Monday, June 30, 2008

Restless at Heart

When Jeannie and I broke up, she said something to me that I had forgotten about til now. She told me "there was a restlessness." She did not say 'I was restless,' as if that were a character trait, and part of me. She said that she had always felt a sense of restlessness while we were together, as if it were an unwelcome guest, and not a facet of my self.

Remembering it now was significant because it is affirmation that we broke up for what seems to be the right reasons. And I am restless; I always have been.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

It Was BoundTo Happen Someday...

Saint Francis is a mixed bag.

On the one hand is my mixed feelings about his Way. I received a vision of being on a sinking ship with St. Francis. He said we need to make it our work on this downward journey to keep people alive (seemingly so they can see the end). I said why don't we just accept the inevitable; we had hit an iceberg on the voyage and it was just a matter of time before the entire boat was full of water. We had a one way nonstop flight, and barring any miracles would be spending the remaining days of our sojourn as beings of this world only chained by a weight of water, to the ocean floor, til we close our eyes and wake up somewhere else.

What struck me about this vision was how silly it seemed to be, the 'doing,' that is. While the "What Me Worry?" type assuredness of our inevitable death and the meaninglessness of doing anything rings confident within the intellectually insulated walls of the nihilistic mind, it is quite another when he answers the door to a very real and present Death. Still, the encounter in the realm of Life and Death turned out to be, in retrospect, an affirmation: that no matter what we do in this life, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." One can only laugh at the absurdity of our so-direly-serious efforts to have made sure we had breakfast, lunch, and dinner before experiencing the end of their existence. Kind of like the 'last supper' given to a death row inmate right before he is killed. "I'm sorry to hear you are dying tomorrow. Chicken or fish? And...Coke, Sprint, or Dr. Pepper?" If that is not absurdity, I don't know what is.

+ + +

The conscious preparation for death has always fascinated me. Cancer patients who are given six weeks to live have nothing else promised to them; you know what you are getting. That is when one either acquiesces to despair, or one realizes that they only have six weeks to get ready.

+ + +

So I propose to St. Francis another attitude to adopt: "We are all dead, so let's just try to enjoy ourselves on the way." I cite "those who try to keep their lives will lose it, and those who lose it for the sake of the kingdom will gain it." Francis starts going off anxiously about the poor Christ, the love of neighbor, the Good Samaritan. I whole heartedly agreed, and thanked him for his good work, and for his inspiration for others to follow his model of compassion for maintaining self-preservation. The work of Christ is accomplished through blood, sweat, tears, sacrifice, death.

I lean back in my chair despite the waves crashing over the stern. I remind Francis of the words of our Lord: "If ye had but the faith of a mustard seed you would be able to say to this mountain "move from here to there," and it will move." If we have faith, maybe our death--which increases towards us with exponential velocity--would see like a birth into another world, the beginning of something new and good, rather than an end to an era that near its end had become so heinously deformed of its original purity and character, that it appears as a grotesque beast, unrecognizable to its former self; the mirror lies.

But both the face the the reflexion are moving infinitely closer--to Teillhard de Chardin's 'Omega Point'. To say that this meeting would be a glass-shattering reality-implosion would be an understatement. But it is at that point which we can no longer put off to choose a fork in the road, and the question becomes not, "Do you want to die?" but "Do you want to evolve?"

+ + +

If consciousness is the soup, then we are the tin can.

+ + +

So while it may be harder for me to devote myself to his mission of active service, there is something on the contrary that I have grown to admire about St. Francis, and that is his treehugger connection with animals.

I put animals and people on pretty much the same page; I generally don't like either very much. But today I saw a bird perched on a railing. He didn't fly away when I came close. I held out a french fry for him and he didn't eat it but he didn't peck me or fly away. A silly example of a profound truth, for me at least: that animals suffer, even when we deny that they do.

While I knew it was just a matter of time before I ironed out some of the philosophical wrinkles preventing me from becoming a committed vegetarian, I didn't know tonight would be the night that this garment was washed, pressed, and ready to be worn.

It was pretty straightforward, actually, once I figured out the question was not "Do animals experience suffering?" but was "How can we say if they do or they don't?" That uncertainty itself is the "reasonable doubt" in a trial that one must move beyond if a guilty verdict is to be rendered. If the fate of a man's life is in your hands, you had better make sure you are confident in your judgment.

This conflicted, agnostic ethical vegetarianism has given way to an assuredness that puts any "doubts" about the existence of God or the suffering of animals or whatever, at bay, and at that moment you cease to be an agnostic because you can say, beyond a reasonable doubt, "I am now not unsure about the existence of God," and while we will never known with certainty whether this is the case or not, we believe it anyway and hope for the best. I would hate to know in my next life how many deaths I was responsible for, even if they were animals, especially if my only defense was "um, they tasted good?" The judgment passed down: "My grain is sufficient for thee." Eucharist is a suffer-free meal--all have been nourished, healed, and unified by it.

