Saturday, March 24, 2012


Trolling through this relatively ancient (and yet oh so ephemeral) blog, I found a little ditty I wrote in April of 2006.

An Alternate Ending

Chipmunks claimed the tomb.
The evergreens turned brown.
Spring pools dried. Moss rose.
The winter drowned.

A stillborn baby crowned.
Death kept and plied its sting.
against our rusted shields
and rotten wings.


Not too far downstream from that cheerful little jingle I found another, similarly themed vignette:

Some Writes Of Spring

Spring has been disorienting my winter eyes, overwhelming sensors that have been calibrated to bare, brown and dark. I rummage through my kit for filters. Dark ones. Lenscap dark.

It was easy to identify with fall and winter. I merely have to look at my dry, bony hands and graying hair to feel an affinity with bare thickets and brown grass. It's almost companionable: the world and myself rocking side by side on the porch of the Home. Reminiscing about the good old days. Waiting for our final gentleman caller, the estimable bachelor Mr. G. Reaper, to arrive.

But then, suddenly, my old friend transforms. Nights, she stays out late. She plumps and smooths, fattens and glows. She swaps her drab housecoats for designer dresses. Her voice takes on a flirtatious edge. Is that make-up she's wearing ? And those shoes, those fuck-me pumps -- are they Manolos ?

No, no, no, that won't do. Must revise. OK. Gray and drab. Side by side. Porch of Home. Rocking, reminiscing, waiting.

But then, suddenly my old friend transforms. Turns to me, her eyes wild and glowing.

"My, my," I comment. "How glittering and gay your eyes are, my dear."

She looks back at me, annoyed, impatient, exasperated, almost angry.

"What you see in my eyes and so erroneously call glittering gaiety, a merely aesthetic fire, is something far better, far purer. It is visionary hope, a reflection of the refiners fire upon which I have gazed and been reborn ! And, by the way, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior ?"

"If the Christian liturgical year is a racetrack," I reply, " I always manage to drive my car off the road somewhere between Good Friday and Easter Sunday."

"Crash and burn in Hell," she mutters, shuffling away.

Aw, man. That won't do, either. Try again. OK -- Two crones, rocking, porch, Home. Yadda yadda.

"All blossoms fall from the branch," she whispers,

"and all branches fall to the earth."

"Blossom, branches, earth," I whisper back.
"The eyelid opens. Shuts."

And then, a few more months downstream:

How But Not Why

A hard fall, a tap, oak on rock,
in daylight forensic as a cop flash,
postmortem, watchtower or other-
wise blinding, there being no e-
scape or xit, go quietly then,

drift like cedar down
since evergreen's a lie and you,
colorblind anyway, collude
with shades already, as you have
for all these years --

and whence the coil
one leg shorter
the sun in the west then east
the tipped scale and fault line
the sacrifice and corkscrew of do not apply

as applied to origins and strangers
extinguished by their dress
by the blazing customary of their robes
by the haut and bas of
their couture culture church even their nylons !

And gall, well,
all shall be one
and/or the other,
bead, burn,
wool-weaver, heart --

follow them through the woods,
icons, clues, crumbs, wayside
pawn balls so heroically and heretically misconstrued
like "scavenger" or "lexicon" or "simonize"
it's not easy being saying

where even the light is plastic
(some say contingent, some say don't
touch my eye) but you could awaken to it
(to what ?) you could even
awaken in it

a whisk in a whirlwind, breath-
taken, no longer concerned
with all those penurious discussions
of ransom or green stamps
(how does that work ?)

until you become your hands
the left dying before the right and vice versa
(ignore the Bishop who banks so hard on it)
what do they say, now,
eloquent, mute, clasping cold air ?

So fast forward to 2012, winter handing itself off to spring, days warm as summer astonishing buds into early awakening, now a last stand of congenial chill and cloud settling into the woods; Lent rambles toward Holy Week, and all my undertaken so-called disciplines are sorely in need of an undertaker.

