4. What’s in the Chalice

In a mass the people must, emotively, help the priest to lift the chalice. Otherwise it would be too heavy. In it is all their sorrow and loss, to be transmuted into the joy they will celebrate. The priesthood of all believers is a matter of declaring wonder, cultivating wonder, until it infuses communal life. For awe and wonder draw together a community of people who can see love from the inside. And then our languages of spirituality are discourses of the inside, in the fullest measure. And our ritual actions become containers for pain transformed by love.

Maybe the strongest liturgy for feeling this is on Holy Thursday, when the priest washes some representative people’s feet and kisses them–a reenactment of Jesus’ goodbye meal with his much loved friends. Then the priest continues with the central part of mass, offering the bread and wine. The ritual can send one’s spirit on a rocket launch into orbit, lasting it might seem seventy times seven days of singing “O altitudo–O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” And then long millennia of singing “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.” This carries on into a sense of being lost in time, because the mass ends with an invitation to stay as long as one wants in front of the consecrated host, to “stay here with me, watch, and pray.” Longer than one’s knees can hold out the ecstasy streams on. The joy verges on the anguish to come the next day, Good Friday–this last farewell dinner of love was preparation for it. So love gives strength for getting through pain, in the life of sacraments.

One week our ‘Renew’ group practiced the priesthood of baptism, the priesthood of all believers. Our organizer, whose husband has Parkinson’s disease and was off his medicine because of jaw surgery, arrived late with her youngest kid, nine year old Angelica. She said she’d just come to return someone’s book, but she couldn’t take part tonight because of things at home; then she tried to leave. She was upset. We got her to stop and tell us what had happened. Her husband had intense pain all weekend, and when she finally reached his doctor and put him on the phone, he made light of it, so the doctor didn’t do anything. And now they’d just had a family blow-up, with him getting into a fight between Angelica and her sister about a game.

We asked them to stay for a quick round of prayers. Sheila, at her crisp Irish tempo, said the Memorare to Mother Mary; — ‘never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection was left unaided.’ I read a psalm as a prayer: ‘I will lift up my eyes to the hills, . . . You watching over us do not slumber.’ Pat, usually a jolly, full-detail story teller, said a brief prayer for the husband. Mike asked Angelica if she wanted to pray one, and helped her start. She went on for a few sentences. So it went around the circle. After we said “Amen,” Angelica said she hadn’t meant to make trouble, and told her version of the fight. She was on a roll, getting to tell it to a bunch of grownups acting like they were on her side. Two women in the group were nurses. They asked a couple of low-keyed questions about the Parkinson’s symptoms, and got the impression that maybe the surgery had pinched a nerve in the neck–miserable but not life-threatening. As mother and daughter left, everyone gave them hugs. We’d been priests for her, as she had been for us in forming the group, and helping us find that we could talk about spirituality. It took about fifteen minutes.

Needing a break, we traded stories of recent happenings, until Sheila the mother of grown children had us laughing uproariously. At a Sunday brunch, a boy crawling under the table, patting the leg of a young guy next to her, made him think that she was making a move on him; and then she mimicked the look on his face. Verdicts ranged from “What won’t the kids do next!” to “What a stick-in-the-mud, he should have just enjoyed it anyhow.” Then we went back to our booklet Praying Alone and Together and did twenty minutes worth of our planned agenda. As we left Mike said, “Why is life so hard?”

For a Friend With Huntington’s Syndrome

II. Above the Mumford Bar, American River

We climb on pine needles
Where a doe ahead bounced off on a tangent
When she spotted us.
Under pines so tall we tip back
To see their tops
You drop, and catch yourself on two hands.
The trail tunnels through springy brush
Of sapling firs
And dwarf oaks, their leaf edges yellow for fall.

Soon the creek we’ve heard a while Appears.
The crossing gives us pause–
Three unflat stones,
One lumpy, one rounded,
One leaning upstream,
Not in a row.
On the facing slope the trail beckons To more green woods.
Upstream a log’s been laid across.
You clamber to its end, take two steps out,
But then, frozen in a pose, you halt,
Arms above the water as for a blessing,
Teetering.
Frozen too I gaze,
Too far back to reach a hand or stick, Knowing not to cry out.
There is nothing I can do.
How far we are from help. [no stanza]
I wait
Till you sink, one leg drops over, then the other,
You grab the log, straddle,
And shimmy back.

