little more.

As always, if you enjoy any of my blogs, feel free to share them with others.

Peace,
LaMon

Following Jesus Christ 3

This is the third post in this series. It contains what I am sending to my high school classmates as we celebrate 55 years as graduates. Although this is written for mostly Christians, its truth is available to all. The Spirit of Christ that I will refer to below is available to all. Gandhi was never a traditional Christian, but he certainly admired Jesus. Gandhi’s life was marked by some of the same characteristics that can be seen in Jesus–and one was the way of gentleness, which is a pathway into the presence of God.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle; they shall
have the earth for their possession.”
(Matthew 5:5)

Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn
from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
(Matthew 11:29)

In my teaching, I have insisted that way too many people “believe” in Jesus, but don’t “follow” him. And sometimes I fall into that crowd. But that does not mean we all can’t do better. We can learn gentleness and humility from Jesus. Again, I say—read the gospels.

The character of Jesus is marked by patience, colored with gentleness. Does Jesus ever get angry? Well, yes, we can see that from time to time. A gentle person can get angry when the situation calls for that kind of confrontation. But for followers of Jesus, Christ-like gentleness is never far beneath the surface.

In looking out at today’s America (and the world), I see that we are flooded with anger, violence, and hatred. Even some Christians, sadly, are more characterized by a bullishness and rage than they are Christ-like gentleness.

As followers of Jesus, our character should mirror Christ’s gentleness. That is possible because the Spirit of Christ lives in us. Listen to what characterizes the Spirit work in our lives (hint: it does not include aggression and hatred!) “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22-25)

Peace, LaMon

Following Jesus Christ 2

It has been over a month since my last post about following Jesus. I mentioned then that I was writing short pieces for a virtual class reunion which I would then use in this blog, because following Jesus is one way to experience the presence of God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matt. 5:9).

You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evil doer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also (Matt. 5:38-39).

You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:43-45a).

In some ways, the call to practice non-violence and love of enemy is the most difficult of Jesus’ teachings. This is true for Christians all over the world—though there are wonderful exceptions in denominations like Quakers and Mennonites.

America was birthed in violence and war. It is part of our national DNA. We patriotically support any war or military conflict that America engages in. We promote a gun culture that seems to support a level of violence that the early Church would never accept.

Now I know that some of you may be a bit angry at this point, but I hope that you will persevere and read the rest. Some wars can be justified and the defense of our family and the weak can be justified. Nevertheless, if we want to follow Jesus, we must take his teachings seriously and not simply ignore that which doesn’t fit our world view.

Violence should always be the last resort. When violence is finally the only answer, we must strive to use the least amount of violence possible to promote genuine peace. We are called to love our enemies, not hate them. Killing may be necessary, but we will never, if we follow Jesus, rejoice in the death of our ‘enemies’. Following Jesus is rarely easy or popular. But I have found it one great way to experience the presence of God.