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Awe and Inexpressible Innocence…

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The first chirps of the waking birds mark the “point vierge
of the dawn.
under a sky as yet without real light,
a moment of awe and inexpressible innocence,
when the Father in perfect silence opens their eyes.
They speak to Him, not with fluent song,
but with an awakening question
that is their dawn state,
their state at the point vierge.

Their condition asks if it is time for them to “be“?
He answers “Yes.”

Then they one by one wake up, and become birds.
They manifest themselves as birds, beginning to sing.
Presently they will be fully themselves, and will even fly.

Meanwhile, the most wonderful moment of the day is that
when creation in its innocence asks permission
to “be” once again,
as it did on the first morning that ever was.

All wisdom seeks to collect and manifest itself
at that blind sweet point.
Man’s wisdom does not succeed,
for we have fallen into self mastery and cannot ask
permission of anyone.
We face our mornings as men of undaunted purpose.
We know the time and we dictate the terms.
We know what time it is.

For the birds there is not a time that they tell,
but the virgin point between darkness and light,
Between nonbeing and being.

Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us
and we do not understand.
It is wide open. The sword is taken away,
but we do not know it:
we are off “one to his farm and another
to his merchandise.”
Lights on. Clocks ticking. Thermostats working. Stoves
cooking. Electric shavers filling radios with static.

“Wisdom,” cries the dawn deacon, but we do not attend.

~Thomas Merton

In Deep Nights

In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
For all I have seen
that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet….

My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.

Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.

What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
softly,
like a spring rain?

~Rainer Maria Rilke

Thirst

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time. Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart. Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.

~Mary Oliver

The Season of Singing Has Come!

Such Singing in the Wild Branches

It was spring
and finally I heard him
among the first leaves—
then I saw him clutching the limb

in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still

and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness—
and that’s when it happened,

when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree—
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,

and the sands in the glass
stopped
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing—
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky— all, all of them

were singing.
And, of course, yes, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last

for more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then— open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

~Mary Oliver

 

Rise up, my love, my fair one and come away.
For lo, the winter is past
The rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of singing has come…

~Song of Songs 2:10-12

 

The Man Watching

The Man Watching

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

*To my lovely friend who caused me to revisit this favorite poem of a favorite poet, Thank you.

A Thing of Beauty…

 

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

Nor do we merely feel these essences
For one short hour; no, even as the trees
That whisper round a temple become soon
Dear as the temple’s self, so does the moon,
The passion poesy, glories infinite,
Haunt us till they become a cheering light
Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast
That, whether there be shine or gloom o’ercast,
They always must be with us, or we die.

 

~John Keats, excerpt from “Endymion”

List of Candidates 2011

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Since reading Steve Leveen’s tiny treasure of a book,  The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, I have kept a perpetual “list of candidates”.  Herein I record books I positively want to read before I die…preferrably sooner than later. 🙂  It helps insulate me, somewhat, from disappointing, purposeless impulse reads.

As I spend the week before New Year’s Day reflecting on the year past and anticipating the year ahead, I revisit my list.  I remove books recently read.  I add a few titles I have scribbled on a note or in the back of a book.  I rescue treasures hastily punched into my phone during a conversation with a fellow bibliophile.  I survey the offerings of a couple of authors with whom I have really connected this year.  Then I dream of delicious hours to come as I enter into conversation with brilliant and creative minds, and as gifted storytellers weave a tale around me, and in me.  I want to begin all of them.  Now.

I share here the titles on my list at present, and implore you to tell me what is missing.  Some of my favorite reads this past year came from you.

A Book of Hours: Meditations on the Traditional Hours of Prayer by Francis Colling Egan*
Encounter by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok
The Chosen by Chaim Potok*
Waiting for God by Simone Weil
Thirst by Mary Oliver*
A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver*
Rules For the Dance by Mary Oliver*
Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Expury
Phantastes by George MacDonald*
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
Story by Robert McKee
The Naked Now by Richard Rohr
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks
A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography by Egon Wellesz
The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell
The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther*
Wild Iris by Louise Gluck
A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard*
The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen*
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Earle Stegner
The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers
Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke
Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, and Spiritual Father, Vera Bouteneff Translator*
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas*
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe*
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger*
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott
Mother Gavrilia: The Ascetic of Love by Nun Gavrilia
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

*Completed

A Dream Strayed Into Daylight

Sparkling water trips over stones

Whispering breeze rustles leaves

Heart whisper

Soul breath

Transparent eyes

A dream strayed into daylight


Delicate petals

Sweet scent

A Rose

Exquisite intoxication

Lavender delirium

Columbine spell

A dream strayed into daylight


Extravagant brilliance of sunset

Spectacular resplendence of fall

Delicious agony

Orgasm of pain

A dream strayed into daylight


Breathless silence

Blanket of snow

Icy flakes on bare skin

Violent exhilaration

Thunderstorm, rain

A dream strayed into daylight


Raspberries

Fragrant exotic delight

Cabernet

Mysterious and warm

Chocolate

Decadent, bitter and dark

A dream strayed into daylight


Elegant threshold

Ecstatic response

Transcendence

Abandon

Bliss

Pieces of Heaven

Diverted to Earth

A dream strayed into daylight

~SM~


*I owe a great debt to C.S. Lewis for the title line.  While reading Til We Have Faces, the phrase “a dream strayed into daylight” lodged itself in my mind.  It actually has a negative connotation in the book.  But for me, it was magic. It made me think of all those experiences, all those moments when, perhaps only for the space of a breath, I have touched the otherworldly.  Lewis called it “joy”.  This poem has rolled round in my head, in bits and pieces, ever since.  I have been blessed with a great many transcendent moments.  The words and phrases above commemorate some of them.

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