There is no reason today to kill animals for food to live. Meat is (in most parts of the world, not all) a luxury, and a luxury that exists at the expense of the extinction of form-consciousness among animals we find tasty. We can live as vegetarians. Now it becomes "Do I want to devote myself to minimizing suffering among sentient beings in this lifetime?" and no longer, "Meh."

I don't want this to sound preachy. All I know is I realized tonight that animals might suffer, just as you and I suffer when imprisoned or tortured, and I would rather not participate in the process of perpetuating suffering for the sake of creature comfort anymore. So, I will eat the rest of the meat I have, just as a Native American that feels one with the suffering of the animal who sacrified himself so that his village could eat feels. But to buy anymore would be passive perpetuation of a suffering that is within my power to stave off. I just know that I don't want to be part of the cycle of suffering anymore, and if animals suffer when they are caged, skinned, put to death, then I don't want to eat them anymore. I never thought I'd see the day...or say the words.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Prayer: "I Want Everyone To Be Happy."

I want to make myself a servant unto all people.
I want to be happy.
I want to not be bored.
I want to feel comfort when I am abandoned.

When you pray the Our Father, you are professing a profound and deliberate affirmation.
You introduce yourself and ask entrance, humbly acknowledging your position as the son of the Most High God.
It is with this status and recognition that you speak.

You begin by acknowledging where you are, and bring heaven into earth through your worlds. Two separate worlds become one world for a time.

You recognize that God has a name, and it is so hallowed that it should never be brought onto the lips unless one is prepared to deal be in it.
So that time comes into Being, for a time.

You state your purpose, and reason for making yourself known.
You assume the responsibility of an expeditor;
You offer yourself as a servant unto all
And to the One who rules over all.

You acknowledge you come empty-handed and you ask one thing for today, for one day only.
And then you acknowledge that you are covered with mud, like some kind of animal.
And that your friends are covered in mud.

And you make pitches, and prove that you are not masochistic, but will take whatever path is laid out for you.
Trying to trust the words that seem to fall so easily from your lips
As if you were not so fascinated by it,
and did not want to leave.

+

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fitting Songs For the Week

Bloc Party--"This Modern Love"

To be lost in the forest
To be cut adrift
You've been trying to reach me
You bought me a book
To be lost in the forest
To be cut adrift
I've been paid
I've been paid

Don't get offended
If I seem absent minded
Just keep telling me facts
And keep making me smile
Don't get offended
If I seem absent minded
I get tongue-tied
Baby, you've got to be more discerning
I've never known what's good for me
Baby, you've got to be more demanding
I will be yours

I'll pay for you anytime

You told me you wanted to eat up my sadness
Well jump on, enjoy, you can gorge away
You told me you wanted to eat up my sadness
Jump right
Baby, you've got to be more discerning
I've never known what's good for me
Baby, you've got to be more demanding
Jump left

What are you holding out for?
What's always in the way?
Why so damn absent-minded?
Why so scared of romance?

This modern love breaks me
This modern love wastes me

Do you wanna come over and kill some time?
Tell me facts, tell me facts, tell me facts
Tell me facts
Throw your arms around me

------------

Modest Mouse--"Workin' on Leavin' the Livin'"

In heaven everything is fine
In heaven everything's alright
In heaven everything is fine
In heaven everything is fine
In heaven
Working on livin'
I'm working on leaving
I'm working on leaving the living
Love you more than everything
Loved it more than anything
Loved everything more than anything
Working on drinking
I'm working on driving
I'm working on driving my dreams so
Working on living
I'm working on leaving
I'm working on leaving the living
In heaven everything is fine
In heaven everything's alright
In heaven everything is fine

-----------

Sufjan Stevens--"Decatur, Or, Round of Applause For Your Step Mother!"

Our step mom we did everything to hate her
She took us down to the edge of Decatur
We saw the lion and the kangeroo take her
Down to the river where they caught a wild alligator

Sangamon River it overflowed
It caused a mudslide on the banks of the operator
civil war skeletons in their graves,
They came up clapping in the spirit of the aviator

The sound of the engines and the smell of the grain,
We go riding on the abolition grain train
Steven A. Douglas was a great debater,
But Abraham Lincoln was the great emancipator

Chickenmobile with your rooster tail
I had my fill and I know how bad it feels
Stay awake and watch for the data
No small caterpiller, go congratulate her

Denominator, go Decatur, go Decatur,
It's the great I Am
abominate her, go Decatur, why did we hate her?
It's the great I Am

Denominator, go Decatur, anticipate her
It's the great I Am
Appreciate her, appreciate her,
Stand up and thank her,

Stand up and thank her,
It's the great I Am.
Stand up and thank her,
It's the great I Am.
Stand up and thank her,
It's the great I Am.
Stand up and thank her.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I am heading to the monk's cave...

