Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: Books

OUT OF OBSESSION INTO THE BLAZE

Words or appearances often mask deeper, contradictory currents. Sometimes, as they tangle, each knot becomes an aching triangle.

In the throes of romantic passion, a participant will choose one line of argument over the evidence of another. To call him or her a victim is hardly accurate, no matter the pain, even after the heart and mind conflict.

The poems of Braided Double-Cross arise in such obsession, the white-hot tension rather than in some cool quietude years later – the pursuit of a golden ideal and then falling. Call them love poems if you dare.

~*~

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

IN THE OVERLAPPING KNOTS

What the heart hears and sees may be quite different from what the mind observes and records, much less decides. These may be considered two strands in a braid, into which a third is woven. As for the third? It may be the beloved Other or some Unknown factor or even the undisclosed Rival. Each possibility leads to some distinct  tension in the series of overlapping knots.

The poems of Braided Double-Cross move through sexual attraction and passion into obsession, rejection, even betrayal. In the heated accusations and arguments between lovers, the dialogue – reaching into childhood, history, geography, career aspirations, and the future – invokes an absent, silent third participant, a recognition of the inequality emerging in the core relationship itself. Details of confession mount quietly. Truth becomes unbearable. At times a scream is silent. The braid ultimately becomes a whip. As Diane Wakoski has observed, “Rapunzel and the witch were always one / and the same.”

It’s what Ted Berrigan, in the American sonnets this set emulates, called belly-to-belly white heat.

~*~

Braided Double-Cross

Braided Double-Cross

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

FROM HIPPIE TO HOLY

Reading Douglas Gwyn’s 2000 book, Seekers Found: Atonement in Early Quaker Experience, in light of America’s recent political campaigns has him looking downright prophetic. Even though he focuses most of his pages on the emerging Quaker movement in the turbulence of 17th century Britain, his opening chapter looks closely at the 1960s, when “crises of conscience rocked American institutions and authorities.” While the counterculture revolution spanned the political and economic scene, “Religious institutions and authorities were no exception. The postwar religious consensus, one of the strongest in American history, began to flounder.”

As regular readers of the Red Barn will recognize, he’s leading straight into some of my central concerns, especially as he attempts to make sense of the era’s impact over the subsequent years. I like his introduction of sociologist Steven Tipton, who “has argued that, in different ways, Americans continue trying to get ‘saved from the ’60s.’ For some, it is the search for final deliverance from the religious conformism of the early ’60s, which they found personally stifling and morally bankrupt. Meanwhile, others seek deliverance from the legacies of the ‘counterculture,’ from the moral chaos and personal confusion they found so disturbing in the late ’60s.”

Of course, it wasn’t just religion. “Tipton characterizes the countercultural revolt of the ’60s as a crisis of meaning and morality in the face of accelerating technological innovation and bureaucratic organization in American society.” Gwyn then goes on to examine a whole range of currents unleashed at the end of World War II and then transformed in the baby boom generation – way too much to encapsulate here.

Quite simply, these are matters that remain largely unresolved, especially for those of us who came of age during the upheaval and for our children and now, for many, our grandchildren. It remains a mixed bag of continuing portent.

As someone whose hippie openings led to living in a yoga ashram, or monastic community, which then pointed me on a journey to affiliating with the Society of Friends, or Quakers, I can see religion as both “saving” me from the ’60s and simultaneously enhancing its vision. And I am deeply concerned about the marginalization of religious discourse from general society – especially when it comes to the left.

Gwyn picks up on this track in his final chapter, especially as he looks at a touchy topic labeled truth. It was one I had been forced to face in examining the basic early Quaker metaphors of the Light and the Seed and, as it turned out, the Truth. My own efforts soon had me exploring ways to engage truth as a verb, but trying to find an appropriate visual image remained elusive, no matter how intriguing the options. Gwyn solves this quite eloquently:

By recognizing truth as a living, moving being, we may better remember that truth is a someone we must serve, not a static entity we can master. Hence, the four-part framework we have defined is not a “cage” designed to capture truth. Rather, it offers a guide to the dynamics of a faithful conversation of truth. By being accountable to one another in that conversation, we form communities accountable to truth.