The testy rocks look better now.
We stumble across, each wetting one boot.
Half under a mossy boulder
We lean on elbows, eat bananas,
Dangle fingers in whitewater,
Sip from juice boxes meant for kids.
The green shade holds us quite,
Like Adam and Eve as children
Who never were.
On a rock a lizard takes the sun,
Untroubled by us,
Though we talk and hum
And tell each other childhood hymns
And prayers we learned–
Of streams and rocks in other lands,
And a mother never known to lose
Her mortal children.

After these hours of heights
The sun, angular astride the facing ridge,
Unbinds red shafts of light
Like hair let down for evening,
Flings them sideways through green leaf smells.
Two flickers with brown-cream breasts and speckled backs
Call notice of our approach,
Then renew their rattling pecking
In seasoned wood.
Mixed and layered rocks bestrew the trail–
Red ferrous chunks, white quartz, gray shale.
Far below, a river’s twisting strands
Make glad this world of life.

That these upsurging crags,
Boulders, tree giants, plunging canyons,
That they all float on molten stuff
Deep under us,
How shall we think it?–
Black oceans of superheated rock,
Unutterably dense.
If the merest leakage of it surged across the trail
It would crisp us to a powder–
Above us, an exploding sun bombards with angled rays, Below, imploding rocks churn and seethe. [no stanza]

Somehow we live between them
In a layer of woods
And water cool from a spring–
It trickles down a rocky bed and sounds
Like peace.
How improbable this place of moderated matter.
Not root nor wing work only
But psychic work has been done on it.
Fusion fire met brimstone fire,
And on their interface
These moments fell out green and burgeoning.
Deep called to deep,
Molten waves and billows clashed,
And their utterance we
Became.

5. ‘Wrinkled Deep in Time’

The deep harms of life prefigure death. Can we find some manner of peace with them? Psychoanalysts tell us they harken back to the early loss that brought us self-awareness. As babies we were at one with a flow of warmth and milk, feeling that we were part of our mother’s body (our mother, or whoever mainly took care of us). But then, through recognizing parts of our bodies reflected in some shiny surface, we began to imagine an “I” that became a separated being, not part of the place of milk and surrounding embraces. Every deep loss carries us back to that originary cutting off and chill, when we launched out into self-awareness. Language is what we mainly use to cram into the hungry gap. We drink in words, and take pleasure in our own speaking, that covers over, makes us forget for a moment, what we are–which explains why unhappy people may talk too much.

Death, as image of the wholeness we lost, is desired as well as feared because it holds out the promise of return to that wholeness. Walt Whitman saw it as mother earth, with long grass as her hair: “Tenderly will I use you, curling grass, for I think you are the beautiful uncut hair of graves.” Or in his paean for the dead Lincoln he called to a dark mother who would rock us to sleep: “Come lovely and soothing death,/ Undulate round the world.”

Nursing a baby, as it is pleasurable for the mother, also gives the baby the origins of erotic pleasure, in that place of original wholeness. The poet Spenser in his ‘Garden of Adonis,’ the place of always emerging life forms, portrays this life-love-death in its central bower, where Venus is always again ‘taking the sweetness’ of her boy Adonis. And that erotic pleasure too is lost, in the originary separation that begins awareness and selfhood. Thus we naturally seek a lover with full intensity, especially when life brings us to a time of collapse of some version of our self that no longer works in a new situation. In modern pluralistic societies this will happen more often than in traditional ones, where identity was achieved once at adolescence and may last the rest of a person’s life.

