Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: Life

PSALM OF PSALMS

1

the tension
of the harp
and bow-string

in the poet-king’s hand

taking flight
in the air

*   *   *

how many Psalms
expressed the same anguish
and trial

in the glorious regime

*   *   *

how brief the interludes
between exile

2

the Psalms are poems
or the Psalms are prayers

as if I could define either

*   *   *

prayer is not what I speak
but what my Deeper Self would utter
despite me

*   *   *

raise my shield, O Lord,
regardless of the outcome, and lift me

there’s nothing easy about love

3

New Zion

originally, Bible stories were chanted
rather than read and dissected in the rabbinical twist

hardened into bronze

even in daily devotion

in this quest of salvation
facing Jerusalem
tiring of the routine exile

where’s my power in this place?
my heart, ever so uneasy

*   *   *

patriots say Peace but mean Victory:
which is hardly the same outcome
or means

festering and darkening
drumbeats summoned
into crowds cheering
uniforms
or invoking the Holy One
the Prince of Peace
to their cause

*   *   *

even communion tokens
from Colonial-era steeplehouses
witness the contrast to our free-Gospel ministry

with their families, subscribing to box seats
squirming in this theater of pipes

so who exchanged coins
for their purity?

truly, how do you pay
with the psalter?

holy, holy, holy

in a constant delving for treasures
where others see nothing of value

from whom all blessings flow
over each stretch of turmoil

*   *   *

how many strands of history
and sojourn
converge on me
as I’m walking in prayer
and softly humming
a funeral hymn for comfort

some October night
shivery petals shall upend
a row of headstones, too

called to the cause of justice

4

counterpoint originates
in the descant over the cantus firmus

or maybe drumming
or the sound of feet dancing

or even droning under the chant

in the conflicted lines
of desire and pain

in the hideous bleeding wrists
and ankles

*   *   *

O Holy One
contrary to the ancient discipline
I country dance
and sing harmony

to once again crack the thick shell
I build around me

“in the gift of life is also the gift of time”

time, as a signature
for music
for the dance

O Holy One
bless the Singers’ Table
with its poets and musicians

free in the present
free in unity with the Holy Spirit
free in the disciplines we embrace

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

TWAS EVER THUS

Just a taste of what’s popping up. In case you were looking for a prompt.

~*~

  1. The anticipation mounts when we espy our first asparagus shoots. At this point they express their kindred alignment with ferns, but we know how incredible the spears will be cut minutes before cooking. Forget what you buy in the stores or restaurants.
  2. “Twas ever thus,” as my Mr. Natural tee-shirt still proclaims.
  3. With a sticker covering part of the box, what I read was “Rock Pot, the Original Slow Cooker.” You know, like back in the Stone Age.
  4. It wasn’t in the plan when we decided to dine in Manchester, but I wound up leading a tour through the city’s West Side, plus the millyard and overlook of the Amoskeag falls and dam. “That was as satisfying as having a destination,” she proclaimed.
  5. Pondering the Holy Spirit as Shekinah. Why not a female as holy lover? The Kabbalist perceiving sparks (holy Light) everywhere! Consort of God as feminine action. As for Lillith? Ah, yes, what of her?
  6. Trying to translate from one era or culture to another presents a host of challenges. The term “kingdom of God,” for instance, can convey both patriarchy and monarchy at odds with contemporary American outlooks. I like the “commonwealth of God” instead, though there’s nothing common about it.
  7. How I’ve come to enjoy any stay-in-my-sweats day, one where I drive nowhere. Soon it may turn into slip into shorts and sandals, but the effect’s the same.
  8. How does that big city newspaper get the partygoers to look so good in its weekly charity events page?
  9. I hate “small talk” – or at least struggle with it in many social settings. Any suggestions?
  10. What do I crave? Lust for? (As for you?)

~*~

Virtually all of the rail traffic to and from Maine and the rest of the nation passes along these tracks in downtown Dover, along with the four Amrak runs to Boston and back each day.

Virtually all of the rail traffic to and from Maine and the rest of the nation passes along these tracks in downtown Dover, along with the four Amrak runs to Boston and back each day.

For my slideshow of Amtrak’s Downeaster in town, click here.

LINKING HEAVEN AND DIRT

Now, he wonders. Are there any squirrels in literature
as mythic powers? Not science? And then,
in Old Norse! There’s RATATOSKR. (Rat-tat Oscar!)

“carrying hateful words”

the messenger between the eagle and the top of the tree
and the dragon at the base
all this running up and down

Yggdrasil, the sacred tree

Just like Jack and the beanstalk
or Jacob’s angels on the ladder.

