Pathway Poem #10

I have been working through my poetry books alphabetically, with one or two exceptions. I came to poetry by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I was sorely tempted to pull one of my favorites from his poems. I did not, primarily because I would have had to spend way too much time trying to explain obscure words and phrases. Plus, reading his poetry aloud can be challenging because he has a unique rhythm scheme. If you want to take a look at my favorites, you can find them online; “God’s Grandeur”, “Pied Beauty”, and “As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire, Dragonflies, Draw Flame”.

Today’ poem is by Rod Jellema in A Slender Grace: Poems. One critic noted that Jellema “is a mystic…[but] he never loses touch with the earth. He is a poet of deep and humane good sense who’s infused with an abiding awareness of the holy.” [Andrew Hudgins, from a blurb on the back of the book.]

I have read this poem several times and will read it again. It seems full of meaning and mystery. Read it aloud slowly a couple of times and see if you agree.

We Used to Grade God’s Sunsets
from the Lost Valley Beach

Why we really watched we never said.
The play of spectral light, but maybe also
the coming dark, and the need to trust
that the fire dying down before us
into Lake Michigan’s cold waves
would rise again behind us.
Our arch and witty critiques
covered our failures to say what we saw.

The madcap mockery of grading God as though
He were a struggling student artist
(Cut loose, strip it down, study Matisse
and risk something, something unseen–
C-plus, keep trying–that sort of thing)
only hid our fear of His weather
howling through the galaxies. We humored
a terrible truth: that nature gives us hope
only in flashes, split seconds, one
at a time, fired in a blaze of beauty.

Picking apart those merely actual sunsets
we stumbled into knowing the artist’s job:
to sort out, then to seize and work an insight
until its transformed into permanence.
And God, brushing in for us the business
of clouds and sky, really is a hawker
of cliches, a sentimental hack as a painter.
He means to be. He leaves it to us
to catch and revise, to find the forms
of how and who in this world we really are
and would be, to see how much promise there is
on a hurtling planet, swung on a thread
and saved by nothing but grace.

If like me, you got to the startling end and thought, “wow”–and then went back to read it again. The poem just keeps growing on me and hope it will on you as well.

source of all being
plants mystery in the world–
survey the garden

As always, feel free to share this blog and encourage others to follow.

Peace,
LaMon

Pathway Poem #8

Tom Hennen was born and lives in Minnesota. Many of his poems are meditations on life in the upper Midwest. Today’s poem, originally found in Love for Other Things, looks at the prairie land he cherishes. I suggest you might want to read this one twice. Listen to the words, see the images, understand the feeling of the poet. Everything flows from the poem’s wonderful first line. But don’t allow you rational side to argue with it. If you can’t say, “Yes,” perhaps you can at least wish it were so.

From a Country Overlooked.

There are no creatures you cannot love.
A frog calling at God
From the moon-filled ditch
As you stand on the country road in the June night.
The sound is enough to make the stars weep
With happiness.
In the morning the landscape green
Is lifted off the ground by the scent of grass.
The day is carried across its hours
Without any effort by the shining insects
That are living their secret lives.
The space between the the prairie horizons
Makes us ache with its beauty.
Cottonwood leaves click in an ancient tongue
To the farthest cold dark in the universe.
The cottonwood also talks to you
Of breeze and speckled sunlight.
You are at home in these
great empty places
along with red-wing blackbirds and sloughs.
You are comfortable in this spot
so full of grace and being
that it sparkles like jewels
spilled on water.

Toward the end he speaks of the spot he sees as being “full of grace and being”. Such language is a reminder that meditation on nature is a way to connect with the inner Reality revealed through what we can see (and not simply overlook). It is a pathway to experiencing the presence of God.

swollen Cahaba–
roaring into the silence
of the waiting woods

Peace,
LaMon

Pathway Poem #7

Today is the birthday of Jane Kenyon. She wrote mostly simple poems based on everyday observation. She died in her late 40s after suffering for 15 months with leukemia. Her poems are a good example of what paying attention can look like even if we can’t write poetry like she does. Every time I read in Otherwise: New & Selected Poems, I am moved to begin again to pay attention to what appears before me. It is a calling all of us might hear from time to time.