Psychoanalysis teaches that we are doomed always to seek yet never to find that lost place of union with a beloved–we seek it in language and art, or in achievements promising satisfaction, or in lovers, perhaps get some of these things, then usually find that the promised satisfaction subsides and must be sought again. But in some cultures or eras people have not been so pessimistic about our prospects for long satisfaction. Shakespeare’s heroine Cleopatra makes us realize this. For decades she has loved Antony through ‘gaudy nights,’ and so, despite her flaws, has grown into a human ripeness. She has become, from the sun god Apollo’s “amorous pinches, black/ and wrinkled deep in time” (Antony & Cleopatra I.V. 28-29). Believing Antony dead and his earthly greatness ended after the Battle of Actium, she decides to come to him in death. She takes a viper to her breast to suckle like a child, and says to her waiting women, “Give me my robe, put on my crown, I have/ Immortal longings in me. Now no more/ the juice of Egypt’s grape shall moist this lip/ . . . Methinks I hear Antony call . . . Husband I come. Now to that name my courage prove my title.”

But this is ‘only’ poetry, we say? What if, as with Cleopatra, the blood is not sucked from someone unwilling, but given freely. Viewing her action in a Christological sense–as a free giving of one’s lifeblood to those who thirst–we see the possibility of redemptive ‘exchanges of life,’ as the theologian Rosemary Haughton puts it in The Passionate God. These are not delusional because their satisfactions are part of the ongoing life of company and community, where our selfhood will be held even after our death–in memorials, in prayers and new hope, in the ongoing effects of the particular love and gifts we gave and were given. The experience of that outpouring of life blood, leading into a state of greater love, can help us toward a readiness for death. It can be a ripeness of waiting in good hope for death’s time, whenever that may come, but also waiting in open readiness for further life that will bring new ‘exchanges,’ if that is to come. There we can part company with Cleopatra’s dramatic embrace of death. We drink “another juice than that of Egypt’s grape.”

In eating the body of a god in Eucharist, we are like the Hindu earth goddess Kali–a wild and fearsome mother who eats as well as bearing her children. We take someone’s flesh as food, their blood as drink. We take the place of earth woman as, so to speak, a subject position. We enter the earth deity’s perspective, look out through her black eyes and wear her thick black braids. From dust we came and to dust we shall return. But we take generative food, and it brings us renewal through liturgy, tradition, and community–mundane and flawed though these may be, inhabited at times by people we don’t even like. In the finding of Christ alive in each other, we step into that subject position of the goddess, and as children of the divine, begin to live out the motherhood of God.

Rounded Knowing

Lady of floating black hair, black eyes,
Your specialties are dangly earrings, printed scarves,
Muted golds and purples on jazzy blacks– [no stanza]
Night talker, spirit walker,
Gentle with everyone–
You wondered who I am,
If I could forage for bread
In unpalatable dogmas,
Asked me did I believe in the pope?
And did I think that anyone is really damned.

What had you to do with asking that?
Who know the jolliest way
To look at any subject.
With flicking, circling, downturned wrist
You redeem stupidities of malaperts and bumblers
Into tales that send a room of friends
Into gales of laughing,
And even your narrated victims circle in the kindness
Of your mind–
No harm taken, they get up and walk unscathed
Into your next account of drolleries.

I said I feared one might come to ruin
Past repair,
That for me damnation is an image–
Mugshots of mutilators, their eyes
No eyes
But holes unscreening emptiness.
They found no love, ever,
Or none that took.
They wait among us,
Steel traps cocked to strike.

“But don’t you see?” you said,
“A time will come when their eyes will fill!
It can’t be otherwise since God
Is God,
Love flowing through rhythms of knowing
In rounded fullness.”
In Israel such faith was found.
Your atheist father’s Jewish genes
Have danced in you
For all he could do to banish sappy notions–
He loved you so well.
But what unloved layer of me
Waits with steel-trap jaws cocked.
Speak to me again, O black-eyed one,
And my eyes will fill with substance, light,
Or tears.

6. Death and Rising

Can a faith community help people through losses that baffle, may even kill the spirit? Loss of a loved one’s mind and selfhood to a disease of early dementia, while the body remains. Loss of work that you’d poured your best energy and skill into, with good profit. Loss of a beloved, chopped away by some life dilemma. Loss of a child–one stares at the empty room. Loss of one’s health or limbs, leaving a remnant life of pain and stark limits. One thing such losses have in common is loss of selfhood for the ones hit. A human treasure is gone, a richness called into being through love, love calling matter into selfhood. People’s time and strength and unique personal richness had been poured into that self, had carried through the process. And the joy is gone.

