Wednesday, July 26, 2006

all that i could want and nothing that i need

"Our minds can make infinite discoveries,
sloth alone puts limits to its wisdom and its inventions."

Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

One day, one of my photographer friends stopped into my studio and told me about her backlog of work. I still remember how she said, "I have so much work I could just stand still!" What a brilliant stroke of description. We can get so overwhelmed that our running-in-place causes us to freeze in our tracks.

Recent days have swirled into a blur (or have they blurred into a swirl), due to some employment related deadlines. Of course it is a distraction in this journeying season that eludes clear description. The project will have its day, and I will remain with my thoughts. I've never been one to savor languishing; if things are not happening, they must be made to happen- by hook or by crook. But the murky twist this time is that patience is forcing its way, and this summer- which feels so much like a winter- is creating the most peculiar hunker-down season. When what to do is unclear, what I can do is discover from within and simply abandon to the present moment. Reading, writing, talking, listening, being. It is something of a rebellion against elusive fortunes. Perhaps I might say that if my hopes are not materializing, then I'll ground myself well enough so that when they do, I'll be better prepared.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

bleibet hier, und wachet mit mir; wachet und betet

"Venus," quod Saturn,"
My cours, that hath so wyde for to turne,
Hath more power than wot any man.
Myn is the drenching in the sea so wan..."

~Geoffrey Chaucer, The Knight's Tale (The Canterbury Tales)

These rainy days are such balm for my soul, they are conducive to turning in, and- both literally and figuratively getting my house in order. While exploring this transitory space, theres been time to be available to friends (and anyone else), and truly the gift is being recipient of their various insights and witnessing how they conduct their lives and challenges. Evidently the rare delicacies of romance have been knocked so far out of my reach, that striving only makes things worse. So I will have to trust in the unseen powers of providence and timing. It's a bit like guardian angels; you know they're around, but can never tell when or how something will happen. But, once again, as it has really assimilated into my belief by now: there is no cause for passivity. In the big picture, my consolations are really quite small as compared to the mission granted to those of us who will embrace it: to give as freely as we are given of the endless and incalculable fount of mercy. Further and deeper, can that pursuit of drawing and conveying of compassion transcend personal tribulation?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

lark in the clear air

"The future belongs to the passionate and those who work hard."

Senator Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota

...and perhaps the passion and hard work, things that have always been second nature to me, require rhythm breaks- specifically speaking times of recollection. Today was one of those days filled with opportunities to help improve others' circumstances. It's a whole lot less self-obsessed than torquing my own illusions of forcing the progress of my own fortunes. Harriet Beecher Stowe said something to the effect that "prayer is a long rope with a strong hold." Indeed, when our situations pare down to various extents, that rope- or perhaps something more like a rope-bridge- becomes all the more obvious.

Monday, July 17, 2006

comfort the afflicted; afflict the comfortable

If you want to have a spiritual life, you must unify your life."

~Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

Hitting the road can remind us we are not alone, much as reading a good book and enjoying a conversation can. Somehow the solitude has a greater qualitative factor, when there are horizons and interactions, than in enclosed spaces. These recent days, coming to terms with my invisibility has allowed for some flexibility: it doesn't bother me much anymore. Not that this has never happened before, as times in our lives can be conspicuously cyclical, but regarding my solo flight as an indefinite given is letting me think about other things. Why let life's circumstances keep us on hold? Thresholds are not for camping out on; it's important to remember that if we are the cause of our own waiting, then we are best off taking ourselves right out of the queue. A mark of freedom is to be able to act upon the fact that there's always something to be done. Something that's been clear to me, over the years, is that the mind either expands or it dissipates- one or the other. Thus, stagnation equals dissipation. Transition is a curious thing that can neither be hurried through, nor a reason to stand still.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

where your heart is, there will your treasure be also

"And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."

