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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Reality

Reality is all of which a story could be told.

The Jigsaw puzzle of Life

Over noontime meal yesterday, Bro. Jeffrey got me to thinking about the puzzles of life, and the human urge to not leave puzzles be, but to ponder them, to work on them, all in an attempt to solve them. But perhaps much of a puzzle is really in our minds, yet we project our fragmented thoughts to the external world of daily life and see bits and pieces, the imagined puzzle pieces, even believing that they are real, indeed puzzle pieces awaiting our knowing intelligence to fit the pieces "back" together to complete this imaginary whole. And in our confusion we turn to Jesus, and Jesus? He shrugs His shoulders and asks, "Have you read the instruction manual yet?" And we are taken aback, expecting the "instant Jesus answer" and to our bewilderment, we realize what we really need to do is the hard work, reading the instruction manual. So we pick up the Red-letter Bible and read the instructions. Anew. And when and if we "get it," then just perhaps, the jigsaw pieces fade and Jesus lets go with a swift kick in the seat of our pants -- yes, we really get it -- and we get back on the path and we get moving, for the journey isn't over yet, and the gas station stops are just that, relief stations along the way.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Telescope Kit

Bro. Clarence is busy right now building his new telescope, the kit arrived and after pondering the contents of the boxes, and pondering even longer over instruction sheets, he finally began work. He told me it is a 10" f/6 Dobsonian Reflector, which means little to us non-astronomers, but the 10" mirror does impress me, for I have done some viewing of the night sky through, I think, a 6" telescope. An astronomy club holds monthly star parties at the Joshua Tree National Park, and a few of us have ventured there and experienced the excitement that those star gazers express, and I think our appearance those nights caused a bit of a stir, for they said we were the first "monks" that have ever appeared at one of their parties. Well, that was then, now is now, and shortly we will have our own telescope to scan the night skies with. I admit, my knowledge of astronomy is limited to the fuzzy recollections of a college astronomy class. But I do recall, at the time, I was dazzled by the "numbers" involved in all that is "up there" over head. Just trying to grasp the distance in one light year (I just asked Bro. Clarence what that distance is, and he rattled this off without blinking: "A light year is 6 trillion miles.") 6,000,000,000,000 miles!!! And a while back I clipped this pedometer to my belt, just for the fun of it, and after a predawn stroll through the desert, I returned to the break fast table and checked my pedometer and found my trek came to 4.8 miles. Now how many morning strolls equals one light year? Anyway, I just returned and can report that Bro. Clarence is making slow headway, for now he is surrounded by four brothers, each peppering him with questions, of which I heard one answered, "Pluto is no longer a planet, but I understand that the folks at the Lowell Observatory maintain that Pluto is indeed a planet on all their brass plaques."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Crossed paths

This is taken from a 14th century 'guidebook' written by an anonymous English monk. I find an interesting intersection, it seems that here Christianity and Zen Buddhism crossed paths.

"Understand this clearly: your spiritual work is not in any physical place. But when your mind focuses, you are there in that place spiritually, as truly as your body is located in a place now. Your physical senses and faculties will find nothing to feed on and they will chide you for doing nothing. 

Go on with this nothing, moved only by your love of God. And let nothing interfere with this therefore but persevere in this nothingness, consciously desiring that you may always choose to possess God through love, whom no one can possess through knowledge. For myself I prefer to be lost in this nowhere, wrestling with this blind nothingness than to like some great lord travelling everywhere and enjoying the world as if he owned it."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sandal upon sand

Here in the Mojave the afternoons have been warm (80F) and the nights have suddenly cooled down, in the mid 40s, too cool for sleeping outdoors in my hammock, but each night brings us closer to those wonderful winter night skies when the Milky Way's boldness is a sight to behold. This morning at the break fast table Bro. Juniper shared some of his recent studies of the Desert Fathers, this a wonderful story told by Isaac from Syria (7th Century). It reminds us that we are the sailors of the desert, we walk the ancient seabeds, sandal upon sand, oasis to oasis, our course charted by the Word ... and prayer.