I will be back tomorrow morning for breakfast.

tell me what to write...

Tonight is the second night I have felt guided by voices; a (singular) voice, actually. I stop myself from writing, "the voice tells me to do this, step here, read this, wash that..." because i'm afraid i will only add to the heaping mound of evidence that proves to anyone reading the words that i am out of my fucking mind. And it is true in a way...I feel as if I have stepped outside it as in the eye of a tornado, not a hair on my head blowing, in complete calm. Everything that is spinning around me, lifted up by the vortex of wind and floating by--houses, cows, fire hydrants. The Apocalypse is coming.

Of course if you are a believing Christian that is a statement of fact, and making it known is simply a profession of that belief, as fact; its not a matter of if but when? Nevertheless, it does not change the fact that it is "crazy talk" if it is coming from the mouth of someone who truly believes it. But the feeling is undeniable, and the suggestion of an alternate reality is difficult to ignore when it is right there in the room with you, like clamping your eyes closed and telling yourself that the rabid dog chasing you is not real.

i have been surrounded by an incredible energy insulating me and extending out even beyond the walls of my apartment. The presence of this energy was so acute that my friend Alex even commented on it the other night we she told me it felt when she arrived as if my energy and the energy emenating from my apartment were one and the same. Abba Moses said: "Go and sit in your cell, and your cell will tell you everything."

I have been given two obscure but very clear messages tonight that area a little hard to stomach at present. The first is that I am being called to go to Medjugoria. The second is that I am being called to spend a month with the Carthusians of the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration near Arlington, Vermont (the monastery itself is located on the slopes of nearby Mt. Equinox). Both suggestions are absolutely ludicrious...I just want you to know that. I still believe them, though.

Nonetheless, the way in which the thoughts seized me being, so...forceful...makes me think twice about disregarding them; I am affirmed in their authenticity. It also fills me with the peace of knowing that if these incredible events actually do transpire, they will happen not because I make them happen, but because they were meant to happen. Such a realization forces me to squeeze into and take sanctuary in the present moment, since such overwhelming future events are beyond my strength to deal with. I am in the negatives when it comes to my sick and personal time at work, and have less than a day of vacation time. Taking a month to go to either place anytime soon is not practical. Not that that is a reason not to take the time anyway (and suffer the financial burden of taking a month of pay without leave, assuming I am even allowed by corporate policy to take any more leave time). The destination is there and within sight, but the tracks have run out and are being built as I wait, one plank at a time.

* * *
(cont.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Doing the Cockroach and Nailing Boards With Modest Mouse and Lord Pai Mei

The reality of the breakup finally hit last night, in the same way the sky gradually darkens over as you're enjoying being outside; at some definitive point, you realize that the skies are not sunny anymore. If big heaving crumbled wads of storm clouds slide in like a 300 lb. woman saddling up to her seat on the couch in anticipation for the next three hours of watching Titanic, armed with chips and sodas and half gallons of ice cream...she's not going anywhere anytime soon. I imagine a poor little mouse who had the unfortunate fate of being on the sofa at the exact moment her ass made contact with the cushion desperately trying to claw his way to air and freedom; but it is like the princess and the pea--"Debrah" the owner of the ass feels nothing.

So when rain clouds blot out the sun like the shadow of a giant ass descending to sit on top of you, there are two ways to deal with your fate: claw like mad to get out, or try to survive as if you had been buried alive. Of course there is that moment of realization when you think--your last thought--"I'm going to die." But you don't die. Like a shipwreck survivor solely existing on a liferaft in the middle of the fucking ocean, your ship long gone and finding new existence as a piece of wreckage on the ocean floor, you have two choices: survive, or die. It is as if Death were blitzing and has broken the line of scrimage, in midair about to knock the life out you, when he freezes, frozen in amber time 3 inches away from your face. Like the Matrix, really--that slip between the infinite succession of moments, razor thin, outside of the realm of time.

I guess it was in this way that I met my Master for the time I was to be in this slip of no-time. Existence was on hold for training purposes. Last night was becoming acquainted; this morning was the first day of learning how to live.

There is a book by a German professor of philosophy who went to Japan to learn the art of kyujutsu,--Japanese archery. I have never read the book but I am presently reading a critique of it in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies by Yamada Shoji, a professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies. It is interesting to read Professor Shoji's credentials, having taught in the Department of Computer Science at Tsukuba University, worked for IBM Japan, and holding a P. Eng. Professor Shoji is a Doctor of Engineering, not a Doctor of Philosophy. His views reflect his background--scientific and cultural...but not religious.