~Saint Paul, Letter to the Galatians

Being one of God's squeakiest wheels, I am impatient for the proverbial grease: the heavenly balm of consolation and answered prayers. Being not just a noisy cog in the Great Works, but human to a fault, not seeing dividends brings out the little kid in me that says, Hey! What about me! No fair! Fairness was always about everyone getting their due turn. Kids are extraordinarily attuned to partiality. That awareness is supposed to make us into better adults, but we all know it rarely does. Some of us remember how to speak in turns, and defer to others (even on expressways), but a very scarce few of us truly embody patience.

Being thoroughly convinced I cannot force the powers of fortune, ironically speaking- patience is urgently needed. Waiting need not be synonymous with passivity; it is simply part of the process of growth and preparation. Indeed, one can live fully while also in a liminal waiting space. Motives can be refined. Summer is a nice time to travel the roads and smell the flowers. For how long? Nobody knows, least of all myself. It puts faith to a trying test, to say it will be worth it, just watch. For the time being, there's absolutely no reason to live a rehearsal life. If my heart is centered on what I perceive to be the delights of society, I will not find my treasure in spiritual life. What and who has my heart? I need a good road trip to ponder this one...

Friday, July 14, 2006

plumb the abyss of night

"The noble endeavor leaves no true thinker indifferent."

A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life

Friday night at the heart of summer, and indeed La Fête Nationale, and this invisible man intrepidly reports to this archival document known as La Vie Graphite from a very dimly-lit lounge. The place is aflutter with lively conversation, and there are, alas, just a few solitary beverage-sitters. I type by candlelight, and am grateful for some air-conditioning and a very well-chilled Sam Adams. Sure, I've taken myself out countless times, but this feels somehow covert, taking the venue into account. And speaking of context, with the news of current events sinking to further precedents, my own self-evaluations start to look, well, rather petty. Notwithstanding, the sun sets and rises again upon each and every one of us who walk this earth: the privileged, the wage-earners, and the unemployed- all ages and persuasions.

It was Saint Basil the Great who observed that as we find our being and moving upon this earth, our mandate is to reinforce a foundation of faith. He added that we need endurance, most of all, just as the earth needs water. The metaphors are beautiful in the Philokalia, referring to the clay of humility we do best to construct with. Now in my particular context of this wilderness- even in the strange juxtaposition of this fancy lounge- I am brought to ponder the ways in which I have used this time allotted to me. So much of what we are all brought through- and into- this society revolves around the carrot-and-stick of merit and punishment, about "being good and being bad." Indeed, there are moral concepts around "doing the right thing," but now many years away from elementary school, it's the motivation for doing honorable things that stays in my thoughts. That chase for grades becomes pursuits of things like credit and glory. We compete for recognition on so many levels, even the spiritual life is infected by such exacting conditions. My forays in the advertising art field gave me a front-row view of the "hero today, goat tomorrow" view of life. If my motivation, my propulsion for what I do and why I choose to be what I'm about, is for credit and glory, well then I am alas in a chained captivity. It's worth making my driving force that which is neither the hope of glory, nor the fear of punishment.

Now returning to this venue, in which I can scarcely see the keys on this laptop computer, it's actually really good to be here. Invisibility is surely nothing new to me, nowhere as new as blogging! Spending a summer like this is something rare for me, however. It's causing me to really wonder about the human condition, specifically in this society. Self-worth based upon recognition cannot be permitted. And, based upon that premise, I need not be the Invisible Man. My existence is given, no matter the fact that no-one who does not need me for some favor or other will notice my presence. I still am. If, for the sake of illustration, I was stranded in a physical desert, I would still be. Resisting a sense of resolve, as this days thoughts conclude (just because an entry ends, there needn't be some automatic resolution, Deus ex machina), I will take stock that I am, now turning my gaze away from all the coupled inside this place, to the panorama outside the windows with its harbor lights and night sky, and try to do better in living graciously. We all take too much for granted. For various stints, I was once a member of the accompanied, and I may not have thought well enough of those who must involuntarily grovel in the wilderness, shivering in their perceived and/or real ignominy.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

deep waters flow out to the sea

"Warm summer breeze blows endlessly, touching the hearts of those who feel."