Love begins calling a self into being as soon as parents, family, and friends know of a child conceived. Their eagerness is necessary preparation. All along the process of that person’s life, a strength of selfhood keeps being called into being, resustained in being, by the human surroundings. When the body of the person dies, early or late, it passes into the ‘wastes of time’ and ‘death’s dateless night’ that Shakespeare feared for his so much loved friend–the oblivion of recycling matter. But the love and attending that had been trained on a piece of flesh, calling and pulsing it always into selfhood–that does not go down the drain. It has become a new increment, changing those who took joy in it, and changing the network of value circulation where they live. At the end of the day–the day that is last by ultimatum not by timing—at the end of the day the lost one’s part in the joy-world, spread out along time and through space-time, his or her part in love, is still marked off. In the case of a baby, perhaps the increment is more energy than matter, since the time for particularizing was so short.

We might think of this as a generative economy: a spiral of interacting mechanisms that produce more energy and complexity than they started with. Someone like Dorothy Day may start a movement with only hope, talent, work, desperation; eventually it brings results, new knowledge, friendships, pride in achievement, new richness of life, even new income for people not known to the founder. And these in turn bring further results. Generative mechanisms interplay across layers of hierarchy into greater complexity. These include displacement, projection, compensation, inversion, and replication with code-switching. Also, through some such spiraling up into energized complexity, each human self emerges into living, grows stronger and more individual, and in turn calls others into being. As a friend suggested to me, an old version of this idea might be Thomas Aquinas’ view about one of the modes of causality, formal causality: that God sustains each particularity of the universe in being, at all moments, as long as it lasts. And when it ends and the goodness is lost? The mind of God holds it, for new exchanges of life.

This dynamic is imaged in the angels of a Psalm, who are the voice and arm of God, moving from within loving community: “He will give his angels charge of you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” These are not special-effects angels, not the kind to grab a climber out of freefall from a cliff–or grab Jesus out of freefall if he jumped from the temple pinnacle. He said ‘no thanks’ to that idea. These are the angels who bring over chicken soup when someone is sick or has died, who run errands, who find flowers, or something to read, or who only stand and wait, grieving. They try to heal the foot bashed or dashed against a stone. Or where that isn’t possible, to heal someone else whose love went into that foot. Love calls selfhood into being, and calls again, just as the resurrecting love of God, acting in the women at the fresh-cut tomb and in the groups of devastated disciples, called Jesus from the dead.

The story doesn’t say he was a resuscitated corpse. On the contrary, it says he passed through locked doors. He stood before the disciples with upturned hands extended; and they gave themselves up to adoration. To several gathered groups this happened. And the power of the mutual calling into new selfhood–his and theirs–was so strong that they later said they’d touched him and eaten with him; in the telling the events grew ever more physical. Whatever it was, something happened that passed into their bodies as generative energy, to make a teaching of teachings. Was this contact with their bodies material or semiotic—that is, meaning-making? Probably both.

The gospel writers, narrating later, thought of the events in terms drawn from the koine Greek language of their time–something maybe from the science of the Roman Lucretius in his treatise De rerum natura (The Nature of Things). Lucretius asks how minds are able, as we know they are, to ‘see’ images of the dead and other non-present people. Such a thing must be carried, he thinks, on some moisture or vapor in air, as a two-dimensional construct that can pass under eyelids. Our own scientific terms for explaining body, visions, love, semiosis, and selfhood are naturally quite different from those of the Romans, but will one day become just as outdated. So what. The glorified body, in each manifestation, must dwell in its own semiosis. (An acquaintance says hers will have boobs, at last!)

It appears that however fragile love and selfhood and outreaching kindness are (they being ‘only’ semiotic realities–extra-material ones ‘called out’ of matter through its own coding), yet they cannot finally be destroyed. Since the impetus for them inheres in matter-energy and gets worked on by life in process, they must some time, somewhere in the universe, come again–and come again in glory, incrementally enhanced, resurrection and parousia coinciding.