"When a sailor voyages in the midst of the sea, he watches the stars and in relation to them he guides his ship until he reaches harbor. But a monk watches prayer, because it sets him right and directs his course to that harbor toward which his discipline should lead. A monk gazes at prayer at all times, so that it might show him an island where he can anchor his ship and take on provisions; then once more he sets his course for another island. Such is the voyage of a monk in this life: he sails from one island to another, that is, from knowledge to knowledge, and by his successive change of islands, that is, of states of knowledge, he progresses until he emerges from the sea and his journey attains to that true city, whose inhabitants no longer engage in commerce but each rests upon his own riches. Blessed is the man who has not lost his course in this vain world, on this great sea! Blessed is the man whose ship has not broken up and who has reached harbor with joy!
--Isaac from Syria

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Baseball in the air

Now back to baseball, the wonderful thing about baseball is that you have the two foul lines that begin at home plate, yet they extend to eternity, and likewise the outfield has no limits, that is, the fence or wall but delineates a homerun, but that fence or wall is merely the beginning of where a homerun begins, but in theory, the outfield also extends to eternity, for a ball hit one inch over the wall is a homerun, ten feet over the wall is a homerun, 100 feet over the wall is a homerun, 1 mile over the wall is a homerun, 1 million miles over the wall is a homerun …
I love baseball.
So too Christianity when one views the outfield extending for eternity.

Shalom,
Bro. Bartleby

The inner self

"The inner self is as secret as God and, like Him, it evades every concept that tries to seize hold of it with full possession. It is a life that cannot be held and studied as object, because it is not "a thing." It is not reached and coaxed forth from hiding by any process under the sun, including meditation. All that we can do with any spiritual discipline is produce within ourselves something of the silence, the humility, the detachment, the purity of heart and the indifference which are required if the inner self is to make some shy, unpredictable manifestation of his Presence."
--Thomas Merton "The Inner Experience"

Sunday sunrise

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”

--Edward Abbey

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Desert dreams

Last night just before falling to sleep, I 'watched' myself falling into a sleep, and then in sleep, 'watched' myself sleeping, then as if free of myself, for myself was indeed sleeping, I was free to explore the desert from above, and with a simply flapping of the arms I was skyborne, and then the flapping stopped and flight was controlled by willing the direction I wished to go, except at times I would give a few mighty flaps and would soar among the clouds, then would will myself to glide lower and lower until just above the Joshua trees, I could not only observe the goings on of desert critters, but found I could focus on single grains of sand, or the blinking eye of a lizard, this ability to telescope my vision amazed me, and for the longest time I delighted in picking out tiny things, such as the pocked surface of a black volcanic rock or the brown speckled feathers of a cactus wren, this delighted me so much that I had to will myself to hover and not sink to the ground. This seemed to go on for hours, and then I discovered the most refreshing stream that coursed through the sand, a stream that I am at a lost to explain, for I have never seen such a stream in the desert, but there it was, the surface a swirl of white froth, then a large pool of still water, and before I knew it I dove into that pool and found myself beneath the surface looking up, as though viewing the cloudy sky through crystal glass with glints of sunlight dancing on the surface bubbles. And then I awoke. The room pitch black except for the tiny window, which I now stood before and beheld a dazzling starry night, and wondered, was this too a dream.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Flies in for a closer look

This afternoon Bro. Sedwick produced a small plastic pill bottle in which was a rather odd insect, or I should say beetle, he said he found the beetle near his garden and when he picked up the creature, it gave him a bit of a bite, or more exactly, secreted some caustic substance that produced an instant blister on Bro. Sedwick's finger. Bro. Clarence retreated to his library and returned with his 'beetle book' and after not too long pronounced that it was a 'blister beetle' to the delight of all, that is, except Bro. Sedwick. After a bit more research Bro. Clarence came up with this rather interesting information on this beetle, which had us passing around the plastic pill bottle and each of us inspecting this most amazing critter in light of our new found bafflement over how this beetle 'learned' all these various tricks of survival.

"Life in the Mojave Desert can be tough and requires some creativity to survive, and few species are as creative as the blister beetle. They are parasitic creatures and their larvae need to get into the underground nests of a local solitary bee to feed on her provisions and molt into beetles. But getting across the desert is tough for a 2 mm-long larva. Instead of trying to walk across the hot sand, they form clusters on the stems of plants and collectively mimic the sex pheromones of a female bee to attract the male bees. Not only that, but they clump together into a mass that physically resembles a female bee. When the male flies in for a closer look, the larvae grab onto him and fly with him to a real female bee, then grab onto her when the two are mating, and fly with the female bee back to her nest. It’s a case of chemical mimicry and collaboration not seen before in the insect world."