~Jeff Lynne, One Summer Dream

At the end of a great conversation with yet another wise friend, he asked me a question he'd once asked me about a year ago, "what do you fear most?" Last year I heard myself say I had a trepidation about being unaware of errors and misjudgements I may have been making that I will only realize much later, and thus it was a kind of fear of regret. As with anything, these kinds of heartfelt answers reflect our own state of affairs at a given time. We are such fascinating composites of so many influences and responses! This morning, my answer to that question was a bit more telling- and actually a bit more troubling. But in this wilderness, these confrontations are what give way to major strides of progress. This time what I heard myself say was- not an anxiousness about not being skilled at tasks, or anything like that- but something to the effect of a fear of human failure. More specifically an apprehension over an unwitting extension of my own duress, something like a self-sabotage. Who would ever want to do that? But we all know that we are more than capable of sinking our own vessels. Inevitably, being that I have to maintain plenty of balance, in order to get things done and be my usual self to everyone, I've left this matter for thought, and continue to err on the side of not-worrying-so-much. Still another wise friend once told me that the opposite of fear is faith.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

rain is falling all around; storm came, it brings you down

"How do you know, what you feel- is it real, is it?
How do you know, what you see- is it seen, is it?"

~Jeff Lynne, Impostors of Life's Magazine

This liminal space has turned yet another corner. While I am striving for one notion, other possibilities seem to crop up- and the whole continuum of living never ceases to both bewilder and confound. In a conference last night, I heard myself refer to times of transition as provisional, and that rather than perceive the provisional as a downward spiral, consider the provisional as having a dynamism in its very fluidity. The context was something more on the order of a historic institution, but somehow this refers directly to my own condition. As my journeying again brings me to see scarcely any value to my solitary state, suddenly this present consequence starts to look like something very open-ended. I can attend to some polishing of some projects over which I have significant influence. I can continue to be available to other people- as I've been when able to get out of my own way. Of course, true to this wilderness which must be navigated, there are many dark moments. Life as an invisible man can just as easily bite hard into my viscera as it can become something I can really laugh at. "Listen," bade Dylan Thomas' unseen narrator in Under Milk Wood, "Listen. Time passes." Perhaps some day I'll be grateful for these days, and I must remember to appreciatively acknowledge the ones already past. In my interior debate about what is real, I am also pondering what is not real-- what is a false impression.

Monday, July 10, 2006

iron bridges they rattle, they rattle, they never give way

"Let your state of life motivate you."

~Erasmus, Enchiridion Militis Christiani

My Dad likes to tell me that every day is a mini-project. Today that idea has come to mind, with the fortunate circumstance of being able to tie together all of the days street conversations, phone calls, communications, patron queries- all of it- and see it as a large composite mosaic. At the café where I go on my break, their dishwasher overflowed and their roaster broke- and the clerk left in charge needed a cheer. (And I needed someone to talk to.) A traveling researcher needed to find the East End. A singer in a band needed French lyrics. An orphanage worker needed transportation, and then told me she had once tried to commit suicide- and had been mysteriously thwarted. I needed something for my home, and unable to find it in the mazes of the characterless world of Big Boxes, I bumped into a very wise old friend. This was just about an hour ago. Right in the middle of an apparently lifeless, vast and shadeless parking lot, I heard an elderly little voice say, is that you?

