Without your sun, I become a hard knot of tension in a dark room with the windows shut and the shades drawn. Without your touch, I suffocate as I try to incorporate the abundant silence of dawn. Without your bread, I stuff my buffering brain with empty calories of heady knowledge. Without your breath, I gulp the humid air, straining to fill the floors in my body’s home, as if intending to hoard a diminishing commodity. Without your ear, I swoon on the seesaw of a thousand dualities. Dizzy as an erratic acrobat, I long to climb down off my childish contraption, surrender to the soft grass, and gaze up in wonder at the black sky, re-establishing contact with night. Only there, aware of my smallness and your grandeur, can I ask from the last dregs of my solitude: ‘O Most High, tender attendant of stardust, won’t you seal my heart’s cup? Let me end these litanies of lament, and glorify your fine handiwork.’ But how do I praise the sweet juice oozing from a plate of Mazafati dates, while I waste away in a fruitless desert? So many worlds of difference exist between taking the cup with a willing heart and sucking it down with a heartless will. Lord, let the seeds of willingness spill through the holes of this powerless body and grow fertile in the holy ground of my soul. As my physical form slowly declines, may my essential nature gradually arise, and may I ride that transmutation train through the dense towns of my pain, down into the sacred center of now.
Prayer: Sing, Creator of song
Sing, Creator of song, to the wholeness inside which my soul is aching to bring itself forth in these orphaned days. The rain pours with relentless force, and the mind tortures itself in forests too dense to take comfort. And though I flee to the desert in a seven-year drought, I go drenched in this rain. I enter the black hole of fantasy, racked with dreams of fantastic rescue. Never have I been reckless enough to wreck my old ships in search of new lands, yet here I stand, floored by the actual. Let me seek with reckless indifference to cost the intangible treasures that can never be lost, and let me reckon now with how I will raze my towers to brave my mortality. Do not rock my landlocked body to sleep tonight until I have prayed with the urgency this daily emergency demands.
Prayer: As a bird
As a bird, when tricked by a mirror image of itself in the sky, will fling its wings against the frame, hindering its inborn ability to fly, so too do the illusions in my vision injure my capacity to soar. My soul falls from its deathless star, and my body crumbles to the hard wet sand. I crawl underneath a parched plant to await the desert of absence, or recover the truth beyond the pall and pale, your miraculous resurrection. Find me here, my battered Lord, and beat your name in my chest like a drum. Find me here, and let me come to the blessed recognition of the Word beyond death, beyond fear.
“Tears in the Desert”
Tears in the desert, streaming down
To fall onto the dry ground,
They will not be dried.
I could lie and say they are a fluke,
Because they come from nowhere
I can perceive. How can I see
What exists within me, invisibly?
When I smile, I seem to smile, or so it seems.
When I weep, my tears are real, or so I believe.
The cold day threatening rain feels more real
Than the cloudless day of sunshine in springtime.
I could try to align my tears
With the gnarled juniper bark I lean my back against.
I could try to make sense of what I sense,
What I know, is true, but knowing its truth is enough.
Not understanding, but knowing, is all I know.
The wind comes and makes me shiver,
It moves the leaves on the tree above me.
I sit below and look to the cloud to know
Myself, and in knowing myself I bestow
This knowledge, this tragic knowledge,
Onto the dry ground.
I close my eyes and feel the wind.
How to feel the reality of each day, in each moment?
How to be in touch with what is real,
And in that touch, in that moment of connection,
To feel oneself to be no less real
Than what one touches?
How to touch what cannot be touched?
To feel what cannot be seen?
I look up at night to the stars,
I cannot touch their cold magnificence,
I lie firmly on the sandy desert ground
And wonder about the limits of sound and vision.
I wonder about limits as I wander
Through a land without them.
I wonder about fragility as I ride
Through a land both fragile and hostile.
I wonder and I wander and I ride,
Searching for what is and what has always been,
What has never been limited by its mystery.
This morning the sun shines again in the desert,
The tears of the sky fell last night,
And the dry desert ground received the gift:
The gift of rain like the difficult gift of pain,
Difficult to receive, difficult to perceive
As a gift, creating a rift
Between who we are and who we wish to be.
Do we wish to be beyond
What forces us to go within?
Above what we need to see
The confusing forces that lie below?
Some days I walk the streets of nameless towns,
Not remembering how I got there,
And all I see is unacknowledged suffering,
Clouds of pain that hover just beyond awareness.
The clouds can neither recede to admit
The light of the sun nor open to relinquish their gift,
Until they are seen, acknowledged, even praised.
In my mind’s eye, I raise my hands to the sky
To give praise to the clouds that give me pain,
To the storm in my soul that unsettles me,
Forces me to seek shelter.
Can I find that shelter or must it find me?
Even when I find it, or find what I think it could be,
Temporarily, I find myself unsatisfied still, still
Aching without just cause, bereft
Of any physical, visible wound.