Friday, October 13, 2006

Notes on the fly sheet of a tattered copy of The Old Man and the Sea

I find that mumbling to myself a bit as well as wrestling with imaginations of God as well as being confused by just ‘being’ as well as catching a glimpse of eternity every now and then as well as delighting in ‘just being’ as well as being unsure and then being sure and then again finding surety in every breath one takes while at the same time contemplating things unknown while searching the path for another fingerprint left behind by God.
-- Big Sur 1977

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Did Jesus experience guilt?

Last evening at the dining table we were discussing the humanity of Jesus, and it was Bro. Simon who thought that Jesus could not have experienced guilt, for Jesus was sinless. I must admit, the discussion went all over the table until in the wee hours we had to quit the talk and retire for the night. So today I'll try to gather some of that discussion and will only say that most of what I now write is both my previous thoughts as well as what I gathered last night and have allowed to soak in and now I think it fair to say are my current beliefs on the subject. So ...

Square one -- birth. Do I experience guilt or am I guilty for being born? The usual meaning of guilty is a willful act by one, and the act is usually defined to be an act of wrongness. So is one guilty of anything upon taking that first crying breath? Or are we born innocent? Of course we can find lots of guilty acts after the babe has developed the very basic thought process of right and wrong. But at birth? I would think not. I would think we have a nature that includes a 'mechanism of guilt' just as our body includes a mechanism of pain, both are unpleasant, yet are necessary warning devices. If one ignores the warning of pain, then great harm may result to the body, just so with guilt, if one ignores the warning of guilt, then great harm to the soul may result.

"When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself."

I wonder, in this time of grief and mourning, wouldn't it be human for Jesus to experience the emotion of guilt, perhaps thinking that he could have saved John from that fate? Of course 'guilt' in English has many meanings, but in this case I would think that one could experience feelings of guilt, not for the actual death of John, but the guilt we all experience when something unpleasant comes to someone we care about, yet we think that just maybe if we were more attentive, or if we paid a bit more attention, then perhaps we could have prevented the harm that befell our friend.

This kind of guilt being the internal or subjective guilt, as opposed to the objective, or the group/society standard or laws, which are a different question. Jesus was guilty of breaking the laws of his society, yet he didn't have feelings of guilt, for he knew the laws unjust.

And I think what I mean by the 'mechanism of guilt' is somewhat akin to Freud's superego, or the parental imprint that shapes part of our being, so in a good upbringing, when the parents instill good values in us, then later in life when we knowingly or unknowingly are about to act against those 'imprinted' values, one feels guilt (and again, this simple word guilt has many meanings, in this instance, we may also have values imprinted upon us from schooling, from society, etc). In this example I'm saying these values were good values, but that is hardly the case for us all, we are imprinted with a mixed bag of values, and if one were unfortunate to have poor or bad parents, one's values may be poor. And if those poor values are not rectified while growing up, one may find oneself a lost and wandering soul.

So, I would say the mechanism of guilt in a person that has developed good healthy values is a wonderful warning device, but that same 'guilt mechanism' in a person that has a mixed bag of confused values, could be not a warning device, but a tormentor.

An example would be the child who grows up with parents who teach that fighting and arguing and all sorts of bad behavior are normal. This would become the child's values. Aggression and thuggery would be normal for this person, with acts of kindness and good behavior producing feelings of guilt. In other words, being nice would raise the warning flag -- feelings of guilt -- in this person, who may respond to these feeling by going out and beating someone up! Guilt in this person creates perversion, yet guilt in a decent person would reinforce good behavior.

I admit this is a bit muddled, but sometimes it is okay to be a bit muddled and feel no guilt about it.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Tiny windows of opportunity

The desert is a place where all certainty is uncertainty, where reality is a mirage, where a mirage becomes reality, where the wind tests all that dares to challenge it, and the challengers that survive are never the same, erosion bares all with softness the first to go, hardness is the survivor and adaptability coming in a strong second. At the last moment Bro. Clarence came up with a new plan, so we treked to Arizona via Bro. Juniper's pickup truck and found our starting point on the Navajo tribal lands and were well into our hike when the skies darkened and we were 'treated' to what I can only describe as an enormous thunderstorm which I can only thank God that we were on high ground when the normal dry lands quickly saturated and the former dry washes were roiling with mud and water. Now I must add water to the wind that forms and shapes the desertscape, for upon our return many of the hiking trails had simply disappeared, washed away, which made navigation a bit more of a challenge, but while under the still darkened skies I could only imagine what this soaked desert will look like in the coming months when long dormant seeds take advantage of their tiny window of opportunity and come to life, for a desert in bloom is a sight to behold!