Archive - Jan 2017
Note: This is an assignment for the English Spirituality and Mysticism course I'm currently taking:
I was very excited to read this week’s assignment to write a Celtic prayer. Poetry is an important part of how I express myself, and I’ve really enjoyed reading the Celtic Poems and Prayers. I misread the assignment and ended up writing two different prayer poems which I am sharing here. As part of the exercise, I’m including the poems for everyone to read.
Blessed Father, pour us down upon the earth,
like the winter rains in times of darkness,
like the spring rains reawakening the fields,
like the summer rains nurturing the crops.
Blessed Jesus gather us together,
in small pools of community,
in streams of Peregrini,
in the mighty ocean bringing changes.
Blessed Spirit draw us back to you
like the dew rising up off of the fields
like the mists of the moors
like the blown spume of the ocean.
Some of the themes from Celtic Christianity I’m trying to incorporate: The importance of water. This poem uses water as a metaphor for our relationship with God. The Trinity. Following the example of other Celtic prayers, it is addressed to each member of the Trinity. Darkness. I only really touch on darkness in the first part of the poem, but the references to the ocean also meant to invoke thoughts about glas martyrs. Peregrini. I bring in the idea of being an exile for Christ, or the journey. Community. I also bring in references to community, which seems so important to me in Celtic Christianity.
Father, creator help me to see you
in everything you’ve created,
in the wolf of St Francis,
in straw of Brother Lawrence,
and in the mud puddle at my feet.
Jesus, savior remind me of how near
the kingdom of heaven has come
in the people around me
and all of us caught up in our daily tasks.
Spirit, sustainer guide us on our journeys
wherever they are leading.
Like my first prayer poem, this one also focuses on members of the Trinity. Another key focus on this is panentheism and God being present in the creatures and other things created around us. I step away from Celtic Christianity a little by invoking Saint Francis and Brother Lawrence, but both of them seem to me to be part of the same approach to spirituality. I also bring in the aspect of the journey, without a clear destination which seems so important to me. I break with the first two stanzas which each have three examples of what I’m talking about in the stanza when I get to the final stanza. It helps communicate in an additional way, the uncertainty and incompleteness of the journey.
For me, writing is a very contemplative experience. I mostly compose poems in my mind, mulling them over and over before I put them on paper. Then, I spend time revising what I’ve written. So the practice of writing and sharing these prayer poems has a nice combination of contemplation and action.
Celtic Christianity as I’m understanding it right now, feels very comfortable and familiar to me, giving me words and constructs that match how I approach life, prayer, and writing.
There have been a lot of discussions online recently about the Trump inauguration as well as the march the following day. Here are some of the things I’ve been seeing and saying:
One friend wrote about Trump saying he was giving the government back to the people and my friend hoped that the marches would be women taking him up on it.
Adapted from a friend: Trump said he was giving the government back to the people. Here's to the women marching today to take him up on that. Here's to the Muslims, and Mexicans, and people of every shade and color, every level of ability or disability who are also taking Trump up on this. Here's to the old white men, like myself who support those marching, believing in liberty and justice FOR ALL, believing in loving our neighbors, not matter how different they are from us.
Several people shared posts like this:
Posting this so it will come up in my facebook memories:
Inauguration Day: 1/20/2017
Copy and paste so we can see if "America will be great".
I responded to these posts in various ways, ultimately ending up with something like thisL
Is this how we measure greatness? The price of gas and the value of stocks? How about other measures? Infant mortality rate? Suicide rate among veterans? Number of people who are homeless? Number of people uninsured? These are the numbers I'll be looking at. They must all go down for American to be great.
Here are some statistics that I’ve gathered:
Infant Mortality rate: 5.8/1000
Veteran Suicides per day 20
Homeless on a given night: 564,708
Uninsured rate: 9.1%
Happiness Index 7.104 (13th world wide)
Here are some of the sources I used:
CIA World Fact Book 2016 estimate of U.S. Infant mortality rate: 5,8 deaths/1000 live births.
One person summed it up quite nicely:
America does seem great again today. Maybe it's just all those women in Washington.