*   *   *

to see a squirrel as cute misses the point
as in teeth

there are advantages in developing
a taste for garbage

bounding, bounding, break

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

 

THE MOODIEST FEATURE

Initially, I regard the mountain as another slumber-induced fantasy. Its climax appears pristine, boundless, haughty, mesmerizing, even eerie. Over time I behold its hideousness and terror as well. Such beauty may suddenly turn fatal. Timberlands netted with trails and campsites, plus unfettered wildlife, extend from its ivory helix. These opportunities are my primary rationale for migrating to this corner of the nation. But these woodlands border desert, and none of my maps alert me to the consequences. Not even Georgia O’Keeffe’s brilliant renderings of New Mexico, artwork I long admired, hint at its harsh thirst. Rather, the paintings emerge as another kind of dream to be savored, confined to a gallery or oversized pages. Besides, my definition of desert would have required camels, or at least organ barrel cactus, neither of them found in the cheat grass and sagebrush foothills surrounding my new home and workplace.

A glacier-glad mountain resembles a foaming waterfall. It is, after all, an endlessly frozen cataract. Below it, in late spring or early summer, breastworks are laced with plummeting streams racing toward September irrigation in desert to the east. On the clearest days, Rainier’s ice sparkles; its beacon flashes sixty miles to the orchard where we dwelled. At sunset the inactive volcano’s shadow is a finger reaching toward the rising full moon. It points as well to places we’ve abandoned.

The predominant mountain is also the moodiest feature of the vista. Everything’s arrayed in reference to this pillar. To observe it over time is akin to regarding one’s beloved. Neither the zenith nor one’s honey is as immovable as one presumes. They are not the divinity. They’re more accurately repeated dreams, where some episodes fade out over the years while others intensify. Sleep visions of the soul, having one foot in the dreamer’s past and the other in the present, dance on water. Sometimes they drown. Even a mountain.

You should see the way Kokopelli makes it dance before sunrise.

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

READING THE BIBLE AS COMEDY 

There are so many seminal stories that always leave room for fresh discovery and interpretation, if we escape the constraints of conventional explanations. I examine three timelessly provocative Biblical tales in my volume Eden Embraced, where my focus is on the Garden of Eden, followed by short reflections on Noah and the Great Flood and the enigmatic suffering of Job. Put simply, many of the Bible stories taught to children are much grittier and more troubling than we’d like to admit, and the radical dimensions we usually gloss over can challenge our usual assumptions about anything of a religious or spiritual or even political or economic nature. Nothing status quo remains sacred, much less safe.

While scanning a bookshelf the other day, one title jumped out at me – JOB: A Comedy of Justice – and I did a double take. Of course the Biblical drama could be taken as a comedy, especially in a contemporary context where almost nothing is considered sacred. Imagine flipping the usual definitions by blaming God for the bad things that happen, rather than holding him up to an impossibly spotless standard. (I’ll keep the male pronoun for now – the woman gets blamed enough.) Not just God, either, but throw in his golfing partner, Satan, for good measure.

Look at the text, and you can see it’s almost already in scripted format. Or screenplay, if you wish. It’s mostly dialogue, how convenient!

So how would you cast God and Satan, how would you block their opening scene?

For many, since the mere thought of putting the Holy One in a visual image can be sacrilegious, would you consider adapting some amazing stagecraft instead? A play of lights or talking smoke vapors or puppets or masked Tibetan or Tlingit dancers? Even a Greek chorus at the back of the auditorium while dancers move on the stage? As I was thinking, this script demands theatrical treatment. Something 3-D or better.

The concept of comedy – rather than our usual all-too-serious emphases – strikes me as brilliant. Why not try it with the Garden of Eden or the Great Flood as well or any of a range of other Biblical tales. Admittedly, not all will work, but as for others? Well, our local temple did adapt Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific to the Book of Esther for their Purim observance one year. I hear it was a hoot.

By the way, when I reached for the book, I discovered it was a novel by Robert A. Heinlen, and any use of Job and his self-righteous friends seems to be absent or deeply buried. And, yes, I do recall that Archibald MacLeish’s 1958 play J.B. is reputed to have been inspired by Job, but the piece deflects the direct link by casting the leads as Zuss/Zeus and Nichols. Its plot, I would note, glibly veers away from the deeper soulful dimensions of the original.

In the meantime, take a look at my Job essay in Eden Embraced and weigh in with your perspectives. Do you think comedy would enhance its understanding?