Bearing this in mind, it brings to mind the anomalistic book Dancing With God Through the Storm by Jennifer Elam, which I was using in the research on mysticism and mental illness. It is just about the least appropriate book to be used in academic research, being unabashedly subjective. It eschews the hard masculine rationalism that can dominate the academic study of theology. It seems ironic to me that some of the best and most influencial minds in France were brought from the University of Paris to preside as judges over Joan of Arc, at her trial. I think I recall Antoine Vergote noting something along the lines of, "she was no match for the sophisticated rhetorical techniques that were used on her to procure a confession of heresy." She couldn't even write--she could only sign her name. How then could this illiterate peasant have been appointed by God directly to lead the charge against the English and reclaim France for the Dauphin? That was the question on trial: witch or mystic? Because there was no doubt that the events leading to the victory of the French forces were owed to supernatural assistance.

Mystical experience does not confine itself, either by class or caste or status of health. And this includes the mentally ill. In fact, as Kay Jamison wrote about in Touched With Fire, people with mental illness are sometimes able to experience living on a different level of experience. If this has any value at all, it is that it shoes that reality is not confined to one Norm.

Nor is God confined to any one mode of communication. Or religion for that matter. If God decides to appear in the guise of a sheep about to be sacrificed during a Voo Doo spirit cleansing seance in a remote village in Trinidad, then that is God's prerogative. God will walk through walls if they are lock, but tries the doorbell first, and if that is not heard, a loud knock. But he will not break down a door. Funny...if we truly desire a visit from God, all we have to do is unlock to door.

When it is locked from the inside, though, we sometimes need a key. And that key must be given. And I was blessed to have received this key for visitation from kumoso Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin, Shi-han of present day Sui-Zen shakuhachi flute. The playing of zen shakuhachi is like being a sactuary that never existed. It is awe-inspiring, both for the notes' ability to discard barriers of time and geographic location in order to find their 'lost master.' The kumoso were priests of the Fuke-Shu sect of Zen Buddhism during 17th-to 19th century Endo Period in Japan. They were samurai who had lost their masters and wandered Japan as mendicant musicians, wearing tengai baskets on their heads to conceal their faces, and playing their flute as a way to relieve the burdens and illnesses of people in the spirit of an incarnated bodhisattva. The healing was only the result of the notes which were played in a spirit of selfless spirit by one who had chosen to take it upon themselves to reincarnate their Master's spirit through music. In a way the shakuhachi is a musical koan--it is given by a master as a tool for prying the mind away from the ego so it can be experienced in its pure, unadulterated state of being. The healing is nothing more than entering into the place where pain and pleasure do not exist.

The healing I received from Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin was sorely needed, and during this time of severed attachment, the teachings of the Buddha were never more relevant. It involves a shift in perspective. The typical response to suffering (barring sado-masochistic disorders) is aversion. The ego-based state of being resides in this programmed reality: that suffering is not-desirable and pleasure is desirable. To deny this reality is to be delusional; that is to say, when one says, "I love getting my heart broken, I can't get enough of it," or "I haven't had a drop of water to drink in four days and I don't want any!" they are living in a non-existent reality of their own making.

Contrast this to the prison created by the affirmation of ego-based consciousness. When we affirm that "suffering is bad," and "pleasure is good," then our world is interpreted and lived out accordingly. We run from discomfort and we look for pleasure, no matter how unrealistic its attainment in things might be. We are hamsters on the wheel of samsara, generating the electricity that runs the Devil's house. When we stop running, neither God nor the Devil not any created thing exists, or seems to exist, because we are at the Center of all things. When someone asks you, "are you experiencing the love of God?" it is like asking a fish if he feels wet.

As I listened to the shakuhachi in meditation, my eyes wandered outside and noticed through the screen that it was raining. It was very soft, like dandelion blossoms falling on the grass. And then I was given the koan by Shi-han Nyogetsu:

When does the rain stop falling?

I watched for the answer, with every falling drop. I hung onto the air and waited. My eyes became unfocused, and the screen, the rain, and the trees in the yard across the street bled together into a simultaneous vision. Does rain ever stop falling? I brought my eyes back into focus--the rain had stopped, and the music folded into silence.

* * *

It is common for conservative Catholics to fear and condemn practices outside the Church, and for good reason: it is unknown, and so cannot be trusted. This is just stating a matter of fact. How can one trust something one knows nothing about? It is like having a stranger come up to you and saying, "So and so sent me to give you a ride home from school. Get in!" You are either operating on blind faith and trust that the person is telling the truth, or you decline the offer.

