Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

I've always loved those words, because as much as the gospel writers wished to keep the 'physical' Jesus rather mysterious by not offering the slightest physical description, which any neophyte novelist would have accomplished in the first paragraph, nevertheless, we understand that the physical was not the focus of either the authors or their Subject, but then too, we are human and I find that I can picture Jesus in my imagination listening to all the endless chit-chat of those around the campfire, then slowly rising as the others suddenly fall silent, then without even a brief clearing of the throat, shouting, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"

Friday, July 21, 2006

Transitory or Futile?

Ecclesiastes 1:2:

"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity."

Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translated the Hebrew 'hebel' to the Latin 'vanitas' and the King James company used the English 'vanity' and so it sometimes goes with translating.

Hebel (Hebrew): vapor, fog, steam, breeze, or breath.

Of course the transitory nature of 'vapor/fog/steam/breeze/breath' does imply impermanence, the ephemeral, all those things that cannot be grasped and held onto.

But how does all that end up 'vanity' as Webster defines: excessive pride/futility/worthlessness?

How about if not 'all is futility' but 'all is transitory'? I think a big difference between futility and transitory. Our lives on Earth may be transitory, but need not be futile. Yes, if one chases after the vapors and fogs and breezes, as though they were something to grab hold of, as though they were permanent, then true, life will be futile and worthless to you, for what you deem permanent is indeed impermanent, and this misunderstanding of God's purpose will only lead you to disappointment and confusion. But God's way is eternal, and in this light, one can read "Vanity of vanities" or "Fog of fogs" or "Uncertainty of uncertainties" with new found understanding.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The other half of the dialogue

The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. --John 3:8

I would think it up to the Holy Spirit to know and go to places and persons that I know not. But the places and persons that I do know and meet, I can but share my encounter and everlasting relationship with Jesus, and share is not a monologue, but a dialogue, and I must be confident enough in my own faith to be able to listen respectfully to the other 'half' of sharing, their faith story. And for those without a faith story? I will offer mine in both deed and word for their consideration.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Mending the windsock

Let me attempt to recall the words of Bro. Cosmos at the break fast table this morning.

"The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. --John 3:8

I don’t know where the Spirit comes from. And yet, it comes. And goes. I’ve already gone through several phases in my attitude toward journaling, but my current attitude is that it is basically a windsock to try to catch the Spirit as it blows by in the morning. It’s like damming a river so as to create electrical power. If I don’t take the trouble to sit here and catch it as it blows by, it’s as if it never existed. You might say that I am attempting to dam the Spirit."

Since then I've been in the hammock pondering these words, and I believe I will continue at it until the sun sets ...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Harvester Ants and Yucca Hats and Potential

