Saturday, June 27, 2009

ar hyd y nos

“O mor siriol, gwena seren
Ar hyd y nos
I oleuo'i chwaer ddaearen
Ar hyd y nos.

O'er thy spirit gently stealing
Visions of delight revealing
Breathes a pure and holy feeling
All through the night.”

~ Ar Hyd Y Nos, lullabye from Wales, 18th century

A wakeful night, and these keystrokes do not interrupt the silence, nor do these words require artificial lighting. Late hours well underway, the daylit roads past have since routed into dark passages. Stillness is not always a stagnant state- as it may appear. Transformative silence parallels the soul’s thirst for understanding and assurance.

In this heavily material-minded culture, additive approaches are more automatic than subtractive measures. Indeed, there is discipline in our constructs, but it is necessary to call forth a finer sense of discernment, in order to simplify the spatterings of our spheres. Quiet can blanket with consolation, yet also disarm as fears visit the silence. Often, peacefulness and unsettle coexist. This peculiar balance occurs to my thoughts, pacing my apartment in the dark. An old habit of many years has been to survey the world from my windows in the middle of the night. Even the parked cars look asleep, lined up in staid somber rows.

The reference point of being alive to the waking world while all is at rest has had many connotations for me. It is as though standing sentry, keeping vigil with my thoughts. But then again, there are other lit windows along the street. Then come reminders of aloneness in the world, that I am the sole witness to what I know. But then again, there are souls dear to mine in this life. Spectres of ideas invade my thoughts, attempting to convince me of my limitations. But then again, the night sky reveals expanse.

The hours around midnight are the darkest. The mind is at its most pliable, and awakening at its most prominent. Whence come the reminders that cause our tosses and turns? Perhaps an impression the Spirit wishes for us to remember. Or a message of something to be avoided. The stillness I find once awake presents an immediate mystery of dusk and shadowed slumber. And in reverence of the silence, I keep the radio at its slightest murmur. Indeed, such hours become a Gethsemane through which my thoughts both confront and reconcile. Past shipwrecked hopes come to mind. So many pursuits and projects dashed by unforseen treacherous shoals. But then again, by such misunderstood fortunes I’ll never know the shores from which my steps have been spared. Interiors have ways of closing in at night, walls becoming more apparent. Walking along the garden wall outside reminds me of how barriers seem to solidify and blur in the darkness. Some nights I’ll write a few words, lest they be lost by sunrise. Obscurity can bring the impenetrable to unveil ways to look ahead- even through wisps and shreds of clouds.

Several days ago, on a rare sunny day, I caught up with a friend over coffee. The venue was a strikingly sun-drenched garden café, yet this was simply a backdrop for his descriptions of his fears. The contrast was impossible to disregard. Yet this friend launched into societal and political anxieties with a passionate fervor- matching depth of misery with intensity of energy. Listening and chatting I didn’t dare judge, as in my own way I was masking worries of my own. Bad news has its own draw as a catalyst for racing minds, and my responses tried to point out what was good- even the bright weather. We both had plenty to talk about.

At my desk, a few nights ago, I interrupted my habitual reading and listening to the news. Indeed, it is good to be informed, but it’s also good to be cheered. And I wondered about what brings cheer. How strange to have to strain to imagine what causes joy. Consolation and inspiration. A sense of completeness, of recognition, of discovery. The satisfaction of accomplishment- in its many forms. Beauty, art, music, joyful expressions. Being among signs of creation. I tried to remind my friend (and interiorly myself) to try not to count upon things that do not encourage or strengthen. In so doing, it’s easier to remember that which is well and good, despite the currents. Admittedly, I pay for the wakeful nights with drowsy days, and although these are unintentional, there are thoughts to gather which I would not have found any other way.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

no less

“Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me
He was a stranger in this land
And I am that, no less than he
And on this road to righteousness
Sometimes the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond Your reach”

~ Rich Mullins, Sometimes By Step

So many daily conversations, directives, and broadcasts echo the grimness of these times. At first, over recent months, I’d listen to stories of friends, colleagues, and neighbors- and we’d compare notes. It was a pronounced notice of economic hardship. What was overtly discussed has submerged into the unspoken din of perception. If the lens through which looking ahead is tainted by despairing obscurity, it becomes a challenge of looking forward without certainties. A test of perception- not simply of these times, but to realistically consider the past, and to reasonably position for the future. Looking on toward horizons prompts both exciting and dismaying experiences. I had to learn not to wish away my time- as I’d naturally do, banking the present upon hopes for better jobs, housing, and resources. An old habit. Along with that is an abiding assumption that better and later are synonymous.

The other day, during a great lunchtime discussion with a friend, we mused about whether the institutions in our midst are actually improving. It had me reconsidering what “getting better” means. In environments of lost or frozen wages, inflation, and weakened cultural foundations, “amelioration” must be transcendent of all that is in decline. How to look brightly at the road ahead - and at today’s doorstep. Beyond the nuts and bolts of bills and provisions is the flashlight of vision. In dark times, obscurity blends in discreetly, while light itself becomes even more noticed.

Coinciding with this undercurrent of uncertainty are new beginnings. Here in Portland, there are some tangible metaphors. The city is experiencing demolition and construction, such as it has not seen in decades. The concert of trenches, heaps, and roaring vehicles is fascinating. To change these public spaces in close proximity, structures must be systematically dismembered before anything new can arise. The wooden signs and mounted schematics populated by stick figures hardly give an impression of what it’ll really be like when all is said and done. These edifices and passages will be populated and snowed upon- and they will also age. Many will commit more sites to their witnessed memories. Institutions and structures move with the passage of days. The ocean and skies that swirl about this place are still where they’ve timelessly been.

Quite naturally, I look forward. Much of this month, so far, has been drenched in rain- yet the demolition, construction, and paving crews carry on with their missions. Ceasing to make an effort may actually require more strain than continuing with even the slightest momentum. Perhaps judgments of what constitutes an improvement becomes a form of resistance to comprehending the immediate as it is now. Appraising the worth of anything requires a grasp of context.

There is an ancient prayer of my ancestors which gives thanks for having been brought to a new season. In doing so, the words cause my thoughts to consider the differences between toughing it out and constructive acceptance. Navigating terrain and waters regarding their own terms, versus resistantly imposing a predetermined method. Letting friction become traction. My gratitude goes beyond appreciating being intact: it is good to know to look ahead, and to think back of the small portions of good guidance that continue with me now. While it’s not for me to know how much borrowed time is allotted to me, it is possible for me to cultivate wise perspective. And these are not all upbeat occasions- far from it. There is plenty to frustrate, but perhaps the useful side of discontent is that which brings us to bold moves. Living along the ocean shows me how roots must deepen and strengthen, as the winds whip up in torrents. And the battering storms eventually blow out to sea.

Monday, June 1, 2009


"Little by little, one travels far."

~ J.R.R. Tolkien