Pathway Poem #11

As I continue to work my way through my books of poetry, I have come the last J. It is A Night without Armor by the famous singer-songwriter, Jewel Kilcher. It contains poems from her journals as she grew up in Alaska. The poem that moved me most was next to the last one, so written, I imagine, in her twenties.

God Exists Quietly

God exists quietly.

When I sit still and contemplate
the breeze that moves upon me
I can hear Him.

For hours I would lay
flat upon the meadows
stare at the
endless field of blue sky
and revel in
the divine placement of all things.

I would walk alone
in the woods and let my mind wander
freely, stumble across theories
on the origins of myself
and all things.

In nature I knew all things had
their place. None supreme,
none insignificant and so
great peace would come to me
as I fit neatly in the folds
between dawn and twilight.
Living in sync with the rhythm
of the earth, eating what
we grew, warming
ourselves by the coal fire,
creating
myself in the vast silence that existed
between the wild mountains of Alaska
and our front porch.

I grew to love the
Nature of god.
I knew Him best not in churches, but
alone with the sun shining on me through the trees

It birthed a space in me
that would continue to
crave the sacred
and demand sanctity
as my life took flight
and lit out to travel
the world.

It has grounded me
and held me steady
in the strong winds
that have caried me
so far from
where I have been.

Prayer is the greatest
swiftest
ship my heart could sail upon.

I am presently reading a book that I think the Jewel who wrote this poem would resonate with. It is The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell. It is written in beautiful poetic prose. He would agree with Jewel that “all things had their place.”

Jewel’s experience of what some of us might call the divine in nature created in her a craving for the sacred and a demand for sanctity. It does not happen to everyone, but for many it has. So, again, I am encouraged to spend time immersed in the world of nature.

The title of this poem, so impressed me that I too wrote a poem in 2002. I have written other non-haiku poems, but trust me, none deserve printing! I share this one only because Jewel’s poem inspired it.

Unhurried, unharried, God exists quietly
Impassible Silence weaving improbable dreams
into the fabric of life lightly.

As always I welcome comments and encourage you, that if you find this blog helpful, you share it with others, welcoming them to follow it as also.

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!

As always, if you find this blog interesting or helpful, you may, if you
haven’t already, click the follow button and also share it with others.

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

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

Affirmation of Many Paths

It has been months since I last sent out a blog! But this morning as I was reading in Carl McCorman’s book The Little Book of Christian Mysticism: Essential Wisdom of Saints, Seers, and Sages, I ran across this quote from Rufus Jones on page 41:

There is no one exclusive ‘way’ either to the supreme realities or to the loftiest experiences of life. The ‘way’ which we individuals select and proclaim as the only highway of the soul back to its true home turns out to be a revelation of our own private selves fully as much as a revelation of the ‘via sacra’ to the one goal of all human striving. . . . God so completely over arches all that is and . . . is so genuinely the fulfillment of all which appears incomplete and potential that we cannnot conceivably insist that there shall be only one way of approach from the multiplicity of the life which we know to the infinite Being whom we seek.

The spiritual life demands humility of us all. Indeed, humility is an essential for spiritual growth. It is like plant food for our souls.

And, for my Christian friends, Jones’ words does not negate a full-hearted commitment to Jesus Christ. For according to the Christian scriptures, Christ is the logos or Word of God present in all of creation–not only in the Church.

I hope in the coming year to begin writing again perhaps talking about the ways of beauty, truth, and goodness.

Peace to you all, LaMon

The Mystic Path: Dark Night of the Soul

Dark night of the soul

Waiting for the veil to lift

And new lights to see

Along this mystic path we have looked at four stages: awakening, purification, illumination, and union. In this format it looks like a fairly straightforward process. It is anything but! In actuality it looks more like a spiral, however, even that image may be misleading. In talking about the spiritual life, our language by necessity must include metaphor.

A spiritual experience that many who travel this path have undergone was called by John of the Cross, the dark night of the soul. Stated simply, in this experience, God is helping us to grow in love. We are learning to love God for God’s sake and not simply for the God’s blessings.

The dark night affects us in various ways. We may feel a loss of the presence of God. We may have an acute sense of our own imperfections. We may experience a kind of spiritual lassitude. Even our will power may seem diminished.

In the book of Job, Satan asserts that Job only serves God because God has blessed him. Take away those blessings, and he will turn away, so says Satan. (An aside: I believe the Book of Job is more parable than literal. After all, have you ever known anyone who argued back and forth in poetry!) In the end, Job endured, though not without a monumental struggle. And the light returned.

One of my favorite passages in the Hebrew scriptures is Habakkuk 3:17-18: “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.”

In the dark night, our desires are being cleansed. It is not pleasant. It is not easy to

endure. But endure it we must, if we are to grow in love for God.

The Mystic Path: Union with God

We have noted the experience of awakening that often is the first step along the path. This can be followed by purification or purgation in which we acknowledge our sins and attempt, with God’s grace, to overcome the dark traits of our personalities. Next can come illumination in which we experience the presence of God such that we begin to understand more and more about who God is and what God desires for us. The final stop along the mystic path is called union.