Early this morning I was outside the East wall seated on a rather large rock, quietly observing the rising sun making its scheduled appearance along with the long shadows cast upon this flat landscape. The shadows always intrigue me, for a distant Joshua tree of perhaps ten feet in height will cast a shadow that seems to go on forever. Seated in the stillness, countless forever shadows all seemed to point toward me. And the ants. Several yards in front, thousands of brownish-black ants, all casting long and tiny shadows, seemed oblivious to the drama of the sun in their orderly chaos, with hundreds that seemed to be caught in a freeway clover-loop, helter-skelter, here and there, while others were headstrong in their mission, fanning out in somewhat orderly columns, unaware, or unconcerned about the chaos of the others. It was then that I felt a tap on my shoulder, and lo-and-behold, it was Bro. Clarence, looking down from beneath the wide brim of what appeared to be a straw hat. "This is for you," he said, from behind his back an identical wide-brimmed hat appeared. "Yucca!" Of course he said it with much glee, and immediately I knew the meaning, Bro. Clarence is now weaving hats from the fibers of the Yucca leaf. I was delighted, tried it on, and I must admit, it fit well, and the exceptionally wide brim was a delight, for I knew soon the sun would be up and bearing down upon our heads, but now I was prepared, and would carry forth my own bit of shade for the remainder of the day. "Harvester ants," was his next utterance, and after that he continued at a fast clip, always when he is excited the words come quick and steady. So now I attempt to recall those words, and I must admit, half of his words may have shot over my head while I was still processing the first half. First I learned that the Harvester ant feeds primarily on seeds! They are seed collectors. And most of the ants that I had been pondering were in fact sterile females! "Where are the males?" I asked. After sprouting wings and giving their all to the queen, they have served their useful purpose, and die. Then he carried on with some fascinating details about colonies and socialization and division of labor and with a sweep of his arms he estimated the population of ants within our eyesight, "Maybe ten thousand trillion!" To all that I could only utter what I know about ants, "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest" (Proverbs 6:6-8). And here I was, under the wide brim as the former long shadows in the landscape were now shrinking, I thanked Bro. Clarence for the gift of his hands and the gift of his mind, but before I could rise from my rock seat, he said, and I do hope I can remember this with some exactitude, that, "Potential is the creation that they all seem to miss. God created 'potential' and within all the material and all the immaterial, potential exists. Yet science busies itself with all but the potential. We discover and label the results, we call them natural laws, Einstein and others calculate the aftermath, yet God planted potential into all matter, even into the quark!" With that he reached down and pinched some sand between his fingers, then let that sand drop, grain by grain, into his open palm. "This grain of sand has the potential to be a dune, to be a desert! To join concrete and water to be a wall, to be a bridge, to be our dwelling!" And then he went on about physics and 'potential energy' and that all creation is the stored energy or the released energy or the transfer of energy, yet when all is said and done, all is potential. With that I urged Bro. Clarence to put all this down on paper, and his response, "... and then where would I find the time to weave Yucca hats!"

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Have you ever wondered, "What is God's faith?" Or, is it possible for God to have 'faith?' Or, is 'God's faith' an oxymoron? In Greek, oxy (sharp) and moros (dull) combine to create a contradiction in terms. So is 'God's faith' a contradiction, or a paradox? If we humans consider it an act of great courage to have faith in things unknown, what does that say about God's gift to humans -- freewill? Does freewill for humans require God to have faith? I wonder.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Note written on a Post-it

Of course suffering comes in all forms and degrees, yet at its essence, suffering is pain, that which alerts us, thereby allowing for remedy. Without pain, without warning, remedy is impossible, if not lost.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Mediation under a Swamp Cooler

The desert is a place that accepts no 'ifs' 'ands' or 'buts' -- it accepts only brutal honesty. Today, without the overhead whirl of the swamp cooler, this room would be unbearable, instead, it is hot and a bit humid. But even the moist air is quickly reduced to arid air, just too much dryness for any moisture to last, except perhaps a cloud burst, when the outside thermometer is 110 -- in the shade. Water, the cacti go leafless in order to conserve it, our sunflowers, I'm sure, are embarrassed by their name, for today their namesake is doing everything possible to scorch the last drop of moisture from their very being. But our valiant attempts to green a bit of this parched landscape are not in vain, for with water, we watch alien flora live for one more day. A lapse of diligence on our part for a day or two spells death to these sunflowers and tomatoes that find themselves in a foreign land. And we too are even more fragile, for to wander about on a day like this, without ample water and provisions and careful preparations, would be simply foolhardy, and fatal. And here we are, this water-bag of humanity covered by the thinnest cover -- skin -- about as thick as a sheet of paper, that which can be punctured by a mere cactus thorn, yet it suffices, that is, with guidance from that which is within the skull. Everyone visiting the desert is fascinated by the discovery of their first sun-bleached cow skull. In fact, any skull. But the cow skull seems to hold special meaning, especially if one has ever viewed Georgia O'Keeffe's painting of one. I am particularly fond of the one titled, "Cow's Skull with Calico Roses." It's a dry heat -- that's our favorite one-liner here at the monastery during these fiery months. Last evening Abbot Eastley began rhapsodizing about the early years, then he told a story that I had never heard before, it was about Bro. George, he has passed on many years ago, but what I did not know is that he spent a year in Manzanar, the Japanese relocation camp during WWII. I have driven past the spot, stopped and visited many times, this haunting remnant that is at the base of the Sierra Nevada. The abbot spoke kindly of Bro. George, what surprised me is that Bro. George joined the army, left the camp and was in combat in Italy. Perhaps I can urge the abbot to tell us more, but for now I can say that I only knew Bro. George as a very quiet and truly a gentle and kind man, he more than anyone else I cannot picture in uniform and in mortal combat. But such is life. Surviving. To be gentle.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