At the Feeder

First the Chickadees take
their share, then fly
to the bittersweet vine,
where they crack open the seeds,
excited, like poets
opening the day’s mail.

And the Evening Grosbeaks–
those large and prosperous
finches–resemble skiers
with the latest equipment, bright
yellow goggles on their faces.

Now the Bluejay comes in
for a landing, like a SAC bomber
returning to Plattsburgh
after a day of patrolling the ozone.
Every teacup in the pantry rattles.

The solid and graceful bodies
of the Nuthatches, perpetually
upside down, like Yogis . . .
and Slate-Colored Juncoes, feeding
on the ground, taking only
what falls to them.

Cats watch, one
from the lid of the breadbox,
another from the piano. A third
flexes its claws in sleep, dreaming
perhaps, of a chicken neck,
or of being worshiped as a god
at Bubastis, during
the XXIII dynasty.

Having both bird-feeders and a Korat cat named Jinx, I can resonate with every aspect of this poem. I am reminded again of the blessings that come from paying attention to simple things.

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two blue dragonflies
one yellow water lily—
creation’s palette

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

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

Practice Paying Attention

As many of you know, haiku is an important spiritual practice for me. It is so because it requires paying attention. However, one can pay attention without writing haiku. I encourage us all to pay attention in 2021. To that end, I share a poem by Luci Shaw from her fine collection Eye of the Beholder: Poems. It is entitled “Attending” with the note that Simone Weil called this “prayer”.

You begin with a singular gaze into any
thing, any Other. As you witness the moment
you practice the discipline of detail. Focus,
allowing yourself the access of steady regard.
It senses your attention and you will
find yourself joined in mutual love.

–Pebble. Bare twig. Raindrop hanging from
twig–a lens for landscape to enlighten the eye.
–Blue hyacinth, its invisible fragrance
drowning the air as you open the door.
Breath until it fills you and lifts you.
–Thunder, so unambiguously itself
unfurling its huge sail over heaven.
Giver of rain and green lettuce. Let it come
and offer your thanks.

A holy silence as the church fills. Hearts wait.
The priest’s homily before Eucharist,
and then, the Host taken without hesitation by our
waiting mouths. Let each be so present that
it leaves its truth, its hint of the real, its crease
in memory. Inhabit it with simplicity,
and find there a wholeness of intention.

It matters not if you understand each metaphor in this poem. Perhaps it would be good to slowly read it again. But whether you do that or not, take a few moments as you rise from you computer screen, to pay attention to some little thing–perhaps something outside in nature, or a painting or portrait on your wall, or the taste of slowly eaten food and drink, etc.

It is in paying attention that we realize our encounter with what is good and true and beautiful–Reality.

May you all walk a good path in 2021.

Peace,
LaMon

A Morning Walk

Last night I read a sonnet in Malcolm Guite’s After Prayer: New Sonnets and Other Poems. It is in a series of sonnets on the images George Herbert used in his wonderful poem Prayer (1). The poem can be found in George Herbert: 100 Poems, selected and edited by Helen Wilcox.

The image for this sonnet was “heaven in ordinary”. Guite’s poem was beautiful. It helped me write this haiku:

with the light of Christ
heaven in ordinary
shines through creation

Then this morning after writing in my journal, I went for a walk after writing. Before I left, I prayed that I would see some of that divine light shining during my walk. Returning home, I wrote this haiku:

windy november ground
covered in dead wet leaves…
promise of new life

May you see the divine light in your life today!

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Human Giftedness

Recently I have turned again to Thomas Traherne’s Centuries. In #342, he wrote that God gave us “an eye to behold Eternity and the Omnipresence of God, that [we] might see Eternity, and dwell within it; a power of admiring, loving, and / prizing, that seeing the beauty and goodness of God, [we] might be united to it forever more” 132f.