There is wisdom in the hot Buddha/cold Buddha thing, that the trouble starts when we start plying our strident preferences. The taxman, the boss, the prognosticating surgeon, the wayward child ? Cease to cherish opinions. Welcome the wave as it breaks on the head. Welcome the fact that the crumbling-to-bits crone will still, at her heart, be you, whoever that is, however that is, until the bitter end/

Is the reiterated, under-the-breath, practically reflexive request for mercy a curse or a prayer or a tic ?

A call sans response called anyway, for and in good measure ?

Empty hands, empty cradle, empty tomb ?

Saturday, March 10, 2012


The retinal distribution of rods and cones makes it so that stars seem brighter when you look at them slightly askance. So, too, it seems is my religious sensibility: the more directly I look, the dimmer things get. Just when I think I'm finally wrestling with the angel, I awaken with my arms full of air with neither wound nor blessing to show for it.

We watched the movie "Tree of Life" this week: I found it as impressively beautiful as many have said, but ultimately annoying. Early on it raises the religious dichotomy of nature and grace -- the blind and heartless facticity of nature vs. the personal, loving and freely given gifts of God. I'm likely not stating it well, and I realize tomes of theology have been written on the subject. But if nature is not one of the "freely given gifts," then what is ? Can't one consider the entirety of one's vertiginous, en-worlded "that I am" to be a grace -- a freely bestowed, unconditional gift/given ? It would seem to be the only thing that actually holds up to scrutiny. The rest of the God-attributes that seem to be bundled in the term grace -- forgiveness, mercy, love, providence, protection, benefaction, guidance, comfort, only-begotten-son, salvation -- seem skyward projections of felicitous human attributes, the anthropomorphism-and-anthropocentricity-run-amok that lies at the heart of Christianity.

But (you might counter) it's all metaphor anyway, so why not approach "God" (who is by definition ungraspable) within homely tropes of "relationship" -- which entrain all those grace-full stances, including the most condensed and inexhaustable metaphor of all, the Logos ?

Are beautiful, complicated metaphors always upaya -- skillful means ? They are ceasing to be so for me. They are like demotic koans run through six or seven iterations of Babelfish, guaranteed to lead to supreme and perfect exasperation.

I am tired of stories. I am tired of anthropocentricity and its obnoxious mini-me, androcentrism. I am tired of hearing that at the heart of the matter is human community, and that to be suspicious of or unskilled at that is the very worst imaginable intrinsic disorder. I am tired of hearing that God adores me.

Your efforts shall come to naught whispers the fortune cookie.

A singular grace ?

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Cuppa Magna

...come and learn now the way of our God.

You'd think that our choir director's recent penchant for large C Catholic music would meet with my approval, given the fact that my initial catapult over the mighty fortress wall of Christianity was fueled by the deep appeal of Thomas Merton and Roman Catholic monasticism, and that, subsequently, I have spent inordinariate (pun intended) amounts of time on the banks of the Tiber gazing o'er. You'd think.

In my stricken wanderings through the deserts of the internets I'd heard much mention of the composer Marty Haugen, and much of that mention -- especially from those more traditionally oriented in matters liturgical -- seemed to be negative. Now, I have no dog in the pre- vs. post- Vatican II wars, being at least a nominal large P Piskie. If one cares to be entertained by the howling fisticuffs of bloodsport theology, we have our own schisms to entertain us, viz.

The Episcopal Church is in apostasy and can only be seen as an ecclesial parasite living off the money of dead saints.


Perhaps the most egregious case is the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA which has traveled the path of apostasy from evil to evil until now it can no longer be considered Christian in any meaningful sense.

to quote from some Anglican dude with a website with the obligatory Latin title. (Full disclosure: Last summer I learned the Salve Regina, solemn tone, in Latin by heart. For sport.)

So, anyway, our choir has been dipping/dunked into the opus of Mr Haugen for good or for ill depending on your musicology/ecclesiology, and I've been practicing the alto line of #389 from Gather, "Return to God."

Something about the text of the following line made me wince --

...come and learn now the way of our God. --

specifically, the phrase "our God."

That one little possessive "our" seems to take the Infinite Ineffable And Mysterious Ground Of All Being and reduce it to a local deity, a Roman household god a la lares et penates. As in this dude here is our god, and that one over there is your god.