There is an old zen saying, "If you see the Buddha, KILL HIM!" The Dalai Lama called Buddha a great scientist. The Buddha did not trust or believe--he knew. And that is the difference between Christianity and Buddhism, and why so many Buddhists (and atheists) are so incredulous at the practice of believing in what you cannot see. Buddhists are staunch empiricists of the mind, and Christians are cultivators of the heart. Thich Nhat Hanh has said quite a big about the use of the terms "heart" and "mind" in Buddhism, since they are often used interchangeably when speaking about Buddha-nature. In essence they are both words, just as God is a word, a word much too small to contain the Essence. But for practical purposes a system must be devised for communicating this essence linquistically. The Jews, considering the name of God given from the guise of (of all incredulous ridiculous things) an unconsumed burning bush, was considered almost synonymous with its source. To avoiding bring the Presence into the world through language, a linquistical system was devised that forwent the placement of vowels so that YAHWEH--the Name of God--became YHWH. When the vernacular was translated outside of Judaism (i.e., in Christianity), Y became "J" and W became "V," and vowels were inserted to create JEHOVAH. And we are all familiar with His Witnesses, for they trust in the promise, "Knock, and it shall be opened to you";)

The realization that God is just a three letter word breaks a few paradigms. For one, such brazenness regarding the name of the Most High "I AM" is objectionable to those who trust in the structures that claim to house Him. It is in this way that organized religion becomes unbelievable to those who cannot fathom their being a God, and that "He" has a Name.

However there are some who embrace organized religion wholeheartedly with the realization that it is not the "whole truth," as it is often made out to be by the respective party. If God is called the "Tree of Life," then a tree has many branches. And Jesus said "In my Father's house there are many mansions." Neither of these statements are any implication of anything other than to point out the fact that they were made by someone, somewhere. Buddha was not especially interested in religion; neither was Jesus, except to use the hypocricy of the Pharisees and Sadducees as an example of what genuine religion was not supposed to look like. In this way it can be admitted, as Simone Weil said, that

"Each religion is alone true, that is to say, that at the moment we are thinking of it we must bring as much attention to bear on it as if there were nothing else...A "synthesis" of religion implies a lower quality of attention."

There have been many an inquisition in the history of the Church. Bishops have often saddled up as if they were on a fox hunt when the scent of heresy wafts into their diocese. The trial of Joan of Arc is just one example, though Joan, despite the assuredness in the truthfulness of what the voices in her head were telling her, knew the fear of having to defend such non-empirical events against an onslaught of learned religious inquisitors. It is one of the realities of living in a world in which very few dwell. But a thought came to me, shortly after the koan was presented:

If you are doing nothing, you cannot be prosecuted.

It is true--the practice of zazen pleads the 5th. Because there is nothin' doin'. Zen is only a "religion" in the sense of being attached to the Buddhist tradition and in its reliance on the teachings of Buddha in scripture. Zen has no qualms about killing its master. Zen is spiritual seppuku--the hand kills the body, and one is thrown into non-existence.

* * *

I wrote a haiku a while ago:

Hakuin told me
enlightenment comes to those
with a clean toilet.

The extent of my research was how one distinguishes between mental illness and mystical experience, and the best answer I can come up with relies on spiritual discernment in the practice of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and in the words of Jesus, "you can tell a tree by its fruits." If the fruits of experience are meanness, disorganization, sloth, arrorgance, pride, ego--these are not things of God. Experiences of clarity and peace, on the other hand, when they are reflected in non-pathological (but possibly eccentric) behavior, do not necessarily prove that the Spirit is working within them. But they do not discount the possibility either, because there are no charges to bring against such a claim. Pontius Pilate asked his own koan--"what is Truth?", never came to its realization because of his acquiescence to the mob calling for the death of an innocent man, despite having found "no guilt" in him.

And so the consequence of decision in freedom, which Dostoevsky was so fond of writing about (and which troubled him constantly), becomes truly a dreadful thing. My professor in American Buddhism related his awakening to emptiness as having reached an abyss in a state of meditation in which the decision to enter into or not rested entirely on the will, and I imagine it was absolutely terrifying. Even if we could find a black hole somewhere on this earth, I doubt we would even be able to go near it--the Government would probably have yellow tape and patrol guards surrounding it 24/7 and putting out propaganda news feeds that "scientists have discovered that what had appeared to be a bottomless "black hole" is nothing but an abandoned mining shaft." But to have stumbled upon such a place when there is no one around and to be faced with the decision (since the opportunity is staring you in the face) to throw oneself into it to be consumed in non-existence....well, its no wonder we don't go there very often.

(cont.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

I Want To Talk To You

"The Lord called to Samuel, who answered, "Here I am."


The LORD called me this evening, right as I was about to root some stevia plants. I knew the call, and I was annoyed.

