Thursday, December 20, 2018

leaf raking

“It is pleasant to walk over the beds
of these fresh, crisp, and rustling leaves.
How beautifully they go to their graves!
how gently lay themselves down and turn to mould!
--painted of a thousand hues, and fit to make the beds of us living."

~ Henry David Thoreau, Autumnal Tints.

Two months ago, I wrote about the arduous project I needed to take on, to be able to stabilize this blog, preserve more than twelve years of work, and have the peace of mind to continue here. Specifically, it's been the major, systematic process of my retro-conversion of all my photographs from "the 'Bucket," to this server. Essentially, I've been kicking away the 'Bucket! Well, now about nine weeks on, I've completed the recent ten years of work, working backwards from the most recent- leaving me two years' worth of writing still to go. I'm almost done. And so is the autumn season, which is a beautiful time of the year, here in northern New England. Amidst this blog re-con and strenuous fulltime employment, I found bits of time to photograph outdoors- and certainly to journal-write. There are many burgeoning themes, which I've had to hold back during these recent months. But I'll get there, and the accomplishment of stabilizing my work will provide an energy of its own. I'm looking forward to this!

At this writing, autumn has but a few hours remaining, with the winter solstice at the doorstep. Green leaves steadily gave way to red and bright yellows.

Then, in a few rapid weeks, the progressively colder winds between inland mountains and the Atlantic loosened the leaves. I watched a great many feather their ways into local streams and rivers.

Leaves I saw wafting into nearby rivers- the Presumpscot, the Kennebec, the Saco, and the Androscoggin, along with shortened days and snows bring me to turning the leaves of books indoors. There are always new studies to find in well-forested libraries.

Along the journey, reading and writing are ever in tandem. Occasionally, I'll make my own notebooks- just to my tastes: about an A5 size and paper without lines.

Words continue to waft, even through complex and time-consuming projects. Liminal seasons, such as autumn, generate quiet energy reminiscent of the dormant woods in winter.

Persevering with notebook and camera, a new year awaits. The only appealing direction is to go forward.

Thanks so very much to all who have been faithfully reading. The rebuilt sections are gradually outnumbering the portions I still must rebuild. I'm raking plenty of leaves, preparing the ground for new growth. A blessed Advent and New Year to one and all.

Monday, October 15, 2018


"It's gonna take time;
A whole lot of precious time.
It's gonna take patience and time,
To do it right."

~ George Harrison, "Got My Mind Set on You."

As if the tribulations of maintaining sustenance and sanity weren't enough, the server site upon which I'd been storing 12 years of La Vie Graphite photographs has been crashing. The photo site is a pay service (famously using the nickname, "bucket"), and has ceased to be dependable. At the same time, I could see that Blogspot's image upload feature has vastly improved in recent years. Therefore, being intensely committed to continuing my writing, several weeks ago I decided to systematically migrate all photos from all my illustrated essays directly onto this blog page. The process is painstaking, and will take at least another month- but it's well worthwhile. This is how I'll be able stabilize this site, so that I can continue writing.

I haven't been able to post anywhere as much as I'd prefer, but need to urgently get the "house" in order. My journal writing indeed continues daily, and I have numerous essay concepts under construction, even during this triage. As it's been throughout my turbulent work life, my thirst forces me to hunt and work harder. I'm grateful for the stability of this site, on Blogspot (this URL will stay the same), and am very much looking forward to completing the full transition of the photo illustrations. But it's taking time.

Many thanks, and a fine autumn season to you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

the reach


[the setting is El Convent del Carme de Toledo (Spain), summer 1578.]


We were novices together,
ordained and sent forth shoulder to shoulder.
For the new voyage, we named ourselves;
I chose to be known by the Cross.
So many years and discalced miles since.
So many celebrations and trials since.
When last I saw open skies and clear light of day,
our foundations increased with sisters and brothers.
We did not mitigate.
We lived the apostolate.

