Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dispatch From The Rat Race

Consider the rat.

The radio controlled rat.

Consider how, seen in one light, it seems to seethe with rage.

Then consider how, seen in another light, the very same frozen rictus seems anguished.

Here endeth this morning's lesson.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The River Of God Is Full Of Water

Tell Time

O Time, who tells and whom we also tell,
taught by kind, clock-faced teachers to do count
twice one-to-twelve each day, day in day out,
I've had enough. For whom's this telling told ?
For me, for thee. (What time now ? Shall I tell ?)

It's time to tell Time off: Time, go to hell.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


What do the dead steal from us with the glance --
loving, offended, shocked or just relieved --
they cast us as they go ? And what do we
lift from them as we watch them disappear ?

One instant, and a shady deal concludes.
A bit of life, a bit of death change hands,
a lutestring for a hairhank, nothing more

unless you count the hillside and its slash
of footfall without purchase in sheer mud.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Its Own Season

Saturday was midautumn spring in the Audubon sanctuary: warm, wet days had teased buds open

and drawn green from the composting earth.

Even the vernal pool, of late down to dried muck and dead leaves, was partway full.

But I know better than to dream of spring before doing the appointed ice time. Sunday I woke to gray sky, and damp, biting air. I went, as is my custom now, to the big stone church on Main Street. From bird sanctuary to church sanctuary. It hadn't proved, after all, such a big leap.

Heat from the new boilers clanged through the pipes in a counterpoint to the liturgy -- new boilers that the priest had blessed three weeks ago, saying --

Glorify the Lord, every shower of rain and fall of dew,
all winds and fire and heat.
Winter and summer, glorify the Lord,
praise him and highly exalt him forever.

Glorify the Lord, O chill and cold,
drops of dew and flakes of snow.
Frost and cold, ice and sleet, glorify the Lord,
praise him and highly exalt him forever.

and, as if on cue, they'd roared on as she sprinkled them with water shaken from a green sprig.

Advent, that dark and desolate time, approaches. Tonight, writing, I turned on the upstairs heat for the first time -- the ancient boiler groaned awake, the pipes knocked, the radiators hissed, and my hands, finally, approached the temperature of living flesh.

Sunday's Gospel reading was an eschatological bit of Mark.

...the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away, the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days ! Pray that it may not be in winter. For in those days there will be suffering such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be.

There was winter even at the apocalypse, then ? And the second (or is that the third ?) coming, heralds, liturgically, the first coming ? I have been pondering matters of theology, preparing to be confirmed next spring. There are knotty, essential creedal bits that I have only begun to tackle: He will come again to judge the living and the dead and resurrection of the body. And I haven't even asked the priest, yet, about when to bow and make the sign of the cross, never mind to elucidate these startling, koan-like phrases ! But one doesn't need to imagine end times to see people abandoned on housetops, pregnant women and nurslings fleeing militias, or see people starving and freezing in the streets. There's always an apocalypse now afoot, begging for the divine to crash like a meteor into history to usher in an alternative Kingdom of truth and love and justice.

But (thinks the catechumen) that has already happened, hasn't it ? The scandalously particular crashing into history of the Incarnation of divine justice ? We're about to -- liturgically -- anticipate then celebrate it.

And then, downstream, there's Easter. Weeks back, for the monthly children's sermon, the priest -- surrounded by kids -- read from a picture book about St. Francis. As she read and engaged the kids in dialogue, it struck me that I was seeing a transmission in action, something parallel to the transmission along the lineage of authorized Zen masters, something, alive now, that extends back through the millenia to the Source, and into the future in the improbable bodies of the rambunctious kids at the foot of the altar. Something sustained by the Eucharist. The body of Christ -- which is the bread and the Church, too, and the means of the kingdom of truth and love and justice on earth, here and now, as it is in heaven. Was a clue to resurrection of the body ?

Slowly, the Trinity, which had always baffled and confounded me as a wierd, unfathomable contraption, was becoming clearer.

God the Creator (as in Father, Son, Holy Spirit glossed as Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier) had always been obvious: the glorious and mysterious bursting forth of all-that-is, ex nihilo. But the scandalously particular Son ? The Redeemer ? The chimera of eternity and history ? God incarnated as perfect love and justice in human form ? A call to us to embody and effect love and justice in the world ? To put on the mind of Christ. ? That's as dazzling as it is daunting.