FROM MY LITTLE THIRD-FLOOR DECK

did I hear thunder?
coffee in the treetops

just a pony cart of vegetables
street vendor’s cry
(O! the Arabs of Baltimore!)
on his daily round
somehow getting by

yet clouds slipped in

with a long cord, the phone

this old apartment, all light and draught
the floor sinking, new cracks in the plaster
was giving way, downward, you could hear it in the night
paint flaking, more pieces falling to my bed

all going downhill, to the basement

rusty pipes, armies of cockroaches
at work in the walls

constantly dripping faucets
kitchen, shower, the bathroom sink

stacked magazines slid away on their own
new grit emerged immediately after sweeping

the faucet knobs never matched

water rings in the ceiling

blooms collapsing for lack of circulation

To continue, click here.

SEASONS OF THE ASHRAM

MY RESIDENCY IN a yoga ashram introduced its own sequence of seasons. I address these in my novel, Ashram, where different individuals embody different stages in the progression from soul-cleansing to community awareness and service to spiritual illumination. While I limit the plot to the activities of a single day, there’s no way to escape the histories that led each participate to this place or to the conflicts and achievements they’ve already shared in their adventures on the yoga farm.

The ashram allowed a kind of spiritual season I no longer see on American landscape – a place for youths, especially, to undergo intense reorientation and ego-stripping. More traditional monastic settings often point the practitioner in a different direction, something more resembling a career path.

In retrospect, the institution itself was evolving through its own series of seasons. Originating as a kind of laissez-faire hostel and spa before moving into a more rigorous retreat center and monastery and then into a Hindu temple and children’s camp, each season manifested itself quite differently from the others, held together by Swami’s autocratic vision, strengths, and weaknesses.

In season, too, many of my doubts and concerns also bore fruit. When I was ordered to return to the community and refused, only to be ostracized, I was being faithful to a larger Spirit. A different set of seasons was unfolding.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

TAURUS, TENDERLY

Why wait for the dust to settle? Here are 10 bullets from my end.

~*~

  1. Daffodils and rising scrolls of ferns are two of my favorite proclamations of spring. Last year a sharp drop in temperature cut the daffodils down just as they were starting to bloom. We were so disappointed. (The same snap also wiped out peaches across New England.) How quickly, too, can a vibrant patch go scraggly if you don’t divide the bulbs every few years. As for our ferns, I now feel vindicated for all the ones I transplanted in futile efforts that first decade before they took hold here.
  2. Likewise, hold true to a vision of progress, of a more just and loving society, a realm of selflessness over selfishness.
  3. Hard for me to believe I composed Village of Gargoyles while living in an apartment complex atop the highest hill in the biggest city in the state – before moving to the smaller city where I now reside – a place more befitting the village of these poems.
  4. Need to get new Tibetan prayer flags. The old ones are totally frayed.
  5. Has anyone else read Ned Rorem’s Paris Diary or its New York sequel? Saturated in the self-centeredness and self-indulgence of youth, they’re deliciously juicy and fun reading, though I could never be snide like that. Besides, if I did it here at the Barn, you wouldn’t know anyone in my circles. They’re not even celebrities, even of the minor sort. So much for the gossip on my end.
  6. While assembling the hammock, I heard a squirrel overhead scolding one of the neighborhood cats, likely the one we call Spooky. “Get it,” I urged the cat. Whereupon an empty Nutella jar landed on the table, barely missing me, its lid neatly chewed around. Something the squirrel had pilfered from what one of the kids had likely hidden in the barn sometime over the winter. I looked around but saw nobody to confirm was had just transpired. Trust me.
  7. My emotional wall just may be a shell, too.
  8. In my first moves, all my goods fit in my car.
  9. During the American Revolution, the village center that served as Rhode Island’s capital changed its name from King’s Town to Little Rest, with its delicious double meaning.
  10. Yearning for a renewed feeling of bliss – the holy ecstasy – something I wish she, too, would experience, however foreign it might seem now.

~*~

By my side at the moment. My coffee mug's on a shelf above it.

By my side at the moment. My coffee mug’s on a shelf above it.

NOW, TO LOOK MORE CLOSELY AT A TWO-EDGED SWORD

If you want to see out-and-out prejudice by people who think themselves to be open-minded, here’s a good litmus test. Raise a matter of Christianity. Or, as a woman, wear a cross necklace. Then ask if it’s the same response you’d get had you presented something from another religion.