Yet this moment as I wake,
my back against the stone floor
of a cell barely longer than I am tall- even me,
the humble Fray Juan from Fontiveros.
Somehow my refusal to compromise
was a threat to the unreforming religious.
Somehow they’re afraid enough to torture
and incarcerate.
Walls and shackles surround me,
in these dim and foul confines.
Even though it is night,
I know the way and will yet find it.

the reaching

I last knew freedom a year ago,
before these times of degradation and crumbs.
But faith says there are good reports afar,
beyond this fortified tower.
These barriers must be penetrable somewhere, loosened somehow.
The small breach giving light to my psalm book says so,
with the lamplit battlement I see across the hall which also says to me:
Keep picking at the lock, oh so silently;
there is an outside, there is a way.
Love, I am learning, far exceeds forsakenness;
Seek and expect to find, no matter the dense darkness.
Even though it is night,
I know the way and will yet find it.


From this cell, I can remember
teaching the others of belief in the unseen.
And now the teaching must be turned onto me;
the reaching must persevere, with nothing in sight.
In the nothing of damp and crepuscular constriction,
the substance of aspiration and vocation
must be kept to heart,
as though solid.

Sometimes the guard leaves an oil lamp.
He knows, through the taunting and torturing,
that I can absolve and bless, just as I did in Ávila.
Today there is no light, save for what reaches in
through cracked walls and the grate.
But the soul is enkindled from within,
human flesh as this stone keep,
ignited by the Holy Spirit uncontained,
secretly illuminating,
as canticles formulate
for me to remember and write
in a future unseen.
Even though it is night,
I know the way and will yet find it.

night of the soul

The lashes and bread scraps now past,
they returned me to this cell,
and full darkness returns.
Like Moses, I ask how long shall I bear with this evil assembly?
Like David, I ask how long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart,
and how long shall my enemies be exalted over me?
It is undetermined and indefinite;
they cowardly want me to die in here,
without committing the deed themselves.
They don’t want a friar’s blood on their hands,
they don’t see their injustice;
they know not what they do.

But in this darkest night,
there remain embers hidden
yet still bright
deep within.
Saints and angels reach to me in this Castilian cell,
as I reach and imagine and plot,
prying quietly at the iron lock,
on strength of hope,
climbing Mount Carmel.
More walls and a river await below this putrid tower;
but I will embrace them when I can reach them.
Oh, to reach the outside air, the full daylight,
and sanctuary again to write!
Even though it is night,
I know the way and will yet find it.

15 August 1578 is the date San Juan de la Cruz
managed to escape from his captors.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


“Lucio: I believe thee; for I think thou never wast where grace was said.
2nd Gentleman: No? A dozen times at least.”

~ William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, act I.

This summer is surely conducive to writing outdoors, and on a fine day aperch it occurred to me that La Vie Graphite is now twelve years a work in progress. Noticing this reminds me of how I fill a journal book and set it on my bookshelves as I begin another. A filled notebook always feels somehow heavier than a blank one. In 2006, I hadn’t yet purchased a digital camera, and began with writing short paragraphs in a blog application easily available on MySpace. With the development of Blogspot shortly after, I moved some of the original blog to this venue, and began the exploration of reflective essays and poetry. Adding digital photography to the still-film media with which I had made a career since high school, along with scanning typed and handwritten pages, the blog’s ambience formed. The title I gave to the blog is my longtime nickname for idea-jotting in pocket notebooks. Holding a thought and recording it begins with a few words scribed in pencil on a palm-sized page. Subsequently, as time permits, those graphite sparks of life become essay elements.

The little books of pencilled ideas are in a parallel continuum with two other strands of journals I maintain- one in fountain pen ink (the “full-dress” Journal), and the other by typewriter. Indeed, creative processes are essay themes in themselves! Separately from these, a small box of index cards is reserved for “BTs,” known as Big Themes. There’s still plenty to write about; surely more ideas than time permits these days. The essays continue, and albeit at a slower pace than I’d prefer, the commitment remains. Recent years have required some additional and major commitments involving basic economic sustenance, housing, and caregiving. As a writer and artist, it’s been all the more vital for creative pursuits to continue- even in smaller measures.

