Let me not deplete my strength attacking the thick vines behind which my head, bed-ridden with the sickness of words, hides from the living world. Instead of seeking peace by means of increasing violence, let me breathe deeply into the heart’s vaulted silence. Let the work be accomplished in this private canyon, which the clean red rivers in my veins continually carve. Let the refined Will find me upright and still: quiet enough to hear the cries of a crumbling spirit for guidance and clarity; honest enough to number myself among the hungry, the fearful, and the helpless; humble enough to fling myself at the feet of my Lord and beg, Please, let me sing.
Lost in the silence, oppressed by want before the sun rises, I haunt the borders of my heart, sucking my hitchhiker’s thumb, greedy for milk from a substitute mother, hungry to be held. I struggle with ancient luggage, too heavy to carry alone. Strum on the strings of my heart, reassure me of your presence. Wait for my voice in the morning, and I’ll wait for yours at night. Let me speak as if you are with me, sitting poised across the table, able to respond in kind. In the heat of time I blind myself to your mercy. I fold with a full house, go all-in with a ten-four. I drift in a cloud that holds nothing else. Drop me into the ark again. Send me down to my place when somehow I end up at the helm, awakening to the shouts of deckhands, Captain, sir, it’s high time we get moving. You know I don’t know what the hell I am doing. I never learned to read the currents. I need so much help to reach the calm seas and clear skies. I entrust your law to guide this ship through flood and fog. I stand in position on the leeward deck. Now take complete control, and steer this hull to the distant shores of my soul.
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.
You sow my stony ground with winnowed grain. You answer my wordless prayers without a word. When the riptides of loneliness drag me back into the storm, you guide my shrinking form from sea to shore. And still I wrap my ripped skin in thin strips of gauze. Grant me the courage to strip off my masks and inhabit your silence in nakedness and need, embracing completely whatever brings you near, whatever dissolves the walls of fear and waters the grass in the prison yard. Melt the iron rod, and spread my body on the bread of Life. Without you, I go hungry in America, land of plenty, land of empty promises of liberty. Liberate me from the way I cling to everything I’d kill to keep. Bring back my soul to your tree like a leaf in spring. Gather the seeds my grasping hands have scattered, and plant in the depths of my pain the pearl of your measureless grain.
Darkness and stillness
stake humble claims
in the ark of my heart.
We float together, three-in-one,
in a sea of trinitarian silence,
aware of the various elements,
at ease in the calm waters.
My soul receives the bread of dawn
and comes down to its own wisdom
of when to rise from the depths again
the next time my boat,
overwhelmed all of a sudden
by violent winds and vicious waves,
flips, spins, or floods.
Inside the clarifying whisper of a bare room, I carry the gift of total engagement with a loose grip. I ask the god of clarity to open the ears of my heart, awaken the eyes of my mind. I surrender my conditioned hatred of trivial irritations, and I rivet my attention on a particle of dust a ray of light enlightens. I watch my soul return to the lake it swims in at dawn, and I watch dawn rise to the challenge of my chosen task. And I ask my master: may Time in its violent density lie down naked with Eternity in its eloquent silence. And out of their intangible union, from the annihilating depths of love, may the man’s true nature arise.
Not knowing where to go, I go to you. Not knowing where to turn, I turn to you. Not knowing how to speak, I speak to you. Not knowing what to hold, I bind myself to you. Having lost my way, I make my way to you. Having soiled my heart, I lift my heart to you. Having wasted my days, I bring the heap to you. The great highway covered with debris, I travel on a hair to you. The wall smeared with filth, I go through a pinhole of light. Blocked by every thought, I fly on the wisp of a remembrance. Defeated by silence, here is a place where the silence is more subtle. And here is the opening in defeat. And here is the clasp of the will. And here is the fear of you. And here is the fastening of mercy. Blessed are you, in this man’s moment. Blessed are you, whose presence illuminates outrageous evil. Blessed are you who brings chains out of darkness. Blessed are you, who waits in the world. Blessed are you, whose name is in the world.Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy, 45
Stillness, receive me
Here, and hold my fear, my care.
Hear my plea, my prayer.
Stranded buccaneer, buck your fear-driven plan to seize the ship that flies no flag. Stand aside and hand the wheel to the attending captain, who senses the tides and sets his course by instinct and not by compass, who points the ship north and leans into the storm, for he means to go through it to the other side, where on the far undivided shore his true love abides. He takes each wave as his own, the shock he needs at this moment to speak his vow: that in this clashing marriage of sea and now and forever again, he will bow, he will bow to the very end, and seek to know a single word, borne of a crashing silence.
Now stand aside. Put aside the separate arm that commands its unpaid deck-hands to fire cannonballs at the flagless ship until nothing alive remains, the phantom limb that climbs aboard the deck now strewn with dead bodies to take back the wheel, stealing the map it has not learned to read, the one that leads to the treasure that mind-defended appendage buried in the homeland the very moment time began—and I, and I alone, began to forget the blessings of that essential land no pirated vessel will ever discover anew. Only the body brave enough to bend down and pick up the spade blazing with the heat of sincerity, to take the tool to the frozen earth until the ground that was hard and unyielding finally yields, and the whole body feels its resistance give way as the sharpened blade sinks into deep contact with soft soil—only that body, willing to lose its standing ground to be found anew in dark communion, can find the way back. Let that body, with steady hands, take the wheel.
This silence I have not treasured is my mother, and this storm I have not weathered is my father. As a captive son of storm and silence, let me lie down at the eastern edge of this chain-link fence and surrender to my parents in this extended hour just before dawn. Let me trust that neither father nor mother will let me bleed forever in the unreachable country, but that both together will teach me how to be reached, and how to be re-created in reconciliation with my co-creators.
It was a marriage made in water, and land and sea consummated their union all through the night, and all through the next day, and all through all days and nights to kingdom come. Why should I not sing of how the sea met the earth, how they came together with delight when the dawn’s bright reveal shed new light on the old truth that they had never been apart?
Why should I ask for another miracle? Why should I wait for another sign?
I want to staunchly defend my right to life. Abort this mission of lifelong constriction with the guileless admission that my aliveness has been in remission, as if living were the disease.
Freedom is a motivating force, the source and the end of hope. I want to bend to its flexible iron, become pliable, liable to lift off the ground, finding flight and descent both viable options, adopting a position of delightful collision with silence, a momentous joining with the moment.
There is too much goodness to bear. Still, bear with it. Allow it to unfold. The gold is hidden under piles of sludge, mounds of dung, lost and found among the ashes of the stung self. Enter that sting with instruments of healing. Follow the bee that has stung you, bumble and stumble after his humming flight until he leads you to sweet honey. Be stunned by the inner sweetness you’ve shunned.
I’m hungry, alert, on the lookout for food. I want to stay hungry, not to lunge at every passing squirrel or deer, but to wait for the big game, the sleepy-eyed moose that can wake in an instant.
The Bible on my left, the Bhagavad-Gita on my right, and my hands, poised, on the keys in between. I want to hold the west and the east within me, hold the tension of my divided being: both the one who prays for help, and the one who resists all help. There is no help for that one. There is no shelf large enough to fit the living and breathing book of the living. Open your arms, embrace this book, and begin it again.