But discourses of the outside and discourses of the inside (as interwoven here), when taking each other on about some issue, can never finally coincide. Between saying “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” and saying that ‘the whole leadership of the Jesus movement experienced some ecstatic group projection or prosopopoeia, in visions of him drawing upon and further generating the physical and ideological energy to start a world-changing institutional process’–between these two sayings lies an unclosable gap. The saying of the inside–“Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.”–is a properly mythic logion, that can cross boundaries of times and cultures, itself regenerating bodies and calling them into new selfhood: it says, “Sleepers awake! Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” So it calls out to us. The saying of the outside, a scientific explanation, is a local and disposable construct. It serves to take an event down into the purposes of someone’s moment of trying to understand how something happened. Each new language and era must, if need be, do that job again, making its own terms. But the truth value of the saying “If we have died with him we shall also rise with him” is something itself occurrent, happening, claimable within the circulation of love in a faith community. Dying with Christ is the process of mourning one’s losses within community, of letting them flow into the losses of others, of finding in that flow of many people’s pain the further motion of recovery. The loss must be mourned, beginning with cries of rage or abandonment: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” As a French critic wrote of the violence in a Chicano poet’s early work raging against injustice, “The passage from silence to excess is the first, compensatory stage of rescue.” (Le passage du silence a l’outrance est le premiere stade, compensatoire, de sauvetage.)

John Bar Zebedee

“At supper he poured water into a basin and washed the disciples’ feet, and wiped them with a towel . . . . Then he was troubled and said, ‘One of you shall betray me’ . . . . Now there was one of the disciples, leaning on Jesus’ breast, whom Jesus loved. Peter beckoned him to ask who it might be. He then lying on Jesus’s breast said to him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘The one to whom I give a morsel when I have dipped it.’ And he gave the bread to Judas Iscariot” (from John 13: 5-26).

A voice that could be yours
Is hard to catch,
Fisherman that Jesus loved.
Old, you fell among philosophers
Who took your talk of love and God
And made it ring of logos–
Word of words, word made flesh.
Marks of you they also saved,
Traces from the Jesus years not kept by other scribes.
Maybe in a seaport town,
The smell of tar and rigging by,
Honored and murmuring among believers,
You kept on humming sailor tunes and telling
What you learned at suppers
With the arm of Jesus on your shoulder:
‘God is love, whoever loves knows God.
Behold what manner of love the father gave,
We are already children of God,
Though what we will be doesn’t yet appear.’

They couldn’t seem to get it, so you just kept telling them,
‘Herein is love, not that we loved God [no stanza]
But God loved us and sent his son,
So let us love each other’–
As in the many sonnets to his friend that Shakespeare penned,
Who finally said, ‘I only have one theme,’
This is your sounding tone, John bar Zebedee,
This cricket-harping on love:
‘I say this so your joy may be full,
We touched and handled the word of life,
If you love each other, abide in light,
And don’t forget now,
Love each other.’

Before the arrest
Jesus did the city woman’s part at supper,
Washing feet to be
Extravagant.
What he felt for you he gave to all twelve,
What he did for you he did to the twelve, Judas included,
And said to pass it on.
In three days time it would start exploding
In bone-deep visions
Of a dead man raised,
A charism born.

You and brother James were fishermen–
Nicknamed Sons of Thunder.
Were you boldest in squalls on Lake Genesseret
When Matthew the tax man and Simon the Zealot
Lost their lunch,
And Peter panicked?
Did you stand to the mast and slacken sail,
Keep the wind astern and let the thunder roar,
Quiet Son of Thunder?
But the storms of Sanhedrin politics defied your seamanship.
When Jesus had been nailed up,
He asked you to take his mother in,
A son for a son.

The morning Mary Magdalene came from the tomb
Bewildered
You ran a race with Peter and won
But only saw empty serecloths.
The other dawn, though, when you’d failed
All night at fishing
And a figure stood on the beach by a breakfast fire And called a tip
To cast the net to starboard,
It was you who said, ‘It is the Lord.’ [no stanza] The net flung into motion,
Hundreds of fish flopped and thrashed,
Glinting back eastern light.
Somehow you and the others held the net,
Embraced the swirl,
Looked at each others’ foam-splashed eyes–
And brought the catch to shore.