God rarely wastes words on me. Instead, he uses fishhooks, slaps, dull throbbings, and reminder notices to tune me in to whatever frequency he wants me to be listening to at that moment. Like those 'this is a test' emergency broadcast signals that used to bust on to the tv like a poltergeist.

In any case, it was, as the Muslims say, a call to prayer. No bell, just a trickling into my consciousness, like storm water soaking through the earth on its way to the water table below. If I ignore this delicate signal, it usually goes away, like water evaporating out through the soil. If I stay tuned in, but remain inactive, the water begins to soak through. The responsible thing to do is to answer. "If today you hear God's voice, harden not your heart." For whatever reason I was feeling responsible tonight.

This was to be a face-to-face meeting, and bedside remote telecommuting prayer would not do; I was being called in to the Principal's office. It would have been right for me to respond to the Most High God like Samuel, "Here I am!" I think my words were, "What?" Obviously the LORD knew I was in the middle of something--I've had all sorts of projects going on to stay busy since Jeannie and I broke up. Obviously He wasn't very bothered by it. The call was not linguistically audible, but if I had to conceptualize it, it felt like a wet blanket draped over my shoulders that was soaking my shirt; I wanted to throw off.

Duty calls. I've abandoned enthusiasm for prayer some time ago. I swear, maintaining this kind of long-term relationship with God must be what marriage feels like after ten years. "Honey?" Here I am. That's okay; I've come to think marriage is a good thing that's worth the work.

Well, after realizing my horticultural excuses weren't going to stave off the drip-drip-dripping "Come." that was beginning to soak through my plans for the evening, I dug a little deeper in the excuse drawer and realized that I didn't have a ride. I had just sold my bike a few hours before, and my new bike (which had just been built but not tested yet; the epoxied handlebars were even still wet) was not ready to be ridden yet. But the LORD told me to "Come" anyway, even if I had to walk; it was important. I had not eaten yet, I protested, and I felt a headache coming on. "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of Heaven." Sigh.

So what do you propose, I asked. "Come." Sometimes it really seems like the LORD of the Universe is nothing but a big, loving, mentally challenged simpleton, boiling down our alphabet soup to a syrupy broth with just a few letters floating around to spell with. How else do you explain a name like YHWH? No vowels! Sigh.

Since the LORD was not putting anything on the table, I said, "Okay. If the glue on my handlebars had dried (I knew it probably wouldn't be) I will go. If not, I will wait til tomorrow." And the LORD said, "Done." I went down to the basement and sure enough the glue had dried and set enough to ride.

A deal's a deal. I brought the bike up and out on to the porch. The sky was getting dark; it was going to rain. By this point I knew that even if a cloud of escaped African bees were the ones darkening the sky, I would still have to go. I set off, only to have the handlebars slip in the stem. Down to the basement for an adjustable wrench. And up. And off. And...the nose of the saddle slipping down. Down for a socket wrench. And up. And off. And...the gears need to be adjusted. And...

Finally, an hour later, with everything in working order, I was off to the Adoration chapel at St. Mary's. Actually, it was nice to be out on my new bike; I liked it lots. I know I am getting older now that I want something more "comfortable" and am starting to retire my still jarring racing bikes. This steed is a black-spraypainted 3 speed beauty, complete with oiled leather saddle bags and a rear rack. It felt strange to be riding without my courier bag; all my things--lock, tools, phone, wallet, etc.--were in the saddlebags.

When I arrived at the chapel and stepped inside, I think there was a part of me, sweating and breathing heavy, that said, "You called?" Not in a smart-alec way; just as matter of fact. My relationship with the LORD has reflected this matter-of-factness in the reduction in need for emotive response. To love is not to say or to feel but to do. So I do. Love is just a four letter piece of dried shit anyway.

I usually sit in Adoration, though the more emotional I am at the time the more apt I am to get on my knees. I think I could be hanging upside down by the rafters for all the LORD cares; I know He was happy to see me, as always. There have been times when I've played St. Therese and curled up on the bench or on the floor and slept. The Little Flower herself said about falling asleep during prayer, "Well, I don't worry! I think of how little children are as charming to their parents when they are sleeping as when they are awake." Adoration really is one of my favorite forms of prayer. Because there is nothing to do. I "do" all fucking day; when I see the LORD, I want to be.

I settled in almost immediately upon sitting. I closed my eyes. I was sweating despite the air conditioner blowing cool air over my skin, and the blood was pulsing through my temples like a swollen river. Buddha slipped me a little cheat: my distracting maladies became my tools of centering. In Thailand, during evening anapanasati meditation, the mosquitoes would be out in full force and since we were forbidden by the monks to kill any living thing, I could do nothing but let them land and suck themselves silly until they pulled out, bloated with blood, and dropped to the sand: a glutton's death. Serves them right.

