Pathway Poem #12

Jane Kenyon was a wonderful poet. She died of leukemia at the age of 48. She wrote,

There are things in life that we must endure which are all but unendurable, and yet I feel that there is a great goodness. Why, when there could have been nothing, is there something? This is a great mystery. How, when there could have been nothing, does it happen that there is love, kindness, beauty?1

Among the many poems in Otherwise: New & Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon, I have chosen the following:

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 patrolling the ozone.
Every teacup in the pantry rattles.

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

The 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.

What makes life worth living if not “love, kindness, beauty” and perhaps a bit of humor.

We have a beautiful Korat cat named Jinx. He too watches the birds at our feeders. And the beautiful birds come all 12 months of the year. Like Jinx, I too like to watch them, though perhaps with a different desire.

One of my Autumn haiku:

a beautiful morning:
just watching the birds feeding
and the leaves falling

May you all rejoice in the beauty around you–blessings of God. As always, feel free to share this blog with others. And comments are always welcomed–really! Peace, LaMon

1 Good Poems for Hard Times by Garrison Keillor, p.314.

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 #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.

As always, if you are not already a follower, you may use the “follow” button to receive my occasional post in your email box. You may also recommend these blogs to friends you might think are interested.

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

Peace,
LaMon

A Poem for Earth Day

A poem by Denise Levertov in The Life Around Us: Selected Poems on Nature

SOJOURNS IN A PARALLEL WORLD

We live our lives of human passions,
cruelties, dreams, concepts,
crimes and the exercise of virtue
in and beside a world devoid
of our preoccupations, free
from apprehension—though affected,
certainly, by our actions. A world
parallel to our own though overlapping.
We call it ‘Nature’; only reluctantly
admitting ourselves to be ‘Nature’ too.
Whenever we lose track of our own obsessions,
our self-concerns, because we drift for a minute,
an hour even of pure (almost pure)
response to this insouciant life:
cloud, bird, fox, the flow of light, the dancing
pilgrimage of water, vast stillness
of spellbound ephemerae on a lit windowpane,
animal voices, mineral hum, wind
conversing with rain, ocean with rock, stuttering
of fire to coal—then something tethered
in us, hobbled like a donkey on its patch
of gnawed grass and thistles, breaks free.
No one discovers
just where we’ve been, when we’re caught up again
into our own sphere (where we must
return, indeed, to evolve our destinies)
but we have changed, a little.

I took my first walk this morning in Aldridge Gardens in Birmingham. I came home changed, a little. Peace my friend, 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

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.