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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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

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.

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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.