Lend me courage

https://open.spotify.com/embed-podcast/episode/7jInwcAqPcKWEIutsR2D4B

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.

Before the Flood

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.

Separation from Hope; Refusal to Confide; Hunchbacks in Chains; The Mirrored Room Without Darkness; The Voice of Unreason; Be Still, and Know; Scheduled Weeping; Drizzling Doubt; The ‘I’ Afraid to Die

I resolved after my separation from Hope to stand at the window like a fire lookout and never to turn my back on the east. I wished to follow my own destiny the way a widow follows the arc of the sun over the course of a June morning. But it was winter; the days were short, and the sun was hidden.

I decided instead to hide, and I refused to confide to the beloved the contents of my discontented heart. It was not a wise decision, not a decision unanimously agreed upon by the internal jury. It was a split decision, an incision, if you will, that took me from the center, made a hole where there was once a spacious wholeness. What was simple became complex and convoluted, and I struggled with the words needed to greet people. I knew that most people greeted others with, ‘Hello, how are you?’ I also knew I could not do the same. It was not in my power to greet others in such a way, so I gritted my teeth and pretended I was deaf when my soul-sister asked how I’d ever bridge the chasm that separated my ignorance from her magnificence.

Once I removed myself from those who assured me the chains attached to their heels were benign, I wondered what to do. It was so much easier when I had a task, however deplorable. What could I do now that I had been commanded to be free? I asked a hunchback wearing a crown who was dragging his chains up a steep hill whether he wanted any help. He looked at me with the kind of vicious glance a king gives an escaped slave who, after being recaptured and hauled back to the castle through the mud, spits at the feet of the queen. After my offer of help was denied, I spat at my own feet, resolving to never again offer my assistance to a hunchback.

However, what I had been handed by those who had overcome their own uselessness, and were no longer hunchbacked, demanded a response. I recognized the paradox of futile effort met with unanswerable grace, yet I could not stop searching for the mirrored room without darkness, where through the blur of tears I hoped to witness the self stripped of what it wasn’t, but my weeping obscured the clarity of the possible. I heard a paralyzed voice, stuck in a dreamland of judgment, shout down that my words only added to the general absurdity. I claimed the paralyzed voice as my own and shrunk into a den where a lion was devouring its’ own tail.

Do not forget to tell them about the dance, whispered the voice of unreason, a voice I noticed rang clear and true and without distrust. Yes, of course, the dance. But how could I tell them? I would never be able to tell anyone about the dance. I could only show them. Everything that came to me from the voice of unreason told them about the dance, without my having to tell them anything.

Hold me, my invisible master turned mistress, as my trespasses hold me captive, as my addiction to silence produces its’ noisy hangover. I came to you to be held, and you did your job well, but I was not satisfied. I moaned to be held more tightly, and you told me to be silent. I did as I was told and was silent, and you told me to speak, to let everything out, withholding nothing. Nothing was all I could hold in and all I found when I looked in or out. To be without nothing was the only way to be, and my violent feeling that I existed without something essential made me question whether I really existed at all. If I was certain of anything, it was that I lacked everything. I especially lacked certainty. I did not know what I lacked. If I had known it, would I have lacked it? “Be still, and know…”

I knew enough to trust that my lying and cheating business partners would get me through the rough stretches I scheduled out on the calendar, the coming weeks in which I had allocated plenty of time to suffer from inexplicable grief. I boxed out certain hours of the day to be overcome by the urge to weep, and this I did during the prescribed periods, which came in the hour before bed and the hour after waking. During the rest of the time, I feigned an exaggerated grin, which was trusted by all but one. Because of this one’s flawless perception of my incongruous state, I trusted she was the one, and without flaws, both conclusions as false as her intuitions were true.

Be still, and know that I am not. Not all-knowing. Not always forward-moving. And not ever still. And still not—what? At ease? At one? At home? At odds with the one who is, I fizzled out in the drizzling doubt that veiled from me your kingdom. Not my kingdom. I am the veil; unveil me. Let me see my own face. I am the seeker, but how can I reach you if I remain at odds? This is no game, and there is no one to blame. Not even the one who is never still. This is no game, but that doesn’t mean there is no room to play. I play at writing, and I pray when writing. To truly play is to pray, but who of us here can play in that way?

For eleven months I have not taken a drink, he said proudly and with a strange trace of foreboding mixed with a lethal dose of malice. He heard a voice question him, ‘who has not taken a drink?’ Perplexed at this line of questioning, he said again: ‘I.’ He heard, “The ‘I’ that is afraid to die—that is the ‘I’ that has not taken a drink.” Why yes, he replied, of course. He heard nothing further.

