Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection


to the glory of, et cetera

just keep singing
or moving your fingers

all these years, still floating

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set of
Partitas, click here.


This time of year, the world makes a special nod to the genius of Johann Sebastian Bach, who was born on March 21, 1685, in Eisenach, Germany.

When I first explored classical music, in the late ’50s and early ’60s, Bach was a much more distant figure than we encounter today. Yes, he was considered one of the three greatest composers ever, but largely in a scholarly consideration. Rare performances of his music itself largely focused on the organ works – infrequent events outside of their application in religious services in churches having both outstanding instruments and musicians – or came about through a few soloists who championed his instrumental compositions. Think of E. Power Biggs, Pablo Casals, Wanda Landowski, Rosalyn Turek, or the Bach Aria Group.

Harpsichords, for that matter, were a novelty, and the Brandenburg Concertos were typically performed with a piano as a substitute in the ensemble. How strange that sounds today, when these once exotic pieces are among the most frequently played works on classical radio stations, and commonly in period-instrument bands at that.

For one thing, the repertoire is not as defined by symphony orchestras as it was then – a break for Bach, who wrote little that would fit into their programs, even in a scaled-down mode. Today, we have chamber orchestras, community choruses, and period-performers to champion other avenues of composition.

Seems strange to consider how much the classical music scene has changed during my lifetime. For perspective, Vivaldi and Mahler were even greater rarities. And for many of us, the jazz-influenced Swingle Singers gave us the first clue of just what Bach’s scores might unleash.

We’ve been liberated from the heavy-handed, smoky, Romantic-era, Victorian approach I first encountered. What’s happened parallels the breakthroughs in painting restoration, where old masterpieces were finally stripped of the layers of dark varnish that we’d assumed were part of their intended appearance. What a brilliant, startling, controversial revelation that was! How garish rather than reverential we found much that was finally released to the light. How playful, how scandalous! What joy!

Thus it’s been with Bach, too. In the right hands, the mathematical purity of Bach’s inventions is utterly heavenly, intimate, sensual. To sing the parts with others is a marvelous balancing act of hearts and minds dancing in spirit together. Gone is any sense of a sermon in sound – this comes closer to prayer.

Add to that the demands of daily craftsmanship imposed on Bach, meaning that he created work after work more or less on deadline, with little time for major revisions, and the results can be seen as all the more impressive. No wonder we’re left agog in the face of what we discover in what he timeless wonder he discovered and embraced.


Unlike my usual Quaker Practice postings here on the Red Barn, my newest book probes into the underlying theology that made the Society of Friends an alternative Christianity – one without priests or clergy, creeds and dogma, ritual or liturgy but shaped lives based in faithful simplicity, equality, peace, and pursuit of justice.

In Religion Turned Upside Down, metaphor, not law, is the foundation of spiritual expression and religious practice. As metaphors, when the central images of the Light, Seed, and Truth – in both the New Testament and early Quaker writings – are embraced as verbs rather than static nouns, a radical realignment occurs.

While conventional religion finds itself more and more relegated to the sidelines of Western society, what appears within the reconstructed Quaker paradigm – one that could not be voiced fully under the prohibitions of the blasphemy acts – now aligns with new insights from the frontier of intellectual discovery. Crucially, it provides support for alternatives to the great threats to human existence as well – environmental, nuclear, military, economic, political, social, racial.

It’s a basis for hope and action rather than despair.


For these essays and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.


rounded stones of the shoreline
or a garden path glisten
many navy blue or nearly straw

others speckled with indecision
speckled, within and without
what grows hard as rock on a rock

nearly black stones exposing white ridges
to the light, blue veins, like mothers
slate-blue orb cleft with white quartz

some color of cooked lobster
glow of berries
in dull eddies

of clamshell or snout of rising seal
given an eye, the face of a cod or shark
approaching with its mouth closed

another burnt
and still burning
none yet look like washed potatoes

between them, broken mussels and sand
firm in clear brine
each retaining its shape, for now

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set of seacoast poems,
click here.


In her inimitable, understated, and right-on-target way, she jotted in the corner of the Meeting minutes: “I hope thee feels the Spirit of our Lord with thee in thy life, Jnana – a full covering for all thee does. Seek his care. In Christ’s love, Susan.”

Naturally, she hit me in a period in which I wasn’t feeling His presence in everything – and had come to that realization myself. What her quick notation did was kick me into getting back on my knees regularly and into Scripture, too. Now that’s divine oversight! As a result, Meeting First-day was wonderful, and turned into the entire day – wound up spending much of it with another Friend who would turn forty the week before I did, a guy who had expressed to me back in Eleventh month the difficulty he had with my messages in Meeting (an ex-Catholic, he was growing in the Spirit – and in our day, he was able to come to unity with me on crucial points). We visited a couple in Maine, and then hit My Life as a Dog, his first and my third viewing – the movie gets better every time.