Many of you that reflect and write know how even the most peripheral memories stick to our thoughts. My elementary school is called P.S.13 (New York City public schools are numbered), and our school newspaper was called The Baker’s Dozen Review. Well then, my baker’s dozen year of essay blogging is now underway. On this embarkation, the number 12 does need its due. Twelves and dozens are identifiable across literature, history, and measurement. If it makes little difference to you, you’ll take six of one or a half-dozen of the other. The philosopher Cassiodorus liked how the number 12 referenced twelve tribes of Israel, twelve Disciples, wind directions, signs of the zodiac, hours of the day, to name a few. He also famously said, “He is invited to do great things who receives small things greatly.” And with this, I return to the expressive potential of the written word and the photographic image. These are the still, small elements that are needed to compose and communicate thematic works. The small things to be greatly received are the nascent ideas, the inspiring glimpses, the graphite jots that can be built into the greater things. With time, the journey becomes increasingly unique as well as voluminous, and thus the value of our narrative is able to intensify.

As the days proceed, so must the writing. A faithfulness to journal writing opens paths in a number of ways. Though I cannot claim major successes as a writer (at least not yet), I can speak for profound satisfaction. Expanding my journal writing into web-published essays began as a way to “bring out” the work to the public, as many of my fellow visual artists seek to do. Some of the consequent fruits of this work have manifested as published pieces in print, lecturing, reading to audiences at events, travels such as an extraordinary invitation to sojourn at the home of my lifelong favorite poet, a writing and study fellowship at Oxford, along with a continuing string of retreats and residencies, and the grace that I continue to love to write. Without the practice of the written word, these doors would not have opened for me. I’m certainly grateful for the milestone efforts, but more importantly there remain ideas to formulate and the will to carry on.

Artists, generally speaking, dedicate their energies to their art media for the purpose of expression. We create because we want to explore. I’m among those that has always needed artistic exploration, even since childhood. With these forays into words and images, there is the parallel line of exhibiting the work to be received by others. During an online interview, I was asked about what is essential to personal writing. My answer was that writing must be honest writing, no matter the emotion, recollection, or subject. I recalled this comment while teaching a journaling class- something I’ve been doing for two years. The latter is another grateful outworking of writing and exploring, and it has coincided with having begun teaching philosophy three years ago. The two intertwine, and occasionally the lesson plans affect each other. Regarding philosophy, I want everyone to consider and articulate, discovering their sources of inspiring thought. With writing, I want the burgeoning writers to observe and write with the fluidity of the spoken word. These are all things I want to do myself. And get the writing out. It’s very important. As for me, I’ll add here’s to more. I’m still looking for the audience that is looking for what I’m writing. There are many ideas and angles to flex with my aspirations.

Above: Sad Clock Face;
Below: Happy Clock Face.

Saturday, June 16, 2018


“The mind ought sometimes to be diverted that it may return to better thinking.”

~ Phaedrus (5th c., B.C.)

A nourishing fruit of spiritual life is the learned ability to adjust attention. Over the years, I’ve been making sure to retain useful knowledge, both by writing and by committing good advice to memory. When it comes to studies, I’ve been creating indices and writing in chapbooks, careful to cite what was found and where- so that I can retrace steps to sources. I’ve grown to consider cherished books as waystations, and the notes I create are essentially maps to the springs. A gem of spoken advice I’ve found unforgettable came from a wise elder who liked to say, “if you don’t like how you’re feeling, change what you’re doing.” There; now I’ve passed this along to you.

Distracting attention from hardships, or even just from plain and repetitious routines, may be viewed as escapist denial of reality. That reality depends, and it’s for the individual to self-examine and make that determination. Here, I’m thinking along the lines of healthy diversion. These are dark times and the general picture is bleak. A great many of us struggle just to maintain an even keel. Economics are less and less favorable to those who begin and proceed without privileged foundations. For my part, the pursuits of basic sustenance and a stable standard of living intensify by the month. It is something of a competition among large crowds seeking decreasing numbers of musical chairs. But to cease the struggle would be even costlier than to maintain momentum. When there’s a goal in sight, the last thing any competitor would do is give up the ship. In this context, healthy diversion amidst daunting struggles is especially vital.