At times the search for mercy can be a foraging for a friendly face in a foreign airport. Other times its written on walls and sidewalks. Liminal space is impossible to calculate, and I'm beginning to see that part of the reason for having to dwell in the provisional- as out-of-step with everything around me as it looks- is for me to learn something about who I am and what I know. The wilderness, the desert, as the biblical metaphor goes, is prone to mirages- to false substitutes for what can only be found by holding fast to what is real. The added danger, of course, is not to leave such concepts in the abstract, but to specify what real means

Saturday, July 8, 2006

penny in your pocket, suitcase in your hand

"I am a little world made cleverly of Elements and an Angelic sprite."

~John Donne

How good to exercise the grace of the ability to step back and regard the big picture. Moreover, what a blessing to have friends to listen to, who will also listen back. I am blessed to know some wise and humble people, who remind me to be patient, even as I rail against my slow progress (or at least perceived as such). They- individually and apart from one another- tell me to be patient, have faith, and take stock. This is teaching me something about trust. As usual, it's never quite so simple. This isn't convenient trust: trust that is something remote and of little consequence- something I'd call window-dressing trust. This is trust I must stake my life upon. Much as my reflection about what substantial hope really is- a knowing hope (as opposed to a keep-your-fingers-crossed hope). As I await for good things to materialize, for something I've sown to really take flight, I must also remember that if I've ever thought I had any influence on anything other than my self, I was entirely deluded.

Friday, July 7, 2006

watchman, what of this night?

"There are people who only graze the surface and go no deeper than flies in their walk. Others, on the contrary, leave traces where they have been, and store what they have touched."

~ Pierre Nicole

Hot summer nights- late at night- can be quite like late nights in winter. The elements bid us to interrupt our pace, be it to suddenly notice the air perfumed with jasmine and trees heavy with bloom, or to seek warm shelter and look out to the cold streets. We stop and regain our senses, which remind us that with just a bit of effort we can sense what is happening around us beneath that which is immediate. Daily life is surely more than what screams loudest.

It has always amazed me, even since my high school years, how many go through their motions and have no appetite for more than the immediate: the deadline, the paycheck, the sporting event. Certainly there is something commendable in living the moment, but that would be more like a full awareness of all that a moment of ones life encompasses and witnesses: a perspective of a slice of time which sees beyond the surface. Admittedly it is tempting to set up camp on the shallow surface, embracing that television ethos which shows no subtlety or ramification. Its all on the here-and-now surface. Even the way current events are presented to us, it is implicit that we will not care to delve. In this prevailing culture, we are encouraged to passively absorb what is set before us. How about if we challenge? Or weigh an issue in our consciences? It does shake things up, and invites opportunities to form personal views. There are a few of us left.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

determinism is the slave of free will

"All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone."

~Blaise Pascal

The desert is not always tranquil. Sleep is not always rest and repose. It seems that among my challenges is an overcommitment to varied employment obligations, and this is creating a dangerously uninterrupted continuum without respite. The struggle is helping to clarify the purpose of my solitude; this is part of the apparently grander plan of solidifying my spirit, and galvanizing my instincts. I'm being readied for something as yet unknown.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

journey through the desert

"A fountain of joyfulness will spring up in the desert of your heart.
Not euphoria, not just any kind of joy,
but jubilation straight from the wellsprings of eternity."

~ Brother Roger of Taizé, Fleurissent les Déserts du Coeur

The proving-ground of the soul is what the desert represents: the arid, the desolate, the barren. Relief is not immediate, and that is just what makes those mirages of false concepts so hazardous. If the night has a thousand fears, as we are told, the waterless desert may have a million, as we can squint toward the visible horizon, longing with trepidation.

But if hope is to be tried and proven, even the direst desolation must be made to bloom. The breaking-points must be as the ferment falling to the ground. In my journey, the desert times have been the stages for profoundest transformation; when life becomes an unpacified continuum, the desert reappears and I must confront my unmasked self. In so doing, it becomes immediately necessary, and inevitably a great relief, to discard old formulae and outdated notions. There is surprising liberty in the breaking. The desert must flower. I insist.