But I killed no mosquitoes during the entire course of the 11-day Vipassanna retreat at Suan Mohkk--the "Garden of Liberation." After the mosquitos had left their mark (which screamed for the ecstasy of being scratched), they became like gravestones which I meditated on. The legions of dead mosquito ghosts buried beneath the welt were like demons begging to be released into the world. If I scratched the bite, they would do just that; the tiny mound of whitish flesh would spread, like an island surfacing in receding waters. And as long as I scratched it, it would never go away. In Thailand, fasting and sleeping on a concrete bed with a wooden pillow, Buddha taught me about sin.

Funny. Not just Buddha teaching me the way of Christ, but the fact that I was sent to Thailand by the Lord in the first place for this training, and what precipitated it--the need to find my center after Jeannie and I broke up the first time. I had also just seen Kill Bill 2, and when Beatrix visits Pai Mei in his forest dwelling, the deal was sealed.

As I sat before the LORD, focusing on the rhythm of the blood pushing through my head and the feeling of salt-laced sweat drops sliding down my forehead, I began to get dialed in. And it reminded me of Beatrix's awe at the feet of Pai Mei who pulsed with energy emanating from his head chakra. It sounded like a beating heart, or a swarm of locusts, and it was pure, focused energy. And I realized that I was sitting at the center of the Universe. Because if you believe that he who said I AM before all things and at the end of all things and I LIVE, and you believe that he who said, This bread is my body was not speaking figuratively, then you see the transcendent reality of that Presence concentrated into the stale, tasteless piece of styrofoam Necco bread sitting right in front of you. It is the incarnation of the absolute poverty which God assumed when He assumed human flesh.

Eucharist is the spiritual core of the Earth, a core that has no center, because it is everywhere...and yet it is right here in front of me! When this hit me, it was like an arrow piercing my skull between the eyes. In fact, my head snapped back and I felt short of breath...I was literally at the center of All Things--right where I needed to be. And I had received a personal invitation to be there.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Here is the second installment of The Ice Cream Man Rings for All Eternity:

* * *

The ad on craigslist seemed promising:

Ice Cream Truck Drivers wanted immediately for the Northwest Philadelphia area. Must be at least 18 years old with a descent driving record and be able to pass a background check. Cash paid daily. Call 215-574-3873 for more info. Sweet Melody Ice Cream Co.

James had never driven a truck before, but figured it couldn't be too difficult, except maybe on the mirror-clipping goat-paths that make up Manayunk. He remembered walking on Ridge Avenue one time and seeing a line of cars backed up a quarter mile long, cars honking, dudes "what the fuck!"ing in typical Philly fashion...all because of the Ice Cream Man.

On foot James was able to make his way up Calumet Street, past the cars stuck with no where to go, to get a better look. Wanting to see the cause of this snarled line of cars held the same draw that accidents on the Schuylkill do for frustrated motorists wondering what the clog is. The irony is that the delay is usually caused by the motorists themselves, each and every one of them, unable to resist slowing down in order to be a personal drive-by witness of someone else's highway misery.

But this was a real clog in one of East Falls' minor, but heavily used, neighborhood traffic veins. There was no room for rubber necking simply because the one way street lined on both sides with parked cars would not allow it. James found it interesting to note the different people's reactions to the situation, and how their vehicles were usually a good indicator of what that reaction would be.

The guys with trucks, the contractors, plumbers, electricians, had no patience, and no qualms about laying on their horn and yelling. Their counterpart, the Prius and sub-compact drivers entertained looks of curious bewilderment. The teenage drivers straight arming the steering wheel tough-talked to their girlfriends behind the dash but their balls had not developed enough to move beyond this insulated verbal aggression. The Bimmer and Audi drivers scowled, checked their watches, put their fingers to the bridge of their nose as if their wasted time was like an air-conditioned fueled energy meter spinning wildly in July. The women in Volvos and Subaru Outbacks listened to NPR, and smiled patiently.

(to be continued.)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Icecream Man Rings For All Eternity

This is the first installment of a multi-part short story I am working on. I rarely write 3rd person narrative, so this is some practice for me. Enjoy!

* * *

Zaid al-Maliki lay on the floor of his cell, smashing his palms into his ears as if he was trying to crush his skull by sheer force. He wished he could, if it would make Barney the Purple Dinosaur go away.

The American GI's playing cards across the room did not seem to notice him. They were used to the screaming and incessant chanting. Most of the prisoners when they are subjected to "Torture by Sesame Street" (or Metallica, or Barney the Purple Dinosaur) maintain their stoic facade through the first two or three days by attempting to drown themselves in prayer. "Allaabu Akbar...Ash'hadu an laa ilaaha illallaah...Ash'hadu anna Muhammadar-rasulullaah..." Allah was the liferaft in this godless ocean of noise. After a few days, though, that raft begins to leak.