And the Spirit ? The workings of divine justice and love throughout the broken human world ?

Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Now I had my own gloss on a gloss: Bird sanctuary, church sanctuary and world. Was that even remotely canonical ?

I'd have to remember to ask the priest.

I took a break from writing and went down to the kitchen to start making dinner. There, on the dark window, drawn by the light, were moths. Doomed moths, spending their last moments in the cold, stoically clinging to brightness. There was no way to photograph them without joining them in the picture, a ghostly, anthropomorphosizing witness to impending winter and death.

Sunday night, after writing part of this, and after watching a DVD of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, I dreamed of apocalypse: we were in an empty apartment, and outside there were flashes and loud booms, bombs, thunderclaps and lightning bolts. Something unfathomable and terrible was happening. When the explosions stopped, we went out into the street. Things looked normal, but there was a weighty, silent aura of post apocalyptic doom. Suddenly a bus pulled up, and a man got out. He seemed a bit strange, odd, a little off, but not in a threatening way, as one might well imagine an oneiric combination of Jesus and Jack Nicholson.

Get on the bus, he said. I've come to take you to safety.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Like Melville's Ishmael, I'd been feeling a damp, drizzly November in my soul -- so, to keep from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off, I took a day off and headed to the woods.

I'd never been to the Assabet River federal wildlife sanctuary; it's one of those ironic "sanctuaries" where hunting's allowed, and I was happy that the parking lot was empty lest I, sans blaze orange, be mistaken for a grouse. The sanctuary, I had learned, was a decommissioned military base, so, even hunterless, the aura of ordnance hung heavy over the land.

It was fine with me. I was in a pissed off mood, and had been for weeks. Downright surly, in fact. I skulked about, muttering curses under my breath, going straight for the ugly parts of the psalms that the lectionary segregates in discreet parentheses and designates as optional.

O, that you would slay the wicked, O God !


Happy shall be he who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock !

I was glad that the woods were proving me right about the murderousness of the world. The concrete ammo bunkers with their rusted iron doors gave mute testimony to the ascendency of instruments of death and destruction.

There were also scattered piles of military-base detritus awaiting removal. Over one ran a tangle of razor wire, mimicking the late autumn thrust and tangle of invasive vines.

I contemplated it. It was a device expressly designed to cut human flesh. To keep people in, to keep people out, to hurt them if they tried to break out or in. Somewhere, I thought, a factory churns this stuff out as other factories churn out guns and bombs and related paraphernalia.

How many Iraqis have died ? 650, 000 ? 150, 000 ? Sunnis, shiites, soldiers, police recruits, men, women, children; some by the sophisticated ordnance of the armies of freedom, some by IEDs, suicide bombers and roving death squads; and each party with its favorite methods of torture, even if some prefer to call it something else.

Praise the Lord and pass the ammo, oh ye captains of industry and ye holders of stock.

Innocent ?

Oh, really ?

And what about myself, then -- heart as closed as a bunker, and well-stocked with hurtful munitions. Head full of scripts worse than what even the vilest of psalmists ever sang. I walked along the deserted road. Not innocent. Really.

It was a fine day -- cool, nearly cold, but with sunlight that still could warm. The roadside weeds were skeletal and sere; there was a cidery smell of decay in the air. I relaxed; I felt a few small chinks open up in me, and a little light, richly undeserved, spilled in.

I hadn't come to the woods to photograph broken safety glass. It was, however, strangely beautiful, more beautiful broken than whole. There was something compelling, after all, about brokenness and decay,

in the aging and attenuation that precedes death,

the death that must occur to prepare the way for new life.

I stooped to photograph some translucent little pods, tiny, papery lanterns on a thread-like vine coiling up a dried stem. I imagined my own body, dead, smutched with fungus, food for microbes, then resurrected, piecemeal, spring after spring.

It was fall, but things were still upright, reaching skyward out of the ground,

out of the water,

out of the mossy forest floor.

I, too, fallen, broken, want to reach skyward, earthward, humanward. There's death and rebirth in every single moment, all for the asking,

if only I can escape the airless, bomb-filled, razor-wired bunker of the self !

Mine ! Keep Out !

What could be more simple, or more difficult ?