Spicing up the doldrums, if anything, helps the cause of creativity. I may not be able to improve my lot anywhere close to as quickly as I’d prefer, but it is within my forces to find constructive avocations. I can’t imagine otherwise. Forging ahead in barren wilderness, nary an oasis, is as unappealing as an undecorated living space or a day without the textures of music. We have the facility to enjoy beauty and learning because we are innately aware of what edifies us, what motivates our progress. Between employment and housing, it is as though every moment must be “rented,” with puddlejumped weekdays en route to islands of less-constrained breathers, time and energy woefully reduced to units of commerce. All the more reason to clear away spaces to change the scenery- even if just for a few hours, igniting the soul that longs to flourish, thirsting for enduring sacredness.

Perhaps even the “healthiest” diversion might file under escapism. Well, so be it! Just like knowing when and what to eat, to stay nourished and alert, I take stock in knowing how to squeeze learning and creative expression into the narrowest confines. Particularly in the recent dozen years, writing has been my principal diversion. Journaling is an extension of such essential conduits as thought-processes, spiritual comprehension, analysis, and reflection. It is as critical to continue developing ways to write, as it is to simply continue writing every day. When I have more time, there is more time to write; when the immediate is a plethora of commitments and tasks, it’s a sentence here-and-there. However it may manifest, there is always writing material at the ready. Pencil and paper go along with me through other preferred diversions- such as photography, travels near and far, museums, hiking, visits with friends, sanctuaries, cafés.

Drafting this essay, at the Boston Athenaeum.

A wonderfully portable diversion is reading. When I was in graduate school, although inevitably earning a professional masters degree, before changing majors I was introduced to the horizonless wonders of philosophy. As soon as I submitted my thesis, I knew enough to return the philosophical books that had to be set aside in favor of the required reading of my curricula. Having the freedom to study as I wish is something I continue to cherish. The study of philosophy might be called a healthy diversion within a healthy diversion. It is fertile ground in which to immerse my imagination. It is also a subject I’ve added to my teaching array. As for imagination, I’ve found this to be its own form of cultivated diversion- all the while aware that its lesser aspects can be something of a minefield, rather than a healthy diversion for the cause of balance and growth.

Teaching philosophy (above); Absorbing philosophy (below).

Along this voyage, I’ve also grown to find that some of the temporary distractions, the “band-aids” needed to get through the more difficult spans have joined my arsenal of dependable diversions. For me, nothing quite fulfills the advice of “if you don’t like how you’re feeling, change what you’re doing” like a contemplative retreat. The first time I made such a journey, it was very much a spontaneous attempt to interrupt a terribly chaotic time, seeking out a quiet and welcoming refuge. There were no other expectations. Then I found myself returning to this type of experience, always with positive anticipation, always cherishing the prospect of hospitable shelter, meeting kindred spirits, always discovering new perspectives to fuel my spirit. Likewise, pilgrimage travels have been teaching me about diversions as adventures to be savoured. Thus far, it remains for me to fully apply this, but the simpler respites- even my commutes- are to benefit from the broader expeditions.

In his book, New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton famously said, “If you have never had any distractions, you don't know how to pray.” I’m sure he was not referring to the friendly, constructive kinds of distractions, but I’ll allude to the this in the sense that contemplative life- especially for postmoderns- must be able to grow increasingly sturdy and substantial amidst struggles and juggles. Often distractions are needed to interrupt an untenable din of distraction. Then, having stepped away from barrages of fragments and demands, the return can find strength of focus and drive- even improved clarity of thought. Diversion permits for observation, and knowing to divert is indeed a good result of having observed.

Friday, May 25, 2018

winter into spring

“...the traveller picks his way from islet to islet,
cheered by the music of a thousand tinkling rills and rivulets
whose veins are filled with the blood of winter
which they are bearing off.”