When Life and Prayer Become One

St. Anthony said in passing, "The prayer of the monk is not perfect until he no longer realizes himself or the fact that he is praying." The early Desert Fathers, those who inhabited the deserts in the fourth century, sought to lose, or perhaps simply shed, ego. That "I" which experiences, and acts, and thinks, that "self" which is forever dwelling upon itself, like Adam at the very moment of self realization when the "I" came flooding forth -- a river, a lake, an ocean now separating Adam from God, humanity now all alone with but an inner monologue in stead. Some spend a lifetime building rafts, tiny boats, even stately ships, attempting to sail across that watery divide, only to drift in circles or founder or even sink.

The desert is a place where only necessity survives, where extravagance has no place, where ego is stilled and "I" is at the mercy of simplicity, for any baggage will only impede one, and even the slightest impediment will be just enough for the sands to swirl and the sun to bake and what is, will soon be forever, what was. So, a perfect place for one to "no longer realize himself or the fact that he is praying."

And this is so. In the heat of summer, when predawn walks still the inner monologue, when the senses are keen and the slightest breeze will cause the hairs on one's arm to dance, when a distance quail springs from some brush and for an instance the air comes alive, when suddenly your eyes seem to take in more than they are capable of taking in, you, like a handheld video camera, course through this landscape, and it and you and the morning blue canopy overhead, all unite into an orchestrated whole, and for just an instance one can feel, feel as thought one is walking on the sandy seabed across that watery gulf, and high overhead, walking too,
atop the water!
is Jesus!
trail blazing!
the way!
back home!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Notes on the front of the Beatles White Album

Going through a cardboard box of old LPs I came across The Beatles, also know as the White Album. In tight penmanship I hand printed in blue ink the following (date unknown):

I think when one seeks self, one finds not self, but self delusion. Seek to know others, helping others, loving others, then just perhaps the reflections from others will allow you to catch a glimpse of your true self. Others define you, rightly or wrongly, but nevertheless, look to others, observe how others react and treat you, how they interact with you, and foremost, how do you define others? If the most kind and decent and honorable people that you meet and interact with, react in positive ways to you, then you may be on the right path in life. But if the most unkind, indecent, and dishonorable people that you meet, are not changed in your presences, but react to you as they react to everyone else, then that reflection from them may indicate you are on the wrong path in life. Life is about community, not about the isolated self. God looked upon Adam and said it was not good for him to be alone. And, Jesus asked others, who do THEY say I am?

Bro. Juniper's Sunflower Salad

Bro. Juniper surprised us with a Sunflower salad that knocked our socks off ... alas, those around the dining table wearing socks. I tried to get a coherent recipe from him, but his creative culinary skills seem to preclude rhyme or reason, just a flurry of activity that always ends with “Bravos!” from the dining table. Well, here is what I could gather for this most delicious salad. I think he used firm tofu, he cubes it and sauteeds it with soy sauce and I don't know what else, perhaps rice wine and some ground black pepper and a tiny bit of cayenne pepper ... I assure you, this is not 'tasteless' tofu. After that, he whisks 4 tablespoons of sunflower seed oil with 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Of course, I'm trying to downsize the numbers here to make a good bowl of salad, for Bro. Juniper works with a bowl the size of a wash tub and tosses fistfuls of this and empties whole bottles of that to his concoctions. Okay, next add 3 cups of sunflower sprouts and 1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds and a 1/4 cup toasted and chopped cashew nuts, and then toss in 2 seedless tangerines, peeled and sliced thin. After you've tossed it all good, then add the sauteed tofu atop. That's it! I would think that if you were really hungry and wanted to make a meal of it, then perhaps slice some BBQ steak or chicken, then add that with the tofu atop the salad. Bon Appetit!