Reflection on Ageing

I am in the L’s of my poetry books, so here is one by Thomas Lynch, a poetry-writing funeral director. My favorite poem by him is almost 40 lines and a little long for my blog. It is called “Local Heroes”. Perhaps you can find it online or purchase the book from which that poem and today’s is found, i.e. Walking Papers, published by W. W. Norton and Company.

Refusing at Fifty-two to Write Sonnets

It came to him that he could nearly count
How many Octobers he had left to him
In increments of ten or, say, eleven
Thus: sixty-three, seventy-four, eighty-five.
He couldn’t see himself at ninety-six–
Humanity’s advances not withstanding
In health, self-help, or New Age regimens–
What with his habits and family history,
The end he thought is nearer than you think.

The future, thus confined to its contingencies,
The present moment opens like a gift:
The balding month, the grey week, the blue morning,
The hour’s routine, the minute’s passing glance–
All seem like godsends now. And what to make of this?
At the end the word that comes to him is Thanks.

I am almost 75. I was diagnoses some 14 years ago with ALS. After a bout of serious depression, I turned to writing a thanksgiving list of people, places, events (major and minor) for which I was and remain thankful. The depression lifted–most days. 2 years later I was told that the ALS was gone, never to return! It was a wonderful day.

I am not thankful that I had ALS, but I am thankful that I learned the importance of thanksgiving. I continue to keep the list up, but I confess, more sporadically.

However just this last week, I read something about a library or a librarian. My thoughts wandered back to my childhood. I remembered discovering the Albertville Library–then located downtown. It was there that I fell in love with reading. So, I added that experience to my thanksgiving list.

I always feel closer to God or the divine whenever I am thankful. It is a wonderful pathway.

bluebird
nibbling at our feeders
thankful

As always feel free to share with a friend–and be thankful for those you have! Peace, LaMon

Pathway Poem #16

Today’s poem is by Gwyneth Lewis. She is a Welsh poet who writes in both Welsh and English. I discovered her in Malcolm Guite’s The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter where he shared her wonderful poem “Homecoming”. But I will save that one for a later blog.

For today, her poem “Midwinter Marriage” seems appropriate. It is found in her book Parables & Faxes published by Bloodaxe Books. I hope you will read it slowly, twice.

Midwinter Marriage

After autumn’s fever and its vivid trees,
infected with colour as the light died back,
we’ve settled into greyness: fields behind gauze,

hedges feint in tracing-paper mists,
the sun diminished to a midday moon
and daylight degraded to the monochrome

of puritan weather. This healing cold
holds us to pared-down simplicities.
Now is the worse-case solstice time,

acutest angle of the shortest day,
a time to condemn the frippery of leaves
and know that trees stand deltas to the sky

producing nothing. A time to take your ease
in not knowing, in blankness, in vacuity.
This is the season that has married me.

You may find in the poem some wonderful metaphors worthy of your meditation. If so, don’t allow my meandering to cause you to forget to take time with those images that have attracted you.

However, what attracted me were the last three lines. “[Winter is] a time to take your ease / in not knowing, in blankness, in vacuity. / This is the season that has married me.” One of the most influential books of Christian mysticism or spirituality is a little anonymous book from the 14th century entitled The Cloud of Unknowing. The author stresses that our understanding can never penetrate the cloud of unknowing that separates us from God who is incomprehensible. Only love alone can reach God.

Winter time is appropriate as a time to remember how little we can fathom of God’s nature–though what we can fathom is beautiful, full of spring time life and glory. Each season carries within it metaphor and symbol to draw us toward the divine. Even dark winter.

It is easy for me to be married to winter, as Lewis imagines herself to be. Perhaps it is my melancholy nature. Whatever the case, winter can help me experience God. It is is a pathway, perhaps dark, but a true pathway, none the less.

When I read this poem last year, it inspired the following haiku:

mid-winter darkness
monochrome unknowing time
emptiness resounds

As always you may share this blog with others and encourage them to follow. And I would love to hear your thoughts on winter!

Peace,
LaMon

Pathway Poem #15

It is Advent in the Christian tradition. It is a time of waiting before the coming of Christ. The primary emphasis is on his birth. Today’s poem is by Luci Shaw and entitled “Kenosis”. It is found in Harvesting Fog, p.53.

KENOSIS

In sleep his infant mouth works in and out.
He is so new, his silk skin has not yet
been roughed by plane and wooden beam
nor, so far, has he had to deal with human doubt.

He is in a dream of nipple found,
of blue-while milk, of curving skin
and, pulsing in his ear, the inner throb
of a warm heart’s repeated sound.

His only memories float from fluid space.
So new he has not pounded nails, hung a door,
broken bread, felt rebuff, bent to the lash,
wept for the sad heart of the human race.

The world ‘kenosis’ is a Greek word that is usually means “to empty”. It is famously found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Of Christ, he wrote that “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” 2:6-7. It is that self-emptying birth of the Son of God that Christians celebrate this time of year.

While this poem and the scripture text are in the Christian tradition, the emphasis on humility is found in many spiritual traditions.