7. The Valosphere

How can I think my own death? Will my ‘soul’ live on? The text I’d like someone to read at my funeral mass is from Revelation:14:13: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, they rest from their labors, and their works follow after them.” Toward where, and into what, does the selfhood of the dead go, and their works follow? One answer might come from asking, out of what did the person come? Perhaps out of Wisdom the ‘daughter of God,’ Sophia, our Lady of meaning. The book of Wisdom says, “Within Sophia is a spirit, intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, incisive, unsullied, lucid, invulnerable, benevolent, shrewd, irresistible, dependable, all-surveying . . . Wisdom is quicker to move than any motion, she pervades and permeates all things. She is a breath of the power of God . . . . Generation after generation, passing into holy souls, she makes them into God’s friends . . . Strongly she reaches from one end of the world to the other.”

So maybe, out of and into wisdom we come and go—wisdome as the process of particularizing selfhood. Some people speak now of the earth as a unitary biosphere, reverenced as the goddess Gaia–the Gaia hypothesis. Teilhard de Chardin saw that biosphere as indwelt with Christ and called it a noosphere. What if there is, coterminous with the whole universe, something like a valosphere. Experiences of ecstasy tell us that our selves, fragile and randomly grown as they may be, are nodes within Sophia. From within our scientific discourses of the outside, they appear to be discrete, unconnected, and bound for annihilation–this is a function of our sensory mechanisms (particular sight, hearing, smell, etc.). What we can find “real” must have only a certain morphology. That is, it can be viewed only from a supposed cut through/across the universe at a given time”–even though we know from special relativity theory that this particular ‘take’ is a fiction. There is no (as presumed) spatial absolute place, to serve as a fixed point of reference for such a single “given time/given place.” Yet in our objectifying view, only someone’s (but whose?) particular here-and-now is “real.” “The past” (from that reference point) has been annihilated, “the future” is quite amorphous. But in fact, there is no such thing as the past and the future, only someone’s (or something’s) past and future.

If we become capable of some other ‘take,’ we can see each self as an instance of the valosphere. Instances of special intensity of valorizing, from ‘the past’ and ‘the future,’ might on that plane be adjacent, and connected. So the logia of faith appear when we view them from certain angles: they can be instances of repeated valorizing, infusing of value into matter and social connections. The logia, the sayings, become layered, erratically, along some historical time line—and along geographical lines from point to point of transmission of a faith. So our praying for something now might be in touch with a moment of ten years ago–or ten years in the future, to which it is, in psychic time and valosphere time adjacent, though the person in question might “now” be spatially or emotionally distant–or dead.

The Way In From The Suburbs

1. November in D. C.

The gas-fed ‘candle’ will not burn
In St. Ann’s of Tenleytown,
For all I’ve paid my quarters.
Some other pathway in I need
Through the brief days of brown leaves
And stubble, along these traces of the dead, A stairway down the heartbeats into some Deep way of blood and pulse,
Inside of the inside.
There I’ll forge a way toward prayer for you,
My dear one dead,
Mother-in-law, mother more to me.

If I toss a grappling hook
Back into the years with you,
Some twich of elemental touch begins.
Yet I know your gentleness will need great quiet
To discern.
An owl hoots as I sit and listen inward–
Bird of your spirit–
So round and open were your gray-green eyes
In their folds of skin in perfect almond shape.
Not a seance I want, but a oneness with the mingled notes
Of you.

Once at the other solstice
And half a world away
We sat with coffee by your patio lilac bush,
You speaking your bell-tones of soft high German.
A bee lit on the skin of your wrist.
Motionless we stayed a ponderous long time
While it cleaned its forelegs of pollen,
Turned antennae north and south,
And finally flew off.
“She didn’t sting me,” you said, “And I didn’t kill her.”
Forbearance, and recovery of spirit–
Your own soft spoken versions of them—stretched [no stanza]
Beneath the laughs that bubbled out
While you bounced around the living room
To offer treats.
I hope to feel them now,
The very ones, and thus
I pray for you,
Though dead.