It is late Thursday evening, just over twelve hours until the forty-fifth President of the United States is sworn in. I am sitting in a movie complex in a shopping mall in New England with my fifteen year old daughter. I can’t remember what the last movie was that I saw in a movie theatre. Most of the great old art houses showing Kurasawa, Truffaut, Tarkovsky, and Wenders are gone. There is too much gratuitous violence and too little depth for me in most of the movies today.
Earlier this evening, I read a few of my poems at The Ghostlight Project event at a community television station studio, expressing hope that theatre, the arts, could remain a light, a beacon for diversity, in these troubled times.
I am in my late fifties, still trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do with my life. For the past few years, I’ve been exploring becoming an Episcopal priest. I believe it is what I am supposed to do, but the committee that accepts people into the ordination process don’t seem to think so.
My daughter is bright but struggles with her health. She is politically active and especially concerned for women’s rights and gay rights. She loves Brett Dalton and has been talking about this film since it was announced, and so here we are, at one of the first showings.
The Resurrection of Gavin Stone was exactly what I expected. It is formulaic, cliché-filled, predictable, and probably a really important film to see right about now. It is the sort of film that your aunt, who always tells you she is praying for you hopes you will go to. Her comments about praying for you has always made you feel a bit uncomfortable. God isn’t really something you talk about in the twenty-first century, but you know she is kind. She loves you and that she will sit through hours of binge watching Touched by an Angel, or Hallmark Holiday Specials with you as you eat ice cream and try to mend a broken heart.
Not only is the movie formulaic, cliché-filled, and predictable, but it seems like the backstory is as well; some Christian writers and producers getting together to make a movie, hoping to win a few converts to Christ. It hits all the right notes for the conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical crowd. A washed-up Hollywood elite coming to know God through having to do community service. A pastor who is kind, caring, and fixes the hot water heater in the church, not one of these celebrity preachers. The pastor’s daughter, who learns a little bit about grace and forgiveness herself after having been hurt by yet another person in the entertainment industry, and the hero’s reconciliation with the father, but his own father, as well as our Heavenly Father.
The cast is as diverse as nineteen-fifties middle America. There is a black person somewhere in the crowd, and perhaps some Asians or Latinos. If there is a gay person, they are so far in the closet you cannot see them. The references to sexuality are minimal. The stars don’t have sex. The only direct reference is recounting the scene of the woman caught in adultery.
Likewise, the only violence is in the re-enactment of the Crucifixion.
So why should you go see this movie now? Don’t go, to criticize it. Don’t take a friend to try and convert them. Don’t go for the narrative. Go for the meta-narrative, for the movie’s place in the twenty-first century. Take a friend who is seeking Christian Reconstructionism and another who is seeking Moral Revival. Take a friend who has been reading Foucault and Judith Butler.
Gavin Stone tells the folks at the church that a key to acting is listening. It is a message that we all need to listen to. The pastor’s daughter tells Gavin about the importance of humility. That is another message all of us, especially our newly elected leaders, need to listen to.
I am writing this on inauguration day. A lot of people are concerned about what is in store for America over the coming four years. I am actually feeling somewhat optimistic. Actors are speaking up at theatres. Women are marching. The rebellion against political correctness is now being seen for what it is, a lame excuse for self-centered rudeness.
Find someone different from yourself to listen to. You can start by going to see The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.
It is cold, dark, and wet as I begin my journey around the cornfields. I am starting an assignment for my course on English Spirituality and Mysticism. “Spend at least one hour walking silently in nature. Reflect on how you experience (or do not experience) the divine or the transcendent in the natural world around you and in your body.”
I had hoped to do this practice in the Alice Newton Street Memorial Park. It would have been more wooded, and not around a large field. Yet I needed to fit it into a busy schedule that would have minimal conflicts with my work and family obligations which meant I would have to do at least part of the walk in the dark.
It wasn’t completely dark at the cornfields. In the distance were houses and streetlights and my eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light. As I walked, it would become light, hopefully, a fitting metaphor for the exercise.
As I start, I recite fragments of St. Patrick’s Breastplate and other journey-prayers from The Celtic Way of Prayer that we have been reading for the class. I like the idea of journey prayers. I like the idea of journeys. I like the idea of Peregrinatio, a journey with “no specific end or goal such as that of a shrine”, as Esther de Waal describes it. I like the idea of “The longest journey is the journey inward”, a quote from Dag Hammarskjold that de Waal talks about.