Monday, July 3, 2006

reality and television

"It is one thing to recover from a fever, but quite another to regain one's health after it. It is one thing to remove a spear from a wound, but quite another for the wound to heal completely. So to begin the cure we remove the cause of the sickness, and this occurs through forgiveness."

~ Saint Augustine, On the Trinity

Much as web-browsing has become, t.v. is among this society's beloved guilty pleasures. It's people-watching without intimidating stares, proxy-living without personal risk. The peculiarity we call "reality t.v." is now an old fixture, script writing is supplanted by edited and subtly scripted supposed actual confrontations between who we are led to believe are regular folks like us. Tonight ABC's offering, How to Get the Guy aired, an oddly fascinating collage of cross-cut-editing, depicting "real life" travails of single women navigating their dates with behind-the-scenes "coaches," advising them as to their choices. And it's all "caught on tape," so to speak. Their situations shown barely depict the most superficial- but do seem to have something to say. And so I watched along, as a member of the entertained marketplace, curious for some insights, even if just to respond to so much of what seems disingenuous. For the women and their coaches, it's staged as a sporting event. (I've seen so much of what has disgusted me about the dating and impression-making dance as being nearly indistinguishable from the job hunting process.) How unfortunate that we are compelled to be so programmatic about something so sublime. Doing some homework, is it additionally strange that while there is a plethora of sites and publications and chick flicks about "getting the guy," nothing exists to sell some clues to men (who evidently don't need any). Apparently the women are throwing themselves at us men. Not. Maybe in San Francisco, but somehow not in New England.

Sure, I speak for myself and for my close male friends. Trying to close the day in a positive light, I'll say this liminal space is for rebuilding, for the strengthening that comes after the surface healing of past wounds. Indeed, fortunes cannot be forced, and as elusive as the singletons from San Francisco claim chemistry to be, so would I add abandonment of my own will.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

walking in a wild place; banging on the gates

"Therefore it is written of the apostles that they rejoiced to be found worthy to suffer ignominy for God."

~Meister Eckhart, The Book of Consolation

The desert can be metaphor as well as a physical location. It may be places like the Sahara, the Gobi, or the Mojave. It may also be experienced on 5th Avenue, in an airport, or along an interstate thruway. We may quite tangibly endure desert times of which others are unaware. Until we start to talk. The desert saints and Saint Anthony may have braved the driest places of north Africa and Israel, but they could have just as well have been jousting with mirages in New York and New England. At times solitude has coasted across smooth roads, but in these times I fight the spectres which challenge such essentials as purpose, hope, and aspiration. Taking stock of that which is worthy and good, these days, is taking a whole lot of energy. But if this is indeed some kind of proving-ground, I've got to rise above this and summon all the strengthening things that have previously worked. New strategies will be needed. Perhaps by emerging from this desert there will be something valuable to offer any of you dear readers (and non-readers) whose green pastures may yet give way to provisional times of desolation. Surely there is purpose, and I believe I have begun to discern what that is.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

in dreams no pain will kiss the brow

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen, and philosophers, and divines."

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the paradox of keeping things balanced, evenness of temperament gives place for taking some risks. No good thing can be cultivated in isolation. Once I got through graduate school, which had been so sharply focused and frenetically ambitious- studying, writing, teaching, publishing, traveling. The catharsis led to a sense that the goalpost had been widened and dropped. It is in our nature- at its healthiest- to strive. It is a sign of spiritual faith- at its healthiest- to hope. Hoping, in that generic societal sense carries the connotation of "golly, I think so," or "I'm keeping my fingers crossed." But the hope that separates from fear is a knowing and assuring hope: I hope, as in "I know things will improve with a good and hearty effort." The Psalmist muses aloud, and even bids his own heart, "why are you cast down, o soul of mine??" He resolves in a sweet dialogue, "hope in the Lord, my Saviour and God." One would think David might be reaching this realization while stuck in highway traffic, in one of those self-confrontational musings.