* * *

James Brown would not say he was excited about his first day of work. He was grateful, though; this economy is a dangerous place for a college dropout, let alone people who had secured their piece of paper.

What he was excited about was the prospect of having his own truck, his own schedule, and nobody to tell him what to do. The only other time James had the luxury of working in peace and quiet without having to deal with coworkers droning on about last night's American Idol or supervisors not knowing what to do with themselves was when he was thirteen, delivering newspapers. He would get up at 4:00 a.m. and fold, wrap, and stuff fifty papers in his canvas bag, black and soiled from newsink, and head out into the dark dawn. He loved the feeling of knowing he was the only one awake. It felt like...sovereignty.

The cold sucked. And the rain. But the summer dawns were brilliant. The air had cooled to the perfect temperature and the sky was bleeding faded pink on the horizon. He felt a kind of affinity with the postmen, the ones who walked their route, and even joked in his head that they were "grownup newsboys." Through rain, sleet, or snow, as the saying goes; they both suffered under the same sky. James had in fact taken his civil service test last year, after he had dropped out of Temple after one semester. James figured he could make more money by not spending it on books and classes. Government jobs were pretty secure, too; the Government takes care of its people.

But after five months he still hadn't gotten a call. Living at his parent's home without a job was getting to be a strain, but he didn't have enough money saved to move out. He didn't like the prospect of having to apply for jobs at the sunoco or the manayunk diner like some high school schlep. But he needed a job...


(to be continued.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Buddha's Garden

When transcendentalists talk about finding God in nature, there's always that Walden-esque image of a "house in the woods," or of hippies carrying Nalgene bottles walking barefoot through the woods smelling ferns and sitting on rocks with their eyes closed. But the realization of divinity can be as simple watching a seed germinate. When I was in the throws of a deep depression, I had no desire to do anything...except to grow some seeds. They were about all I could take care of, since dealing with my own life seemed so overwhelming. I am not a patient person, but growing little plants indoors through the winter taught me; as Kazantzakis said after killing a hatching butterfly with his impatience: "For I realize today it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature." I planted the seedlings in my mom's garden and they grew up to be plants, strangely special, because i had nursed them from a pinhead-sized embryo.

There is something holy about gardening; besides making babies, it is as close as one can come to creating life in the manner of God. The growing cycle mirrors the spiritual life cycle: barrenness, germination, growth, proliferation, production, harvest, pollination, death, barrenness, germination...Gardening is a spiritual discipline. Cloistered Carthusian monks typically have a small patch of garden attached to their cell for praying and growing flowers and vegetables. The Divine Office recited by monks and nuns also reflect the importance placed on alignment with the natural rhythm. The entire book of Psalms is typically sung in the course of a week, and then repeated. During my time at Mt. Saviour, in between offices, we would work in the orchard, or sheer sheep, or do chores around the grounds. Benedictine life is about rhythm and balance--finding a Middle Way.

My own garden is doing well this year. My neighbor trapped the groundhog that had been eating my beets and eggplant. I've put little fences up around many of the plants. One-armed Buddha guards the small 5x12' plot. I found him in the trash with one arm, smiling, but I picture Maya the groundhog sneaking out from the bushes and eating his arm, trying to gnaw it off, while Gold Buddha smiles stoically unaffected because he knows he will be reincarnated into all things--including Maya--transcending desire and becoming untouchable, in the same way Jesus accepted Death as a guest and then threw It off when enough days had passed and it was time to show the world that Death was nothing to fear.

It's interesting to see that a 'Doomsday Vault' is being designed in Norway to house rare seeds to avert world famine...a giant plant sperm bank. With all the genetic modification of seeds occurring today, some plants have stopped reproducing, making it all the more important to preserve seeds with an untouched genetic makeup. When Doomsday coming, the opening of the vault will be the resurrection of the bodies.

Eucharist is not so crazy when you think about it. Jesus making himself into bread and wine for us to eat and calling it his flesh and blood. When we eat a tomato, we are eating a fruit of the earth (in French potato is translated "pom de terre": apple of the earth), and as Ben Harper says, "what's from the earth is of the greatest worth." A embyonic seed is planted, draws water and air from the ground, germinates, synthesizes light and CO2, producing fruit which contain the seeds necessary for future propagation. When we eat a tomato, we are eating everything that made it, the causal process, a cycle of becoming; we become all things, one with all things. When we eat the fruit, we eat the seed. When we excrete, the seed, amazingly, comes out whole and after surviving the ride to the sewage treatment plant, will often find its way to the ground (if the plant has discharged the untreated water), draw on the nutrients in the waste and soil, and repropagate. Resurrection! A great seed bank is being kept in a Nothing really dies...it just goes away.