Or rather, with you.
For why should the blessed dead need any prayers of mine?
A muddy pond of perplexity
Is all my offering mind can be, and yet
I crave to bring you some efflux of me
That might attend and complement
The recursiveness of your happy state–
I crave to ask if you would say my name,
As you always did when you opened the door
And drew me in,
And set the kettle on to sing.

Dies irae? No, that passed you by in afterlife, I’m sure.
You’d had enough of wrath and tears
In two world wars,
Refugee flight, hunger, loss of all belongings,
Hitching rides on trucks,
Children dragging at both hands,
Brother’s death and father’s,
Husband’s temper fits and anguish landing on you– Years of scrambling for a lunch
Of seagull eggs and small potatoes gleaned
After harvest.
Forbearance, and recovery of spirit,
Laughter even, somehow yet you found.
Recordare, Jesu pie–‘Remember
We are the reason for your earth sojourn–
Ne me perdas illa die–do not lose us’
In the night where we might not find
A way
To touch hands of mind and air,
Beyond the end of tears.

2. Place-Time Unposted

Louischen, Dein Kaffee, bitte sehr, und Marzipan,
Es ist nicht wie Du denkst–
Take marzipan, and coffee, dear,
It’s not how you think among us here
Of the inside in–
Joy nodes in the humming we are, no two alike. [no stanza]
The all around that we are, it hums,
It sings, it curves down rounding,
Endless outspread–each of us glittering a piquant color.
On the roll of the curving star clouds we billow,
On the curl of the rolling nutrinos we zip twitch–
Our black-float light place surges nowhere, allwhere.
We are the swirl of the ‘yes’ and the ‘you’ and the ‘we together,’
Down inside in.
Out again always we surge to the green of a burgeoning,
More out to a knock down rock,
Yet further out to a black cold lump, interstellar,
Outmost out to a bound heart dead.
Then again begins the surge back in,
Through darkness hovering,
Through light to a pull down pulse,
We in the one,
We each one,
Each point all light,
All place no place,
Down to the shimmering inmost in,
Tight bundle rounding,
Beaming it–for instance–your way,
Love.

You adjoin us near
On the space-time valulines, the near side end side
Of reality rhombozoid.
In the air we touch your cheek,
In your eyelids we float,
In droplets falling breast to toes
We lathe you.
In Danzig I felt these touches from the other side,
My grandmother’s breath on my cheek, mint sweet
As she took care to be
While she fed me her last noodles
In the Kaiser’s time,
In my eyelids my father’s back in a window lit,
Image that warm-washed down me in soft bath water.
But in Zopot we talked of other things,
In our sand baskets
Chill on the beach–
Or walking downvillage for gooseberry torts with cream
And the Danish coffee.
Guenther Grass might have talked of them,
Strange man, that messer of his own nest– We didn’t think well of him in Danzig.
Now t’siuss, my dear, go well and safely,
All your way home.

3. Bird of Her Spirit

Thanks to you for the company, Uhu,
Owl who glide past my window
Almost brushing the pane,
Your flight angled for the roof overhang
Where you will nest and brood, come spring.

8. The Valosphere II

In the sci-fi novel The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula LeGuin celebrates a universal valosphere, with its own creative energies, and expansiveness. A space-time traveler goes to the planet Winter, representing an intergalactic council of various civilizations. When this envoy tells a ruler there that the council wants an alliance with his civilization, the frightened king asks, “What for?” The envoy says, “Material profit, increase of knowledge. The augmentation of the complexity and intensity of the field of intelligent life. The enrichment of harmony and the greater glory of God. Curiosity. Adventure. Delight.” But the king is terrified, seeing the visitor only as a threat. He replies, “There’s nothing in between the stars but void and terror and darkness, and you come out of that trying to frighten me. But I am already afraid. Fear is king.”