As the day warms up, the stillness intensifies.
The clouds remain motionless,
The storm has passed, for now.
Warmth again overtakes the world.
There is no wind to force me to shiver,
No dark clouds I am forced to struggle with of against.
There is only my bare chest facing the sun,
And the force of this pen pressing into this page, a force
Necessary and indispensable or irrelevant and excessive?
Is it a force to be reckoned with and recognized for,
Or is like the force of an axe that only divides further?
The divided wood, split into thin pieces,
Helps to start the fire, but once the fire begins to blaze
The split wood gives off less warmth than wood undivided.
Voices drift up from below to the hill I sit and write on.
Divided souls seeking unity, the voices
Beckon me to come off the hill, come closer.
Why is it that the closer I come to the drifting voices,
The more divided I feel? What is it in me
That divides me when I am with others?
What in me stays in one piece as the axe
Continues without sympathy to split me
Into uneven pieces?
Is it clear now why I cannot rest?
The sky is mainly clear now, the clouds have drifted
To the outskirts of my vision. We made a decision,
They tell me, after we came to believe.
‘Yes, I believe,’ someone once said,
‘Help my unbelief.’ Yes, I grieve, I told her,
And as I look to the clarity of the sky
I can find no reason as to why.
Someone has died, and someone still lives,
And I grieve for all the gifts I will never give.
Yes, I grieve. Help me grieve more deeply.
As I again wandered through the town
That had lost its name in some long-ago season
Of forgetting, I felt like I was exploring a deep well.
I did not know where the bottom was,
Or what spring the water came from.
I asked one woman whose steely blue eyes
I mistook for the source of the water
I was searching for, to help me be honest.
She looked at me and her eyes turned raven black,
And she turned her back on me
And disappeared without a word.
I did not know if she meant for me to follow her,
Or if she meant anything at all.
I made a decision to follow her,
Believing I might come through her to the spring,
By following the eyes that had turned on me.
After a long and fruitless day,
I returned to the now-empty town square,
And a raven in a cottonwood tree
Did not fly away upon my arrival.
There were no clouds or stars in the sky,
And the moon had not yet risen.
I did not understand why the town had no streetlights,
And the one car I saw went through the broken stoplight
Without headlights. I wondered how the driver could see.
Distraught with my failure to find the source
Of the water, weak with thirst, angry at myself
For losing the track of the woman whose eyes
Had turned to black, I lay on my back
And stared at the blackness of night. I looked up,
Hoping to find there what the day had kept from me.
A well this deep could not be empty.
Was my search preemptive? Did I begin too early?
Darkness enveloped me, and I lost my faith
That the moon would rise and shine
Its light on this strange and nameless town.
As I left, I wondered about the raven
In the cottonwood tree, and why the tree
Was so far from water.
I left to walk with my thirst,
At times finding small pools filled with rain water,
But never finding flowing water, never water
I could follow to discover its source.
I returned to the desert, to a land
Where what I was searching for was scarce.
I hoped to find gratitude amidst scarcity,
Fulfillment within the emptiness.
I ceased my endless struggle, for a moment,
And sat, and waited, and listened,
The wind seemed to be battling the stillness,
Or else its intensity was an integral part of that stillness.
All the human power in the world
Could never stop the spring wind,
And all the human knowledge and technology
Could never penetrate the mystery
At the heart of the stillness.
I heard a plane soaring overhead,
Heard a car on some nearby road,
Heard a human whistling to a dog,
And decided it was time to move on. I packed
What I had left of what I no longer called my own
Into a rucksack, and set off south,
Towards what I hoped was a deeper emptiness,
A more real and alive nothingness,
A richer poverty.
I walked with my thirst, and often it seemed
To walk ahead of me. Led by my thirst,
I walked south, the sun beating on my back
Like a silent drum. I walked south, and felt my feet
On the ground beneath me; I walked south,
Seeking the source that would give meaning to my thirst.
When I grew weary with walking, I sat
For a day or a week, and waited,
Immobile like a rock in the sand.
When I grew weary with sitting I began again
To walk, awaiting the day when neither
Walking not sitting would exhaust me,
The day when what I sought would find me.
This day I sit, and wait, and listen
For the silence that no one can speak of.
What can I speak that can point
To what cannot be spoken?
This day I sit, and wait, and listen
For the sound that will still my speechless cries.
How long must I wait before
What I cry for finds me at peace?
This day I sit, and wait, and listen
In the space between silence and sound,
Between tears and laughter,
Between hatred and love.
If I listen for long enough in that space,
Will I find what I am searching for?
If I listen in the space between self and other,
And hear what I am searching for in that space,
Will I have come to the end of my journey
Or the beginning of my true pilgrimage.
This day I sit, and wait, and listen.
I close my eyes and feel the wind.
“Rainy Desert Night”
On this rainy desert night,
leans toward spring.
On the roof to-night
Listen to it sing.