“Tears in the Desert”

I.

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?

II.

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.

III.

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.

Dying A Few Deaths; Terrorized By Dread; Selfishness and Unselfishness; Nothing More or Less Than Everything, Which Includes Nothing; The Fire That Burns and Burns but Remains Hidden

I can never hold in my hands what keeps me; I could never hold you at arms length or pull you up from sinking. Why should I have kept you afloat with the power that sinks me? To keep you singing I continued to sink, to keep my love for you I left you. To keep my love for this earth, I would sink into it; to keep my love for these birds I would go without sleep; to keep my love for sleep I would spurn it, but do I love this sleep that keeps me from waking? To keep my love for you I would spurn you, too; to keep on living I would die a few deaths; to keep my independence I would go without food or shelter; to keep loving you I would go through hatred.

As you go through you must remember I never said I was terrorized by the dread in your soul, could it equal the dread in my own? I never said I was reticent of your intensity, could it ever diminish my own?

And who is a boy and who is a man? Who still lives in an immature world, where he is at the center? Who is not at the center of an immature world? Though someone might claim to be out past selfishness on unselfish seas; but there he is, alone on the sea of unselfishness. And towards whom is he being unselfish? Is he being unselfish towards himself? Well, that sounds a lot like selfishness. When they tell me, ‘You cannot, but with our help you can,’ is that unselfishness? I believe that is the worst kind of selfishness. It is a selfishness wrapped up in false humility that belittles the individual, rather than a true humility that calmly knows the strengths and weaknesses of the individual self.

I do not quite have the calm soul that is needed in order to let stillness alone to do this writing. Stillness writes out of the chaos in me and I record its words. I wrote you a letter with all the fierceness of a lion and yet I am nothing more than a dove. I am nothing more or less than everything I am, which includes nothing, which includes the fierceness of the lion, which includes the meekness of the dove. I’ve been meek and hard like an oak, he sang.

I’ve seen the seasons come and go, and I’ve come with the seasons going on under me; I’ve come and then I’ve gone and so am like the seasons. I am like the moon crystallized into cold light; I am like the unknown cresting the horizon to remain unknown; I am like the young woman who stands at midnight in the crowded street and cannot find her lover; I am like the young boy holding hands with the girl at midnight on the empty street; I am like the book read and re-read but never understood; I am like the fire that burns and burns, but its embers still remain hidden under the ground; I am not always like you, and I do not always like me. I am like the man who needs reassurance that his soul still burns because he does not have faith in the soul for its own sake. Why should he need validation that the soul still burns? Because he is empty? Because his heart and mind are filled with the long burning of his soul?

I do not know, and I cannot say, what leaves my head when she passes my way. Please pass this way, I think I need you. Some days I’m strong, I don’t need anyone else. Other days I’m like a cabinet without any clothes. Other days I’d just like some gypsy to come around and give me a reason to dance.

“Hunger”

I no longer need you, but
I do still need
to feel the hunger
I used to feel for you,

as

I no longer need to be alone, but
I do still need
to feel the hunger
I can’t help but feel
alone,

as

I no longer need to drink, but
I do still need
to feel the thirst I couldn’t help
but feel when I couldn’t drink.
I need to create
out of that endless hunger.

Don’t think

I needed
to love you.
I did anyways; I couldn’t help it.
I loved you then
the way you need him now;

I’ve heard

the way you talk to him;
it’s the same way my poems never sounded
when you read them back to me.

Well, here goes:

I hungered for you to hunger for me;
when you hungered for me,
I was glutted with you
and hungered for her,

so

I’m afraid my hunger will devour me,
that it cannot be satisfied,

and also

I’m afraid I hunger only
for what keeps me hungry.

There’s this:

If we are afraid together,
will we be half as afraid?

And this:

if we are alone together,
will we be twice as alone?

And, of course, this:

if we are hungry together,
will you take care of the bill?

Tell me:

When the storm rages
will you let me sit,
surrounded by it,
to meet with stillness?

Yet,

why some days can I sit for hours,
patient like the mountain laurel,
while other days I am a child who waits
for a roller coaster, a child who hates
roller coasters, yet in strange ways
hungers for what he hates.

Answer me:

If I say
I cannot receive love
and
I cannot receive enough love
and
I hunger for what keeps me hungry,

will you understand?

“What Do You Want?”

Can you let deadly calm possess you?
Can you let stillness confess its wordless secrets
On this windless morning?