I think about my walk around the cornfields as a peregrinatio nested inside the peregrinatio of the class, of my current discernment journey, my journey inward, and my life; a sort of peregrinatio matryoshka.
I try to clear my mind, to walk as contemplatively as possible. It is still dark, and I feel the soft ground covered with pine needles giving way to the gravel path, softened by the rain. In the distance a car drives by. Overhead, I hear a plane. The world beyond the cornfields, even at this early hour is busy, and getting busier. It is the world of Martha. I am trying to walk with Mary and with Christ.
One section of the path around the cornfields is near a road with sodium vapor street lights. They shine through the barren branches of the winter trees creating complicated patterns that make me think of Celtic decorations. The words of William Dix in the hymn, “As with Gladness Men of Old” come to mind.
“In the heavenly country bright
Need they no created light”
The light is reflected off of the wet dead leaves on the ground. Water. Reflection. I see this again, later, in puddles along the path, and I think of the reverence of water in Celtic spirituality.
It is peaceful in the cornfields. I am alone. It does not feel like a “voluntary exile...in imitation of Christ himself” that de Waal talks about. If anything, the busy world of Martha feels more like being exiled. The walk is an intimate time with God.
I pass the community gardens. They make me think of Crofters’ gardens, at least as I imagine them. Yes, this idea of the Crofters’ gardens is probably rooted in Celtic romanticism, grown out of nationalism, but that is part of my upbringing. I think of my own upbringing on a small New England farm and my idyllic memories of my childhood, ora et labora. The labors were those of a child during farm chores and the prayers were my laughter and joy.
My mother is now dead and my father is frail, yet the nature walk brings back those memories. Perhaps that is some of experience of the divine on the nature walk; being connected to the land, to history, to family. I savor the peace, the quiet, the memories, and the joy.
It is beginning to get light now. The sound of water dripping off the leaves after the rain is joined by the sound of creatures stirring. A bird chirps, but there is no sign of a wild goose. In the bushes there are other animals, perhaps more frightened of me, than I am of them. There is a mist over the field, and this too feels like Ireland or Scotland. The ground smells fertile, although lacking a peaty smell. A chill wind blows against my face, not a cold, biting wind, but refreshing. It is a reminder of God being well pleased with creation.
As a child, I often walked in the woods. There was always a sense of something out there. Spirits? Angels? What was it? The same sense is around the cornfields, especially as it becomes lighter and the mist more apparent.
In the distance the sirens of the volunteer fire department sound. It is time to end my walk, my reverie and to head off to work. It will be a busy day, but I head off to my tasks ahead reminded of God’s love during trying times.
I look at the questions of the assignment. “How does this experience help you understand the chthonic and panentheistic nature of pre-Christian Celtic spirituality?” “What new insight(s) into pre-Christian Celtic spirituality do you gain from this experience?”
Perhaps it is best summed up in the words of Esther de Waal in the introduction to her book:
“Here, instead, everyone sees themselves in relation to one another, and that extends beyond human beings to wild creatures, the birds and the animals, the earth itself.”
This week, I am setting out on a new journey. I am taking the online class English Spirituality and Mysticism at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. It is part of a larger journey of trying to make sense out of my experience of God at the ISM Poetry Conference: “Love bade me welcome”, which in turn is part of the larger journey of trying to find God’s will and meaning for my life.
One of the texts for this course is The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination by Esther de Waal. I’ve only read the introduction and the first chapter so far, but I’m greatly enjoying it, and thinking about how it, and the course will help shape my journeys. One quote from chapter 1, which is entitled Journeying puts it nicely into context, “The whole of life itself is for them a journey from birth to death”. The chapter spends a bit of time talking about journey prayers and journey blessings, spending a fair amount of time on St. Patrick’s Breastplate which I have always loved.
I write this all in the context of many journeys going on. Donald Trump’s journey to the Presidency. The journey of many friends to protests against things that President Elect Trump has said, the long foot journeys of two friends, one hiking the Appalachian Trail and another setting out to walk the Carmino de Santiago.
I pray for blessings on each journey that we all may act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.