Put another way, I’d long ago been appalled by an assumption many of us liberals took in regard to Christians – and to be candid, I was once one who was self-righteously disparaging. Quite frankly, it’s out-and-out judgmentalism that hurts our progressive causes. It’s ignorant of the important support radical faith gave to many movements through the centuries and can still give to the future. It’s a point for dialogue with our opponents, if we’re willing to engage it.

Two common assumptions spring to mind here.

The first involves intelligence. There’s more to life, let me point out, than materiality. Think of love, music, morality, for starters – people with knowledge of ways of empathy, too. Extend that, then, to a recognition that to be a person of faith does not automatically mean stupidity, even if we do see way too many examples in the public arena – not just those of the Christian label, either. Nor do Christian do not come in a one-size-defines-all homogeneity – some denominations, for instance, refuse to bear arms or participate in war as a consequence of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor, while other churches rally around the troops. The ways of thinking and the emphases vary widely, from Fundamentalists to Evangelicals (yes, there are differences there) to Pentecostals to various strands of Calvinists or Lutherans (yes, again some key differences) to various Wesleyan (Methodist) and Baptist and Anabaptist (Amish, Mennonite, Brethren, Quaker) and on to the Unitarians. And that’s just among the Protestants. Add to that the Anglicans (Episcopalians), Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox and you have a very rich mix, indeed.

Within those are some very intelligent and sensitive people, along with circles of personal growth and ethical accountability.

The reality is that religion is capable of engaging our innermost motions – our hopes and fears, especially. It’s a power that can run many ways, challenging the status quo as well as establishing community. The state and the establishment have many reasons to desire to curb it, as history attests. Even at a personal level, it can be scary stuff.

Pointedly, progressive movements have sprung from this source. For centuries, up through America’s civil rights revolution, social change has grown from radical Christianity. A central thread of the Bible has been the evolution of justice and then radical peace and equality. Read it closely, and what emerges remains a challenge to the status quo. Let’s not lose it now!

As the prayer goes, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth …”

Many of us see that as a more loving, just, and peaceful society. Mock it if you wish, but think of the alternatives. Are they really progress?

All of that, of course, leads to my second point: the so-called Christian right, of the political sort, hardly owns the mantel of Jesus. And since any religion has the potential of engaging those most soulful endeavors of human existence, we see across the spectrum instances of appealing to fear and oppression, on one side, as well as forgiveness and oneness, on the other. Religion in this dimension presents an opportunity for conversation and growth, if we allow it.

~*~

For more on radical faith, see my book, Religion Turned Upside Down.

SUMMONS AND SORROW

On scattered reservations, a few elders rise before dawn each day and summon the sun to return. Don’t scoff. When I, too, get up in the dark and meditate, I feel my own self-confidence rising. Watch the world awaken. Light a wood fire, something I sit beside and watch for hours, its flames more imaginative than television. Bask in the radiant warmth.

Kokopelli, night owl that he is, still slumbers.

My wife, in another room, rolls toward the wall and finally rises to join me.

There’s a science, and then there’s an art. In the pyre, paper first chars, then shrinks, and finally explodes. Only then do flames engulf it. “Consider the bomb a ream would create,” I grin at her.

“Now who would you want to bomb, Buzzard?”

But I also know how difficult igniting that ream would be, and how difficult to keep it burning. Watch carefully and misconceptions turn to ash.

In the continuing drought of that fall and winter, I explore national forest well into February. Areas that should be buried in a half-dozen feet of snow are instead bare. Atop one mountain, I look over a cliff. “I think it’s dolomite.” Maybe it isn’t. Maybe the identification isn’t earth-shaking important, but learning the names of places and their minerals, fauna, and flora adds dimensions to a place. Improves your chances of survival, too, if put to the test. For now, I scramble on the scree and realize that white painted stones at the cliff’s edge marked out a heliport. Far below my feet, a table of forest spreads into basins that are invisible from my vantage, and other places I’ve already been. I trace Forest Service roads, such as they are — 1707 from Raganunda to the top or 601 down to Willy Dick’s. “Keep elk gate closed,” the sign reads when I came out, passing a few back country ranches to the highway’s rush and debris. Far above all that, I sing out: “God bless a bloody rib cage above gray fuzz. Perhaps we’ll have rain in the morning! We shouldn’t be kicking this dust.”

In a zero-degree fog, the sun rises as white as the moon.

“Let our liquid flow again despite this desiccation!” I cry in my dreams. “Why is it so difficult to recall the thoughts rainstorms instilled?”

“You put too much value on sorrow,” Kokopelli tells me. Even in my sleep, that old guide’s still at work.

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