~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

The arrival of spring in New England is obvious to the most absent-minded among us. We are brought out of ourselves by signs of future pleasant months. Liminality takes the changing forms of snow-into-rain, rusty-brown-into-yellow-green, lengthened daylight, all immersed in chilled wind currents. Light and air serve to provide context, as well as a palette of signs to illustrate new growth. Days are lengthened into evenings, and they recommence at early hours that had been immersed in darkness only weeks ago. Both in the city and the woods, the metamorphosis of seasonal transition is easily witnessed. Forest trails attest to a burgeoning combination of coniferous green that held forth through months of ice and raw cold, with sudden accents of yellows and reds coarsing through branches. And in the city, I recently marveled at new weeds shooting out from between cement sidewalk pavers. As much as these plants are considered nuisances, a pedestrian such as me can see a persisting manifestation of Augustine’s remark from City of God, that “creation longs to live.” Stems foment their spring escapes from beneath opaque concrete slabs, beating the crocuses to the punch. Surely, this must be admired.

Spring’s abrupt renewal is much more obvious in the mountains than along the seashore, where I live. The latter’s transformation is more subtle. New colors and gusts prompt new tastes and perspectives. Somehow, discoveries continue. If not entirely new, old-growth trees do renew. Hibernated creation awakens, urged ahead by new promise and rejuvenated spirit. One wonders if time is playing tricks, perhaps things have not really changed, and improvement is not possible. But such thoughts, in themselves, can thwart our thoughts into dead-end roads.

Taking to the roads at the cusp of seasonal change is an opportunity to closely witness an extraordinary renewal. Indeed, this is not to say the winter landscape is lifeless; not at all. It is a different sort of life, as northern climes tend toward the austere. Because the changes are so dramatic, the seasons abruptly replace one another in succession. Recently, I chose to drive southwest to the Berkshires, the mountainous region at the western extremities of Massachusetts. For years it’s been a place of both sanctuary, with the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy- as well as for serene hiking along trails including the Appalachian. At this time of the year, locations like this are not populous. There’s plenty of space to roam, just as it’s possible to see clear through sparsely-foliated forests. In a matter of weeks, some great river views will be completely concealed by growth. Before the arrivals of intense greens and bright tree blossoms, earth tones prevail. Surfaces are still bare enough to see stone strata, the foundational forest floor. Highest elevations still had snow in early May, and melted runoff added vigor to currents in and near the Housatonic River. I set out to find hints of spring, enjoying the ability to walk freely across dormant woods.

Watching the natural elements of the outdoors reawaken, we can tangibly notice how the substantial can grow forth from embrittlement. For an archival conservator, this is a captivating prospect. Rejuvenation has the connotation of new promise. Amidst deteriorative fears, there can be newness. By influence, natural renewal prompts refreshed spirits. Visiting places that are unlike my usual daily surroundings encourages me to savour the commonplace as extraordinary. Noticing the cold, sweet-smelling mountain air, I made sure to draw in plenty of deep breaths. Mountain skies and sunlight are also distinct, just as these can be unique in my home region near the ocean. When it was too overcast to watch a sunset, I was regaled by assembling storm clouds and succeeding downpours from the shelter of a covered porch. Indeed, such things will occur throughout the summer, but in much warmer air and with thicker cover- not quite like this!

Exploring, writing, and photographing are ways of observation. Integral to being a practitioner of these crafts is the ability to observe and study what I experience. In lesser moments there are repulsions, and in better moments there are admirations to commit to memory. But reflection- and even response- are not the full adventure. Observation demands participation. Witnessing the burgeoning spring along trails, waterways, and roads inspires creativity. I’m brought to remember those early-season summer camp days from childhood, and how unusual it was to be outdoors during weekdays. Until my late-adolescence, I did not excel in sports. I would enviously watch games from the sidelines. By 12, I was in the games, figuring out my strengths and abilities, relishing being part of the action.

