My heart’s happiness is trapped in my chest like a red-breasted bird whose vocal cords are shot. His dumb fate blocks him from singing out the songs of lament locked inside his throat, while numbing memories of the unrepeatable songs of praise he once sang as a chirping little one mock him mercilessly. The bird’s fixed idea of how impossibly filled with grace he used to be imprisons him in the silver cages of yearning. His magnetized mind takes flight from the muted now to the musical back then, and he feels no desire to come down. He feels the fire and the magic have forsaken him, and he aches to hear aloud the latent notes Time has pushed down to some hidden crevice of his being. He has gone deaf to the ever-present, everlasting Silence, which asks without force to inhabit him from the inside. Lord of bird and beast, let there be purpose and will to this creature’s suffering. Let him still rise and glide through the skies; let him still dive-bomb the earth; let him still play the role of high-flying bird, tied down though he is to the flights of his powerful reveries, left pining and unheard in his severed world of silence.
Lend me courage
Lend me courage, Lord and Master, to enter the stillness with a willing acceptance of my lack, and yet with fullness of hope that I might someday inhabit the castle at the center of my soul. Light your lantern in this dim forest, this thick Amazon, or give me the will to wait here until you do, until you take my hand in the dark night and lead me through. Until my trust in you is complete, I will pray in my thirst to embrace whatever roadblocks you place in my path. I will not pray for easy fulfillment of my every dispersed desire. I will not pray to complacently retire from the world of strife, the world of violence rife with polluted minds and tortured hearts. I will not pray for immediate and everlasting freedom from the enemy battalions whose only mission is to topple the towers of virtue in my own heart. I know the battle will go on for a long time. And as long as it does, I will pray only this: to always hold in my soul’s steady hands the double-edged sword of passionate discernment, in order to understand which cords of my bound original nature it is my task to cut through, and which of these cords I must leave for you.
Prayer: Let your wisdom swim through my skin
Let your wisdom swim through my skin like the breath in my lungs, like fish in the sea, like a school of dolphins taking turns at the lead. Lead me out of the shallows, into the deep. Play your hallowed verses through the wounds in my flesh, and let your music release the sobs in my chest. In the sealed room, in the healing darkness of morning, let me learn anew what it means to keep my heart center open.
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.
In Medias Res
As a child, I liked to move. Play basketball, run around with my brother Collin, double-bounce him on the trampoline. But I would always want to do my homework first, and then I could let myself have fun. And this is still the case. I need to do my homework, and then I can have fun. What is my homework? My work is to be at home in my life, in my body, to embrace the place where I am standing in the present moment. To find the endless summer at the heart of this cold winter morning. I want so much to be in medias res, in the middle of things. I want to glimpse the center, to enter by the narrow gate, and to live from the core. Lord of my life, help me to feel this wish with my entire being. Point me toward you. Make my heart single. Let my voice sing of Life experienced, not by an isolated individual, but by a single soul united in the depths with all souls, by one man at one with your Oneness, in touch at last with your Is-ness. Do not let me forget what I want. Do not let me drift. Help me to stay directed, to finish my home-work, and to enjoy the journey home.
Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy, 37
It is all around me, the darkness. You are my only shield. Your name is my only light. What love I have, your law is the source, this dead love that remembers only its name, yet the name is enough to open itself like a mouth, to call down the dew, and drink. O dead name that through your mercy speaks to the living name, mercy harkening to the will that is bent toward it, the will whose strength is its pledge to you – O name of love, draw down the blessing of completion on the man whom you have cut in half to know you.Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy, 37
Waiting in poverty
The muse has left me, so I must be patient, I must wait in my poverty, but not make a cathedral out of it. I do not wait in a magnificent cathedral, I wait in the rain, I wait naked and alone for the muse to return, not to give me comfort, but to be with me in my discomfort, not to give me unexplainable happiness, but to be with me so long as I am unhappy and cannot explain why. Cars drive by as they so often do, the day has begun without me, while I waited for you, while I wait, the day does not wait for those who wait, the day does not wait at all, but moves along as a pace it sees fit. And here comes the guilt, here comes the thought, ‘should I be doing this, or should I be doing something else?’ here comes the thought, ‘what is the best way for me to pray? Should I pray like they tell me to pray, and how do they tell me, and who is telling me to pray in a certain way?’ Should I sway today like your play has come like a truck and demolished me, should I fall into disarray, should I plant a seed in the heart of she who does not notice me, come now and tell me what exactly I should do. I am perplexed by my own death, that it will occur, I confess that I have a too high opinion of myself coupled with an impossibly low one, and it is difficult to continue when in such a bind. I believe vanity is just a word for death, and a wrong kind of death, but I’ve died and lived so many times I think I should play a trombone because of it. Your words no longer have the same ring to them, they are growing brittle, flat and absent from truth. The truth is you, but you are not where you are, you are nowhere you can be, you are where you cannot be, for you are where there is no reality. Why did you go back there? Who did you expect to find there? You will die, but why make a scene out of it? Why find yourself deemed deficient by someone who pretended to know? Why worry about the concierge and whether or not she thinks your suit is proper for the occasion? can you blubber that the world owes your supper, and believe your cuddled thoughts? your protected heart is not the true heart, your directed thoughts are directed at no one in particular, but you must keep writing, do not let the fear enter, or let it enter and then say hi to it, what’s wrong? why are you afraid, young one? because you will not complete the task? because the task you will complete will not be good enough, not exceptional enough for your ridiculous standards? but of course, that is a part of the curse and the gift of the true striver, for that is what you are, and later perhaps, when you are wiser, you will see the futility of all your striving, but until then do as you must, as is deemed proper to those lacking trust in the grand scheme of things. The land seems to be dragging a dead walrus behind you, a bloody and torn seal deprived of its horns or its tusks, but who are you to swear you will come back and be healed by your own wholeness? who are you to forget how to remember your true nature? I rehearse what I will say to the god I do not understand, and all I can do is stand there, trembling and sweating throughout my entire body, and unable to experience the calm and untrembling soul that stands behind my standing. Man, the words keep coming, and nothing goes the way it ought to go, but everything goes the only way it can go, and I go my own way, not knowing where I am going. I am where you went when you had nowhere else to go. I go where you wish you could go, and I envy where you are going. I go where no one else could possibly go, and I wonder why I am the only one there.
The pen will not always write. This is not a function of writer’s block, but more simply because the pen has no ink. Actually, its ink is just irregular. Some words it writes fine; other words only the outlines of letters appear, though you press the pen into the paper as hard as you can. The absurdity of the situation drives you to madness. Before long you will rip the pen in half and then in pieces. You try and write the word ‘half,’ but only half of it comes in, the ‘h’ and the ‘l.’ You fill in ‘hell’ instead. You are half in hell, and the cause of it is a half-busted pen that lets you express half a life. You are unable to live your life without expressing it, that you know. But now that your one pen is failing you, you realize that even when the pen was working, you were still living half a life. The expression of life had taken over for the living of it, the words for the reality. To give such significance to words! That is the madness. The pen that breaks only brings you to the realization of your brokenness. It is the pain that comes when you realize that you have not been living life, only constructing a façade of life in your fatuous dreams. And now with the failed pen. You scour the room looking for another one, one more resilient, better able to handle the pressure you put on it, the pressure it puts on you. The pressure you put on yourself to use it to express yourself, that self you are always so far from finding, from knowing, from being. So far you have been able to express the self you are not yet, the yearning to be that self. But how long can you continue to express a yearning? How long, and to what end, will you express what you are not? As for the pen, it is nearing its end, so why can you not accept its ending? You cannot direct it to do your will, to transmute your confusion into something like clarity. The pen continues to record half of what you intend to write. You have to struggle to discern your own words, which themselves struggle to come out of you, struggle against you, help you sometimes to give up the struggle, the rest of the time only make it worse. The more words you write the more you exist in the trench that separates how you live from how you express the life you do not live, the half-lived travesty you wish you could call your life. But this life is no more yours than this pen is yours to command. Even this pen seems to have a life of its own, and you find yourself envying its freedom, even if it is a freedom to be nothing, to make itself invisible, to rebel against the commands of one who is no longer its master. You envy the pen that will not deign to write of your envying. You condemn its useless freedom, which records only half of your useless words, the words that are only outlines of letters, as you seem to be the outline of a man. The only true man is the outlier, who is not an outline, but an in-depth individual who encircles the false and picks out the truth at the center. But to return again to the pen. It seems to have gotten past its rebellious phase and now records faithfully your every word, whether adequate to the task or wholly inadequate. It is not for you to decide for now which words work and which do not. You let the pen move as it will across the page, using what words seem to come to it. Then you go back, with the same pen, changing some words and phrases, keeping others as they are. Many of the words are hugely inadequate to the task, which itself is huge, towers above the words. The task is to express, with the pen, Life itself, which cannot be expressed but must be lived. And so the task is impossible, and yet goes on.