A small quibble, I suppose, and quite possibly based on a little word simply thrown in by Mr Haugen to make the text scan better, but still. This may simply be my inner universalist screaming to the surface: if the word "God" does not signify a universal cosmic or ontologic reality, then I don't want anything to do with it.

As a lenten discipline I have been listening to an RCIA podcast series from a RCC parish in Virginia. Already I have learned odd things about the evolutionary discontinuity between homo erectus and homo sapiens which is apparently the little gap into which Adam and Eve with their freshly minted and (a la Twinkie creme) newly injected immortal souls are introduced. And I was able to hear someone, with a straight face, promulgating the dictum that, since The Church is a Girl, and a priest has a nuptial relationship with her, women can't be priests since that would, perforce, be a lesbian marriage.

I imagine that if I get through the whole series I shall be cured for good of any desire to swim the Tiber.

I recently heard Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in a debate with the famous go-to-Atheist-dude Richard Dawkins discussing this very notion: the nature of the soul, including its immortality. (video 20-25 min)

Rowan mumbles on a great deal about the soul in relationship with "the unconditional creative force we call God" and about "narrative" and "stories" and "self-reflexive consciousness" until he is pressed by Dawkins on the main point: does this soul survive death, at which point he answers "yes" and the argument gets all faithy and handwavingy and (to my ear) unsatisfactory.

I have to hand it to the RCC: they lay it ALL out, and hand it over to you. Take, for example, the Resurrection of the Body. One simply turns to Catechism 988-1019.

1017 By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our souls. Just as Christ is risen and lives forever, so all of us will rise at the last day.

That's what the Church teaches, and what you, as Catholic, must accept. I remember the discussion of "Resurrection of the Body" in my confirmation classes 5 years ago. The discussion was very Rowanesque: that this clause in the creed serves to signify how crucial "embodiment" or "incarnation" is in Christianity. Which is, of course, palatable, and representative of the feats of translation I myself am continuously doing, but, God forgive me, I am growing as impatient with constant invocations of "narrative" and "relationship" and "story" and the "body" as I am with odd notions of Twinkie creme souls, and Zombie-movie Eschatons. (The RCIA priest did reassure us that our risen bodies would be our physical selves at their most buff and comely.)

I am having more and more difficulty with things that should be second nature to a Christian. When I am reassured from the pulpit -- endlessly, it seems -- that God loves me, God adores me, God dotes on me more than I shall ever know, I want to run screaming from the church. I think the problem is this: the anthropomorphization of God in, by and through Christ. The notion that Christ is all I can ever (or need ever) know of "God." That the so-called "Christ Event" is a cosmic, intelligently intended manifestation -- revelation -- of the Ground of Being, not just something that may be used as a symbol or signpost for a subset of social or metaphysical concerns. That "God" is exclusively pre-occupied with human affairs (especially with the minutiae of reproductive physiology and the variants of erotic expression) and that the only true deposit of the Fullness of Truth of these matters resides within the Vatican (although other "ecclesial communities" may contain some elements of it) and is probably best expressed in Latin.

The lovely, peerless Meetingbrook website recently quoted Jesuit Zen Roshi Robert Kennedy, in a passage that was like a ray of light in my recent bowl of Nachos Obscuras:

I suggest that nature is teaching us that we are saved by that which ignores us, and that nature's indifference to our designs can be a source of our joy. Nature's disinterest in us mirrors God's disinterest in us that frees us from all our precious prayers and pieties. Nature's silence mirrors God's silence, and awakens silence in us. Nature's indifference to us brings us to awareness of God's indifference and refreshes our courage with the purity of his detachment. Does not our own experience of life suggest the truth that God is indifferent to our plans? How could we worship a God who paid any attention to all our everlasting whining? It is not the purpose of God to glorify us. Is it not rather that we are made to glorify God, to pour ourselves out in darkness and silence, until the heart breaks? Is it not true that we are saved by that which ignores us?
(--p.97, Kennedy)

The passage is like a bit of driftwood to which I am clinging after falling overboard in the midst of my current Lenten naufrage. If you find me singing Ave Maris Stella, could you do me the charity of not pointing out the irony ?