Watching a spring rain from an ancient porch in Stockbridge, I thought of how recollections grow into prominence like garden perennials. I could not have predicted what would become integral parts of my canon of memory as an adult, so far away from schoolyards, playgrounds, and ballfields. But as with historic records, simply by virtue of having occurred, they are enshrined. No less now than all those years ago, there is no lasting contentment in idleness. Watching the appealing changes causes me to beware of lost opportunities. There is indeed a balance: knowing enough to savour, as well as knowing enough to be vigilant and productive. Unlike my forest discoveries of bright fledgling plants, I’ve yet to find tangible hints to provide direction. Without physical signs, the assurances must be along interior conduits. These are the unseen trails that must indefinitely lead to sustenance, regardless of season. Equally, that expectant hope must be sustained at all costs.

Saturday, April 21, 2018


“The eternal fount its source has never show’d,
But well I know wherein is its abode,
Although ‘tis night.

Yes, in a life so sad and dark as this,
By faith I know the wellspring of bliss.
Although ‘tis night.”

~ San Juan de la Cruz,
Song of the Soul That Rejoices to Know God by Faith.

It would be a conflict of definitions to say that vigilance takes a vacation. The nature of perseverance is the very ceaselessness that distinguishes keeping vigil, from passive waiting. Keeping watch becomes something of a default state of being for anyone in a constant state of anticipation, over a long span of years. Corresponding with crises and desires, watchfulness intensifies. Expectancy manifesting with embedded, abiding embers is not hypervigilant. The latter is a disruptive form of anxiety, subversive to balancing thoughts. As for the former, watchfulness is a longing for transcendence. It is an awareness of past and presence, with an alertness for improvement, for ascendance. Watchfulness tends naturally toward impatience, and must be tempered creatively and constructively. But theory and practice are threads that do not always entwine.

Watchfulness takes many forms, and has reasons as specific as an individual life. For many, it is the animal-like alertness to avert danger. Our instincts show themselves. Just the other day, I stopped my errands to look after an injured cat in front of a store. Incredulous that neither pedestrians nor shop workers would intercede, I made the shelter phone calls, and stayed with the troubled cat until help arrived. Trying to console and to keep a watchful eye on a distressed animal, I remembered my childhood’s vulnerable years on mean inner-city streets. Watchfulness takes shape as the insomniac’s procession moves through such nighttime stations of the cross as windows, kitchens, inanimate desks, and darkened corridors. It’s tuning for hospitable radio broadcasts, trying to pull something hopeful out of the air, from unknown distances. It’s the drive toward an invisible goal, by way of an unsatisfactory status quo. It’s the via dolorosa of web sites in an impersonal and threadbare job market. It’s the persistent anticipation of mercy, while standing on the ashes of forsakenness. As with the cat’s plaintiveness on the dismissive sidewalk, my petitions seek watchful and helpful eyes- and those of Divine providence. Parallel to the incredulity of unrequitedness is the insistence upon purpose. The two are tied together by dignity. By purpose, the intention is to redeem the present: to take stock of what is useful and to find significance in the immediate- while fully expecting fruition. Seedlings beneath the forest floors must think such thoughts. Watchfulness is surely a means; it is not the goal.

It is known that San Juan de la Cruz penned the ideas of some of his canticles and themes, while incarcerated in a cramped dungeon. He had not committed any crime, but was perceived as an enemy of anti-reformist churchmen in Spain. It was expected that he would die of the deprivation, torture, and starvation inflicted upon him. Juan seemed to be fueled by a transcendent sense of purpose. He managed to beg for a piece of paper, which he folded into a tiny booklet for his sketched thoughts. With every possible moment, he picked away at the lock of his cell; this may have gone on for months. In his emaciated state, he skillfully broke out of the dungeon and escaped to safety. Among the inspired ideas he scratched on the piece of paper were those leading to The Living Flame of Love. This mystical prayer begins with tenderly you wound my soul’s deepest center, reconciling at once anguish and salvation. He concluded with this stanza:

How gently and lovingly you wake in my heart, where in secret you dwell alone; and in your sweet breathing, filled with good and glory, how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