That is, Gwyn turns to the life of Jesus. In doing so, he could have saved me a lot of effort! (We’ll likely get to his four-part framework in a future post.) He then turns to O.A. Piper, who

contrasts the truth witnessed in John’s gospel and letters with the static Platonic ideal. For Plato, truth always lies beyond words; its concrete expression will always be flawed. For John, truth is an active, creative, temporal reality; it moves from provisional to final expression. Therefore, Christ is not the essence of all truths. Rather, he reveals the goal for which the world is destined. The provisional expressions of truth given final expression in the incarnate Word include not only the revelation of Moses (e.g., John 6:3) but also the Greek philosophical traditions more implicitly evoked along the way. For John, truth has an eschatological character, since it unfolds in history, moving toward final expression. Through the life of Jesus, the Gospel of John portrays the struggle of truth against falsehood. 

This approach to truth, as Gwyn observes, is hardly confined to religion. It is an ongoing conversation. Without it

we live in one another’s unexamined “shadow” of projected fears and secret desires. Too often, we “seek” mainly to avoid those we fear and loath.

And then, Gwyn’s words leap far ahead to events far in the future of when he wrote them:

Not only does our seeking become self-referential and esoteric, but our continued indulgence in stereotypical versions of the “others” fuels alienated, paranoid politics of mutual aversion that will only breed more trouble in the future.

Oh, my, have they! Even in 2000, he saw the two sides

are strongly polarized today. Orthodox traditionalists continue in a reflexive mode we might call fundamentalist universalism, an insistence that the traditionalist truths they have reclaimed (or never abandoned) have absolute, non-negotiable validity for people everywhere. Those who do not respond to those truths are written off as “lost.” … Meanwhile, liberal progressivists continue in an inversely reflexive mode we will term universalist fundamentalism, a Platonic insistence that truth remains beyond the language and spiritual devotion of any group. … Groups … claiming to know and impart truth in any definitive sense are by definition wrong. … Moreover, as we continue to discredit and neutralize one another, the ruling interests of the age will further consolidate their power over all of us. [398]

Both assume that the truth is some static entity. …

Sound familiar?

Turning to “your truth” as distinct from “my truth” won’t get us anywhere, by the way. We require some common ground where we can exchange what we value and envision, along with ways to pursue them.

As the presidential race headed toward the finish line, we heard many accusations and fears about Muslims thrown into the fray – in effect, a challenge from the fundamentalist universalism side regarding its defense of truth as it understood it. The universalist fundamentalist side still hasn’t heard the underlying challenge, at least not in any way I’ve yet heard.

There were all too many lies tossed about in the campaign season. We need to get back to speaking in truth. And that, for me, means the practice of religion, one way or another.

PUTTING HIPPIES IN A FRESH PERSPECTIVE

Regular readers here at the Red Barn know my endeavors to better elucidate the hippie outbreak and its legacy on both the American experience and global culture. As I’ve said, many of us who were caught up in the groundswell have long lived in a kind of psychological denial – something that’s had disastrous impact on public policy and, for some of us, our personal development as well.

The closest parallel I’ve seen in history comes in mid-1600s Britain through the heady years of its civil war and Interregnum before the Restoration. This was a time of radical awakening, apocalyptic faith, youthful yearning, vast social change, and crushed opportunity. Trying to make sense of it all in following its course is mindboggling, at best, as wave after wave of varied political, economic, and religious parties swelled, shattered, scattered, and resurfaced in new form. Even placing an individual within the action can be difficult, especially when the identities overlapped, as they often did, frequently without formal membership, and important voices commonly leave us little biographical substance to draw on today. Christopher Hill’s ambitious overview is aptly titled, The World Turned Upside Down.

This is also the time that the Quaker movement, or what coalesced as the Society of Friends, emerged from the ruins as one after another of the factions were crushed. As someone who became a Friend as a consequence of my hippie encounters, the English history has had a personal fascination, even before learning of my Quaker ancestry within it.