The “eye to behold” may be our intuition or, perhaps more likely, our imagination. This is comparable to St. Paul’s insistence that we must consider or reckon our selves as dead to sin and alive to God, in union with Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).

Our imagination can lead us to God or away from God! If we live our lives as though there were no God, then that is likely what our life will look like. Conversely, if we live our lives as though in God’s presence, we may ‘see’ God all around us. There is nothing wrong with training ourselves to see things a certain way–especially if that way is full of goodness and beauty.

human giftedness:

holy imagination

always seeing God

Like a gift for music which will atrophy if unused, so this human birthright may fade away if we never use it looking for God.

As always, if you like this, feel free to share it with friends, and perhaps encourage them to sign up to receive it in their email inbox.

Peace,

LaMon

Pathway(s)

Pathways to God is not strictly speaking about how one can be ‘saved’ in the traditional Christian sense. It is about how we can experience the presence of God. In one Hindu pattern there are three ways–the way of knowledge, the way of selfless work or action, and the way of love and devotion. In Neo-Platonism, the divine can be approached through beauty, truth, and goodness.

As in other religions and philosophical traditions there exist a variety of routes to the presence of God, so in the Christian spiritual tradition there are many practices or disciplines that have been used successfully. One important thing to remember is that not every Christian practice will be effective for every person, nor will one Christian practice always and forever be effective. That is, your particular needs in the spiritual life may change from time to time, so that what was helpful before is so no longer. Other practices need to develop.

For example the practice called Centering Prayer is very popular today among many Christians. It is a way into silence by quieting or emptying your mind. As I noted, many Christians have found this practice helpful. Me–not so much. But I would never denigrate the practice. It has helped a lot of folks. It is one way into silence.

A pattern that has been a better one for me also includes silence, but it is not the same kind. I no longer try to empty my mind, but I want to fill it. I have taken the advice of the Apostle Paul, “From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8)

There is one who embodies all of these. That one, for me, is Jesus Christ. So, I try to fill my mind with him. In the next few blogs I will share some of the ways that I do this. I hope you will join me.

As always, anything you find helpful that I have written, feel free to share it with others.

Images from a Contemplative Retreat

It was still dark as I walked to the guest cafeteria. The Rosemary bush was waiting:

Early morning walk                                                                                                                              Caressing the Rosemary                                                                                                                        The day’s first blessing

Later walking to the chapel to chant with the monks and praise God another blessing from Nature:

The path to worship                                                                                                                              Covered in Honeysuckle                                                                                                                      Aroma of God

I have always been blessed to experience the beauty and glory of God in Nature. It was no different at Mepkin Abbey whose beautiful grounds boarding on Cooper River afforded ample opportunities for silent meditation.

In blessed silence                                                                                                                                    I heard the presence of God–                                                                                                              Music of Nature

I came to the retreat hoping to grow in love for God and acquiring more of the compassion of Jesus. One day I walked in a labyrinth marked off by wildflowers.

In the labyrinth                                                                                                                                      Unbidden a song arose:                                                                                                                        More love to Thee

In those seven grace-filled days, I also meditated on Scripture. With the psalmist, I learned to sing my own song, “All my life I will sing to you, my Jesus.” Over and over again as I read in the Gospels, I experienced the glad-hearted kindness of Jesus.

Blessed are the kind                                                                                                                              For they are children of God                                                                                                              Kindness is divine

I was loved by God on this retreat and I returned home with more love and compassion for others–at least for a time. The ordinary world often makes compassion difficult, doesn’t it? So, my growth in love and compassion is far from complete. But in that wonderful retreat perhaps I sprouted a new blossom or two.

Trust in God’s slow work                                                                                                                      Transformation takes ages                                                                                                                    For each one of us

Addendum:

  1. As always, as you are moved, you may share this with others.
  2. If you are interested in retreats you may check out this web site: http://www.theanchorage.org.