Shall fear be our king? We might smile at the Winterian’s bad logic, if it weren’t so much our own. A void is a void. If there’s nothing at all in it, then there’s no fear. But why does logic not help us with such moments? The question is, shall we put trust in what we are ‘told,’ so to speak, in prayer and other forms of ecstasy? — music, sex, absorption in satisfying making of original things, etc.–all of them glorious experiences of extromission of self into the kind of “exchanges of life” discussed by Rosemary Haughton in The Passionate God. Or shall we regard the import of those experiences as only delusional–a smoke and mirrors effect of our physical and social mechanisms? So it must appear from within discourses of the outside–exactly because they are ‘outside’ it, based on extrapolations from the way our five senses happen to work. (Of course lately there is a great skepticism about the extent to which those objectifying discourses can represent their proposed object domains at all–and a great urge to take up a subject position within other, emotive domains of aggression and playfulness—discourses of the ‘inside,’ such as French feminism ‘speaking’ the female body.)

As a default view, one might think of a new Pascalian wager: if I myself am only a thing of smoke and shadows, then most fittingly I should cast myself on the largest shadow perceptible for me, which brings such plenitude of light and warmth. But what I seem to get told in prayer is that whoever loves and is loved matters, and matters in such fashion that what that self becomes–at its most ‘mattering’ or best instance–is an increment to the valosphere. Not a quantitative but a qualitative increment, as the valosphere is non-quantifiable. The celebrated self exists. Not that consciousness continues when one dies. Just a knock on the head will end that. Rather, the self is existent in such fashion that valorization itself (which can inherently be addressed only from the inside, as person, since ‘personing’ is what it does and persons we are)–valorization itself becomes one increment more and other than what it was, for each self that loves and is loved. As the universe expands, this serendipitous creating that is inherent in the knowing of selves by intelligent beings–more generally in the consciousness of all sentient organisms, which in turn has come from coding in matter-energy–this expansive creating becomes ever more possible and ever more celebratory: until the valosphere, or God as its infusion, “will be all in all.” This is how I understand Tillich’s definition that God is ultimate valuing. Someone who has never received love and never loved has empty eyes–like those of the criminal insane in mug shots. This is how I understand evil as absence of good, absence of all valuing, a lesion in the valosphere, a body gone back to the full recalcitrance of non-coding.

The post-structuralist experiment–to devalue presence and try to live always jumping from one to another of the aporias between its instances–has only succeeded in showing how definitive a category presence is, for human functioning, for self-becoming, for valorizing. I see three options for personal response to what is encountered in ecstasy: the hopscotch on the blank squares of deconstructionism (passé of late, as being non-political); ambling along and being now and then buffeted into touch with the valosphere; or heeding and trusting and riding its rhythms. For me, the last means to revel in God, to dance in presence, to dance it out into all it may have touch with, to work its serendipity on the leviathan of resistant matter-energy to the fullest–within the ‘instance’ that is one’s own self.

Baptism

When February sun has teased
The sheer iced over walls of crags
With glancing warmth,
A first drop tocks
Below.
Beneath the cliffs
Six feet of snow
Are suddenly a potency for water.

A wind-ripped ledge of ice,
Pressed to shivers by elk hooves,
Turns running droplets,
And plops
Down rocks, precipitous,
Until sheer off
Down ragged runs,
It tears away the first green foothill moss.

Nine days’ rain [no stanza]
On head-deep snow
Rolls down each mountain’s overhangs,
Shed
Into the ruts of every coursing rush,
Jagged on stones,
Tumbled to a thrashing, ripping, pounding roar.

Flood plains in valleys,
Dust for years, curving, weed blown,
Lined with pheasant tracks,
Perk.

The raccoons’ ears and rabbits’ eyelids twitch
As pool and channel fill and vanish,
Water pulsing toward the banks.
Branches and wood scraps, a catcher’s mit,
Lopped off stop sign,
Whole playfields, roads, and lawns
Turn river grist and swirl at highway speed.

Where dikes mark lines
Of edgy towns and farms,
Sand bags are heaped.
Shop owners slug and fill,
Pile a hill
Of shaggy cloth unshapely lumps.
Will they think to stand
On a dike just sliding in
And command the land-loving waters
Back?
The river flows where it will,
Water of death,
Unleashed, outrageous, amniotic floodswell,
Carving new born land.