For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.


The mind dances here and there, rarely in a linear fashion. So what’s on my mind these days? How about counting on these fingers?


  1. Wet, sloppy snow? The kind that falls all day, making me want to scream each time I look out the window, even when it’s half melting on the street and ground and even though I no longer have to commute through its hazardous, annoying conditions. The mere thought of it, though, has us going stir-crazy.
  2. Maple-sugaring season, for some of our friends. Just listen to all the discussion regarding this year’s sap run.
  3. Blame the switch back to so-called Daylight Saving Time. Keep feeling I’m way behind. Look at the clock, it’s 1:30 p.m., then have to tell myself it would have been only 12:30 just a few days ago. This internal ticking!
  4. Revisiting Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle (four operas spanning 17 hours, which somehow pop up for me in late winter), I confess it’s hard for me to wrap my head or heart around the mythological story. Gods who are not omniscient or who are ruled by lust – that is, who are not omnipotent – make the first obstacle, even before we get to all the reliance on magic and potions. Only when I see them as today’s celebrities does any of this come into focus. And then there is the matter of flawed parenting and marriage. Even more tantalizing is the concept of casting the “gods” as the superrich who are bankrupting America – off they go to their compound.
  5. In observing the Eastern Orthodox dietary restrictions for Advent and now Lent, I’m made more aware of the world’s poor and hungry. Reach for milk for my coffee or for an egg or cheese or butter, then pull my hand back, realizing they’re dairy products, and thus prohibited for the stretch. Under a lacto-vegetarian regime, which I’d practiced in my past, these would be acceptable. The vegan alternative is so much stricter. How out of reach our Western abundance is for so many in the world. As my wife says, the practice makes us tea-totaling oil-free vegans. Curiously, our temporarily limited diet (or “fasting,” in the terminology) does not have me feeling penitent but rather, as we pursue it, has me delighting in ranges of food we normally slight. Even so, I’m really looking forward to feasting come Easter.
  6. Considering many of my favorite hippie-era writers, I’m surprised to see how apolitical many of them are. Richard Brautigan, ever so playful – or even Jack Kerouac, who inspired so many of us. I am open to alternatives, like John Nichols or Edward Abbey, though their writing feels far more conventional and less heartfelt. Makes for a fresh way of revisiting the literature of the era, especially as it leaps ahead to our current political situation.
  7. Insecurity is a manifestation of ego, standing counter to humility.
  8. A sense of being released in to the NOW for the NEW. The way some work continues.
  9. How do people in the construction trades schedule their lives? Do the calls for repairs, remodeling, and new building really average out week after week?
  10. No idea what’s on tap for tomorrow.


New England Aquarium.

New England Aquarium.

Yes, I’m still swimming laps in the indoor pool, the one in downtown Dover. Glad he’s not in my lane.



what happened to all the nuts
planted back there
acorns with their hearts ripped out
all his transports in this cosmic trap
in the breach             the yard could as easily be jammed
with half-buried books
waiting to be devoured

all the same, he darts into hidden pages,
spitefully                   aware his plot was unfolding
more than ever expected

Poem copyright 2015 by Jnana Hodson
To read the full set of squirrelly poems,
click here.


A prime location in the big city.

A prime location in the big city.

Beacon Hill’s narrow streets and closely set homes invite pedestrians to enter a timeless order and grace. It’s hard for us not to imagine living here early in the 19th century as American ideas took hold.

Boston is a rich and varied destination – the Hub of New England, or the Universe, as they used to say. Living a little more than an hour to the north, we’re well within its orb.

A quiet break in a crowded neighborhood.

A quiet break in a crowded neighborhood.


Beacon Hill is, after all, hilly.

Beacon Hill is, after all, hilly.


Reflecting on the locations of my novels reminds me of the out-of-the-way places I’ve lived. Apart from Baltimore (which shows up in my poetry but none of my fiction), I landed in generally obscure locales.

Fiction, of course, lends itself to abstraction and generalization, and sometimes to a blending of several particular models.

Thus, Prairie Depot in Promise as well as Peel (as in apple) and With a Passing Freight Train of 119 Cars and Twin Cabooses reflects any number of farm centers across the Midwest, not all of them county seats, either. They’re once-thriving communities that have been left behind in the shift to the big cities and global economics. Sometimes there’s a factory or two, plus the rail yards and crossings.