Now I’m delighted – and a tad embarrassed, actually – to discover another Friend who shares that dual investigation. It wasn’t that he was unknown to me; I’d read many of his other books, but had somehow overlooked Douglas Gwyn’s Seekers Found: Atonement in Early Quaker Experience (Pendle Hill Books, 2000). OK, the title gives no clue of the hippie angle, and the Seekers are commonly cast as yet one more radical group – a turning point once its members rallied around George Fox when he carried his mission into northern England in 1652. My focus had been more on the Mennonite-infused General Baptists and their previous influence on Fox, especially through Elizabeth Hooten. Oh, my, we can get technical. Besides, many hippie-influenced Quakers simply love that word “seeker” used in a religious context, and that had somehow made me wary. Still, in conversations last summer, Doug left me realizing I needed to find out what else he was up to in this angle.

Wow, am I glad! His opening chapter rips straight through the hippie explosion, with a special focus on the streams it’s stimulated in religious identity and the consequences. It’s not that he’s unsympathetic. We were both at Indiana University in the freewheeling time of protest, and he went on to Berkeley, California, as pastor of its Friends Church. What he presents is a profound, nuanced examination that needs to be pondered in its fullness, along with its applications today. But I’ll offer this excerpt as a starting point:

… much of the resentment, conflict, and occasional violence generated by our current culture wars emerges from our own unexamined internal shadows. If we would seek a fuller vision of the truth, we must also seek one another. Religious and moral reconstruction in America will necessarily involve some kind of atonement across present battle lines. Toward that reconciliation and restoration of covenantal wholeness, it is important to remember that the dialectic of seeking and finding, of standing still and wandering, is greater than any of us.

If anything, this has become all the truer in the years since this was published.

A SHELF OF NEW RELEASES

Here are the 12 books released by my Thistle/Flinch imprint in the year 2016. I think it’s an impressive list. Oh, my …

~*~

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

HARNESSING THE ANDROSCOGGIN FOR HYDRO POWER

When I see this …

Androscoggin River, Maine

Androscoggin River, Maine

… I think of this.

Inca 1For the free ebook novel and more, click here.

EMBEDDED IN THE MILL FLOOR

When I see this …

Dover, New Hampshire

Dover, New Hampshire

… I think of this.

Inca 1

For the free ebook novel and more, click here.

NOT YOUR EVERYDAY LOVE POEMS

Attraction includes conflict. Passion. Suffering. Adjustment. Breakthroughs. Surrender, even.

A tender touch. Renewal. A dance, together. Our song, in the end.

For the full set of poems, click here.

Blue_Rock~*~

MILL TOWER CHAMBER

When I see this …

Dover, New Hampshire

Dover, New Hampshire

… I think of this.

Inca 1For the free ebook novel and more, click here.

HOME WITH OM FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Living in a converted farmhouse – part of it once a log cabin – flanked by birch forest in rural Pennsylvania was a picture-perfect ideal for Christmas, especially when the snow fell.

There were complications, though. We were yogis, following Hinduism to some extent. And we’d mostly come from Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Protestant backgrounds. Oh, and we were vegetarian, hardly the traditional holiday repast in America.

The open spirit of cheer many feel this time of year was something we were trying to live out daily through all the seasons. It wasn’t easy, requiring personal purification and sometimes confrontational encounters to break through our usual egos and self-centered outlooks.

These are all important lessons and memories, as I relate in my novel.

In the past several years, thanks to the Internet, I’ve been able to reconnect with some of the remarkable individuals who were part of my yoga experience.

What I’ve heard from them, and a few other fleeting encounters over the years, makes me glad I chose to limit the novel’s scope to a single day and the events leading up to it. Extraordinary things happened, indeed, at least for some of us in the circle.

But, as I’m seeing, there’s a whole other history to be told, in time. For now, let’s sit watching the snow cover the stone wall leading to the barn. Inhale, exhale. Chant Om.

Ashram~*~

For my novel, click here.