You want to give everything,
But you have nothing to give.
You want to be yourself,
But do you know who that is?
You do not want to speak,
But you expect to be heard.
You do not want to be swayed,
But you demand to be stirred.

Can you let the river of unknowing stir you?
Can you let mystery endure amidst the empty uproar
On this wind-strewn afternoon?

You want to get out of here,
But you don’t know which way.
You want to say it all so clearly,
But you don’t know what to say.
You do not want to weep,
But you’d love to be honest.
You do not want to be surprised,
But you demand to be astonished.

Do your unending demands astonish you?
Do your own offending hands admonish you?
Feel the wind die down in the early evening.
Even it does not pretend to acknowledge you.

You want to change everyone else
So long as you can remain the exact same.
You want the world to be different
So long as you don’t have to feel any pain.
You don’t need to be with anyone
So long as they all want to be with you.
You are just fine with being all alone
Just so long as you are being pursued.

Can you let happiness pursue you?
Can you get out of your way long enough
To let the wind that picks up at dusk
Cut you back down and pull you through?

You want to remember how it was
So long as it was better back then.
You want to imagine how it will be
So long as it gets better again.
You don’t want to stay stuck here
So long as there’s someplace better to go.
You don’t mind stickin’ around
So long as someone here still enjoys your show.

Can you feel the agony of all your divisions?
Can you kneel over every one of your tragic decisions?
You open the window, no wind blows inside.
In the darkest part of the motionless night,
The silence pierces you with deadly precision.

“Often it’s best to be silent”

Often it’s best to be silent
When all around you are speaking,
To be like a captain out at sea
In the midst of storm:
Calm but deeply focused.

People may say:
Don’t be passive,
Speak your mind,
Come out from your shell.

These people misunderstand
Your stillness for passivity,
Your silence for fear,
Your depth for a protective shell.

They may ask:
What are you thinking?
What are you feeling?
Why don’t you share?
Why don’t you join in?
Are you shy?
Are you upset?

Let these questions come and go,
These people do not understand you.

They want to draw you out onto the surface
You need to be drawn back down into the depths.
They want you to be light and cheerful,
You need to be true to how you are truly feeling.
They want you to be who they want you to be,
You need to be who you are.

They do not understand
That underneath your calm surface intense storms rage,
That saying nothing does not mean you have nothing to say,
That spoken words and surface forms mean little or nothing to you,
That you would prefer to spend your days with the silent desert,
Your nights with the wordlessly powerful sea,
Hours of darkness passing in you like winds through a tree.

You are the captain of your own ship.
Why should you let anyone else captain your ship?

In the midst of storm,
You remain calm but deeply focused.

In the midst of fire,
You remain cool but not cold.
You let your emotions run their course
In the complex inner rivers of your heart and mind.

In the midst of the earthquake,
You remain steadfast and unshaken.

In the midst of the hurricane,
You remain the eye that observes
Without being disconnected from what you observe.
You remain the eye to be connected with the more-than-I.

So when the next person asks:
Why don’t you talk more?
When the next person says:
Don’t be so passive,
Speak your mind;
When the next person tries to draw you out onto the surface,
Tries to pull you up like a prize fish from the deep, still water…

Read them this poem.

“Why I Am Here”

I am here to better understand why I am here
I am here to come nearer to what cannot be understood
I am here to suffer through three or nine unclear years
I am here to recover the silent knowledge for good

I am here to hear why I am here
I am here to be steered by the voiceless and lost
I am here to wait until a voice becomes clear
I am here to dance ’til the spirit stands aloft

I am coming to say less
Coming to mean more
I’m leaving to remember
What it is I’m living for

I came to marry memory and hope
I left to seek the unexplained
I returned to listen for the unheard note
When I leave,
I’ll lose
All I’ve strived to gain

I am here to better understand how I got here
I am here to stand still, listen to the creek flow by
I am here to let go of an illusion I’ve held dear
I am here to hold on to a truth that is not mine

I am here to see clearly what else is here
I am here to return, to remain, and to move on
I am here to look for home, like a dispossessed seer
I am here to turn towards an ever new dawn

I am coming to say less
Coming to mean more
I’m leaving to remember
What it is I’m living for

I came to listen for silence,
I left to speak softly with rain,
I returned to marry stillness and chaos,
When I leave,
I’ll have lost
All I strived to gain

I am here to better understand why I am here
I am here to give shelter, here to bring storm
I am here to feel the sun as the clouds disappear
I am here as the snow melts, as it loses its form