Together with his larger works, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, and Dark Night of the Soul, San Juan de la Cruz exemplified steadfast faith in the face of desolation. He implored his readers to continue the ascent, amidst perceived stagnation. In the poem, Song of the Soul That Rejoices to Know God by Faith, his refrain following his expressions of aspiration amidst abandonment is “although it is night.” He was sure of his belief, of his Source, even though he was plunged into obscurity. He remained more pronouncedly assured, the more he noticed reasons not to be assured. Studying biographical works about San Juan gives me increasingly greater appreciation of his poetry and philosophy. For him, watchfulness is readiness and openness to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. In the gospel, to be watchful is to take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be weighed down with consumption and the problems of this life, as well as the consistent followthrough that we watch therefore, and pray always, that we may continue worthy of our calling. San Juan instructed his readers to see light in the night, despite the perceived and convincing darkness in our days.

Our perceptions can play tricks on us, and traversing the night of sense confronts gauntlets that threaten to deceive the faithful. Keeping watch becomes a delicate balance between real and assumed limitations. Yet another needed balance is that which blends spartan discipline with a sensitivity that discerns when to let up on the throttle. Is a less-aggressive vigilance a healthful form of surrender? Perhaps only experience will tell.

In that fine art of patient recollection is the wisdom of reaching out to mentors and friends. As I am a trusted ally to many, I know that my closest kindred spirits reciprocate by intending the best for me. An elder friend who is close to retirement provides plenty of welcome encouragement. When we have time to catch up, she tells me to “look for a miracle” in a very affirmative voice. Indeed, I do this- hastening the discovery with all the vigilant ingenuity possible, thinking of that unflappable San Juan de la Cruz. After all, when you’ve been given a message, that inspiration must go forth. As the pray without ceasing of St. Paul is watchful vigilance, then it must be a rotation of physical progress and interior contemplation. San Juan was wrestling with the lock and chains, while making the most of his one piece of writing paper. Watchfulness, alas, needs its own checks and balances: Care must be taken so that vigilance does not upstage savouring what is good. While hungrily and constantly watching online for opportunities and developments, it’s important to remember they do not change on a minute-by-minute basis (certainly not in the pre-dawn hours). Such things operate at excruciating tempi, and there is little more one can do beyond conscientiously trying and keeping faith. There are many rejections, because there are many attempts, and these amount to many teachable moments. Wondering about why, and how, and when seems only to plague any good progress. Inhabiting San Juan’s purgative night of sense teaches a surrender of the what-ifs. If anything, the better musing is to consider potential improvements and what direction may be noticed among the elements.

In the second section of The Ascent of Mount Carmel, San Juan de la Cruz wrote, “The less the soul works with its own ability, the more securely it journeys, because it journeys more in faith.” Speaking as a calligrapher, there is something to be said about the steadiest line paradoxically drawn with a slightly loosened grip. San Juan is advocating against over-calculation, even if it means navigating through darkness. His expression of disciplined faith is that of resolve amidst unresolve; head-knowledge must be refined as heart-knowledge.

Exemplary as it is, his life is one among those which could be fermented only through life-threatening trials. A crucible is defined by its very indefiniteness. It’s in not knowing the extent of an ordeal, or what endurance requires. But that very instability becomes a place of uneasy residence, hoping tenuous conditions are temporary, amidst the proactivity of striving. For the example of San Juan, the foraging is by a spirit of trust. Strength of trust is bolstered by cultivated preparedness. A very strong spirit is needed to engage the battle for sustenance and improvement. Within this strength, it is vital to be as lucid and discerning as possible. Equally critical is the life-force of inspiration. There must be such ready resources as good reading, access to natural light and fresh air, alongside vigorously reflective creative practices. Study is a form of watchfulness, and for me it is an enjoyable exercise that helps redeem the time and expand my sights. All the while, I stretch and watch for better times, open doors, and fewer limitations, insisting that I do not wait in vain. In the Easter vigil is a model of expectant hope, of watching for the liberating moment. It is also a pattern for the anticipatory life that proceeds in a one-way pilgrimage of trust for which vigilance becomes subconscious.