“Humble living does not diminish. It fills.” Rumi

“If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility.” Tao Te Ching

Humility was little regarded in the Greek and Roman world of Jesus’ day. And it is little regarded in America today–or so it seems. It can be different. We can choose to walk the low road of kindness, gentleness, and generosity. Walk the humble pathway. In it you are more likely to experience the presence of God.

the humble person
is like a blooming cactus
in the dry desert

As always, feel free to share this blog with anyone you think might enjoy it. Remind them that they can opt to follow it and receive it in their inbox. Peace, LaMon

Poem Pathway #14

the psalmist believed
appearances be damned–
God is just

The above haiku was inspired by reading Psalm 94. In this blog, I am repeating a theme which I mentioned earlier, but it is so important in the religious life of the Psalm writers, that I thought it worth mentioning again. One way to experience the smiling presence of the divine is to care for that for which God cares. In the case of Psalm 94, it includes the widow, the stranger, the orphan.

However, it was a poem by Michael Guite reflecting on Psalm 94 that crystalized my thoughts in this area again. The poem is found in David’s Crown: Sounding the Psalms (London: Canterbury Press, 2021), p. 94.

Psalm 94: XCIV Deus ultionum

My saviour stands and keeps my soul serene
But also sends me back into the world
To speak his word and challenge the obscene

Injustices we take for granted, sold
As we are on systems that preserve
Our privileges and barter truth for gold,

Putting our souls to silence. We reserve
Our judgement, but the psalmist makes it clear
Justice is coming for God’s poor. We serve

Him best if we can also serve them here,
Rise up and take their part against the proud
Deliver them from harassment and fear.

We have been pietistic, quiet, cowed
But we must come out publicly and cry
For equal rights and justice, cry out loud.

May the presence of God be real in our lives as we love what God loves.

Peace,
LaMon

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 #9

According to the Anglican calendar, today is the day that Evelyn Underhill is to be remembered. Perhaps more than any other person, Evelyn Underhill has helped me to learn about and appreciate the path of mysticism. I have over 25 of her books. She was one of the three persons about whom I wrote in my dissertation.

Though she published two books of poetry, it was not her primary writing style. Nevertheless, since I am presently sharing poems that point to a pathway to God, here is one that you mind find helpful. It is found in Immanence: A Book of Verses by Evelyn Underhill. This is the first poem in the book and it is entitled “Immanence”.

I come in the little things
Saith the Lord:
Not borne on morning wings
Of majesty, but I have set My Feet
Amidst the delicate and bladed wheat
That springs triumphant in the furrowed sod,
There do I dwell, in weakness and in power;
Not broken or divided, saith our God!
In your strait garden plot I come to flower:
Above your porch My Vine
Meek, fruitful, doth entwine;
Wait, at the threshold, Love’s appointed hour.

I come in little things
Saith the Lord:
Yea! on the glancing wings
Of eager birds, the softly pattering feet
Of furred and gentle beasts, I come to meet
Your hard and wayward heart. In brown bright eyes
That peep from out the brake, I stand confest.
On every nest
Where feathery Patience is content to brood
And leaves her pleasure for the high emprize
Of motherhood–
There doth My Godhead rest.

I come in little things,
Sayeth the Lord:
My starry wings
I do forsake,
Love’s highway of humility to take:
Meekly I fit my stature to your need,
In beggar’s part
About your gate I shall not cease to plead–
As man, to speak to man–
Till by such art
I shall achieve My Immemorial Plan
Pass the low lintel of the human heart.

This poem was published in 1912, so forgive her use of male language in the fourth line from the bottom! The point of the poem, which I have taken to heart, is that God creates various pathways by which we might find God and that God might fill us with divine love and joy and peace.

sitting with the trees
by a gently flowing stream–
patient rootedness

Now taken a moment and read the poem one more time. I would love to hear what your favorite line or image is in this poem. If you tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine!

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haven’t already, click the follow button and also share it with others.

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 #6

This poem is found in Seamus Heaney: 100 Poems. It is about being awake.

Had I not been awake I would have missed it
A wind that rose and whirled until the roof
Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamore

And got me up, the whole of me a-patter,
Alive and ticking like an electric fence:
Had I not been awake I would have missed it,

It came and went so unexpectedly
And almost it seemed dangerously,
Returning like an animal to the house,

A courier blast that there and then
Lapsed ordinary. But not ever
After. And not now.

The wind or the leaves or both were like an extra-ordinary messenger. Was it a mystical experience or simply (!!) an inspiration for this poem? In some ways it does not matter. What is important is that he was awake to experience a once in a life time occurrence. Of course, he heard the wind again and the fall of leaves on his roof, but something underneath the ordinary happened this one time–when he was awake. I was reminded of a partial line from the writings of St. Paul, “Awake, o sleeper” (Ephesians 5:14). How easy it can be to sleepwalk through life, to trod the same ruts everyday with our senses unaware of life bursting around us.

Day and night may be filled with “courier(s) . . . lapsed ordinary.” To pay attention, to be awake, is our joyful work.

hillside one spring
four-foot weedy plant–
yellow blossom

As always, if you like this blog feel free to share it with others and encourage them to follow these occasional ramblings.

Peace,
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