On sweet occasions

Goal of Christian devotion

Union with our God

As might be expected, this stage can only be described by metaphor and symbol. Some mystics compare it to a transformation, e.g. wood becoming flame in fire, or a drop of water becoming wine when immersed in a great sea of wine. And, St. Paul wrote about being conformed to the image of Christ–becoming like Christ. Deification is a word the Eastern Orthodox Church has used for centuries. We do not become equal with God, but they affirm that we acquire the divine nature. In 2nd Peter, we discover that we can “become participants of the divine nature” (1:4).

Another favorite image among the mystics is spiritual marriage. It is a union characterized by love. The Song of Solomon is a favorite book for these mystics. Human love becomes a metaphor for the loving union of a person and God.

However it was characterized, the mystics all have had a burning desire to experience the fullness of God. They desire this more than life itself. So, they seek after God, and by God’s grace, they can have moments of true union. Only in the life to come, can the union become more permanent.

Union with God in this life and the life to come is characterized by 5 qualities.

1) It is marked by a union of minds. The mystic begins to share God’s values, ideas, and wisdom. Because of this union, they often understand intuitively what God would have them do different situations.

2) It is marked by a union of hearts. The mystic begins to love what God loves. The true mystic, united with God, has compassion for all that God has made.

3) The third mark should go without saying, but it is often not clearly understood. If we share God’s values and love what God loves, we will desire union with one another. To be united with God, one must in one way or another, be immersed in the life of the people of God.

4) The fourth mark is joy. One of my favorite mystics, Richard Rolle compared the person united with God to a music pipe always playing joyful songs of love to Christ.

5) The fifth mark is peace. One of my favorite hymns expresses this well. It is “Like a River Glorious” by Frances Havergal:

Life a river glorious, is God’s perfect peace,

Over all victorious in its bright increase;

Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day;

Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.

Hidden in the hollow of God’s blessed hand,

Never foe can follow, never traitor stand.

Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,

Nor a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest;

Finding as God promised, perfect peace and rest.

This is not the last thing I want to say about this beautiful mystic path, but perhaps that is enough for today. As always, if you find what I have written helpful, feel free to share it with others.

The Mystic Path: Illumination

Illumination:

Seeing God in all things

Desire is answered

Perhaps unsurprisingly the last post on “Purification” was the least read post of all that I have posted! Hopefully the title of “Illumination” will attract more readers. However, without the desire to be a better person reflected in the step of purification, the next rung of the ladder leading to illumination can hardly be climbed. One spiritual writer noted that a person cannot reach the top of the ladder without stepping on the first rung.

Perhaps to understand what the mystics meant by illumination we need to go back to the ground level where awakening occurs. Because of our awakening, a desire to draw near and unite with God is born within us. As the desire grows, more and more is revealed to us. The more that is revealed to us, the greater the desire grows. However, it is not as automatic as that makes it sound. I find that I often must pray for an increase in my flagging desire.

In this stage of mystic growth, we concentrate our will, intellect and feeling on God.  Good works or virtues are performed almost spontaneously. St. Paul might call this growing in the image of Christ. St. Peter named it acquiring the divine nature.

Evelyn Underhill noted that in this stage of illumination three elements may be found. The first, is a joyous apprehension of the Divine or God. The nearness of God is enjoyed. The second is experiencing an added significance and reality to all natural things. The Divine is seen in nature and/or in other persons. And third, a kind of spiritual energy is released that may result in visions, voices, etc.

One word of warning about the last one: visions and voices are never to be sought. If they come, they come. And if they come but do not increase a person’s humility and love, they do not come from God.

As always, if you find this post helpful, feel free to share it with others and encourage them, if they like it, to sign up to follow.

May God be more real to all of us this day.

 

 

 

The Mystic Path: Purification

Last time we considered the occurrence of awakening in the mystic path–that happening in our lives when we become awake to the divine or God’s presence all around us. Today’s topic is not as exciting, but I hope not to lose any readers!

According to the mystics once we are awakened to the glory of God, we can become aware of our own imperfections. The path to ultimate union with God leads through a period (or probably periods) of purification.

Some of our imperfections are caused by our environment. Another way to say that is that we are impacted by sin. On the other hand, some of our imperfections are the result of our own bad choices. Or, we commit sin, e.g. we nurture wrong desires or do wrong things.

Our imperfections may appear in a variety of forms. Not being able to distinguish right from wrong is an imperfection in our intellect. When we can’t seem to make a decision or stick to those resolutions we do make, this is an imperfection in our will. Regularly struggling with unhealthy feelings points to an imperfection in our emotional center.

I have largely avoided talking about ‘sin’ because the word has been wildly misused over the years. When I was a young person growing up in rural Alabama in the 50s and 60s, dancing was considered a sin in some circles! And going to the movies on a Sunday was a definite taboo.

Nevertheless, the word sin still has value when we consider the imperfections in our moral center. Jesus taught us to love one another, which means seeking the other person’s welbeing. When we fail to do that, we are imperfect or we are sinners.

Mystics have suggested a threefold way of purification that can help us along the path to union with God. First is contrition–a sense of sorrow for our imperfections or sins. Second is a full confession–acknowledging, at least to ourselves, that we are not perfect. Third is the resolve to change. Of course, for Christian mystics, all of this is done in the presence of God who is ready to forgive and to help us grow into the divine nature.