The countryside around the campus in Daffodil Sunrise is more rolling and wooded, a landscape that also appears in sections of Promise, St. Helens in the Mix, and my newest novel-in-the-works. Actually, it’s not that different from the rural places in Ashram, Hippie Drum, and Hippie Love, either. While these, too, are economically and politically bypassed, they are more scenic and present more recreational opportunities to explore.

Rehoboth in Hometown News represents the industrial cities hard-hit by globalization and the loss of unionized labor job – places aptly described as the Rust Belt, from Upstate New York and Pennsylvania westward across the Mississippi.

Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider takes place in yrUBbury, a derelict but sufficiently remote mill town somewhere in the Northeast.

Naturally, Subway Hitchhikers and Third Rail run through the big city.

And the desert interior of the Pacific Northwest is the culmination of Promise, Peel (as in apple), St. Helens in the Mix, and Kokopelli’s Hornpipe. It’s a landscape I initially found alien but eventually came to love.

Essentially, I’ve regarded these places as characters in my fiction – as much as the people who move through them.

Popular culture takes place largely in Manhattan, Hollywood, London, Paris, Chicago, or Nashville – with dashes of San Francisco, Seattle, or other trendy backdrops thrown in. I believe the communities where we live influences our outlooks and actions. I want to hear much more from the other places, ones as overlooked as the ones I explore.


As I listen, I realize the locals don’t consider the surrounding ridges to be mountains. Although these “foothills” or just plain “hills” are as tall as Pennsylvania’s Alleghenies, shorn of trees, to speak of “mountains” signifies that one must drive away into forest. The time comes to hike in unfamiliar high country.

I drive west, into a mountain pass, and park at the trail head.

Climbing through clouds on Sheep Lake Trail, I identify snow lilies, phlox, two whistling marmots I mistake for groundhogs, and a ptarmigan. In these topless mountains, snow and rocks glimmer atop jagged white threads that twist, plunge, and roar over miles. In this clarity I recount a friend’s determination to perceive the important task to perform each day — a focus she achieved in the sunset of her young death. Go on.

The next outing, I follow another friend’s favorite trail. My valley of orchards and meadows stretches behind in a twilight of small-city lights and barren blue ridges. In golden splay dusk, I learn to fear glaciers atop volcanic spines and in their grooved depths, too. So much depends on which way you turn. Clouds, one moment pink, shift into slate-blue. Think of a great-uncle’s farm in Ohio flatlands when green-wood ringed the fields and autos were novelties; and how, when the United Brethren in Christ build their new sanctuary, one tree furnishes enough lumber for all the pews. Such timber is long gone from most of the Midwest, and nearly gone here, as well.

Strangely, adjusting to such disorientation can allow one to see more than the landscape with fresh eyes. I begin reckoning my birthplace afresh, too. I perceive a native poetry now vanished: in flat terrain they coined Sweet Potato Ridge Road when they became sensitive to what had been called Nigger Pike, after work crews that came out from the workhouse jail in the city; Diamond Mill Road was made of limestone gravel flecked with quartz or mica, but named for the distillery beside the rails. What could be in those rural lanes I had sped along on the way to the farm to cause their ghosts to arise out here? I think, too, of the hayloft I had delighted climbing in, even though the old folks feared I’d fall through and be trampled by cattle; more ominously, some shed rafters I walked like a high-wire artist had hogs rummaging below, with razor snouts and teeth and a latent taste for blood. That farm acreage is scarcely like these Western orchards or open ranges, yet something echoes. It’s earth and air. Sunshine and clouds. My days in the mountains are airy conifers. I could be a pioneer, in spirit, at least. My ancestors settled those Ohio tracts. Another line, a bit earlier, settled North Carolina Piedmont. Here, I find unspoiled corners.

Perhaps bears do drink beer. Rocks, leap from mountaintops into oceans. Naked breasts, swell from snowmelt pool to sky.

Against this wall, between his desert and the frigid sea current, I declare my vast ignorance: left to myself, I’d likely starve, soon sicken of berries, and have never caught fish properly or gutted a rabbit. Somehow, I wait to be fed. Thus, one point of my Dedicated Laborious Quest involves learning to be wholly myself — embracing flaws as well as talents, as I search out my own boundaries.

Away from the office and encircled by an ever-renewing earth — even an apparently lifeless desert that restores his sanity and a brand of insanity, too — you may find that every trail you follow brings you closer to your own attainment, your emerging sense of place and mission within the universe. As for looniness — ah, loco! — you soon appreciate how all are in some way at least un poco, indeed.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.