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
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
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,

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.


When February sun has teased
The sheer iced over walls of crags
With glancing warmth,
A first drop tocks
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,
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,

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
The river flows where it will,
Water of death,
Unleashed, outrageous, amniotic floodswell,
Carving new born land.

9. Prayer and the Chora

If God is infused throughout a pulsing five-dimensional valosphere, so to speak imbuing the whole universe, how can we pray to this God as a person, as Christians always have? Love this God? Hear and claim promises. Make promises. Be angry at this God.

I think of prayer not as addressing a kind of Superperson somewhere out in the thick of space-time, micro-managing everything by infinite computer networks (contacted maybe by cellphone). I think instead of looking and speaking to the very source of ‘personing’ within oneself–“Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Attending inward in prayer takes our consciousness straight through the center of the processes that are always maintaining selfhood in each person–what Julia Kristeva calls the chora, using a term from Plato. It’s a ‘clearing house’ of drives and energies in each individual body and psyche, that constantly organizes, resets them, and keeps them running, enabling each of us to make unique speech, and to live as patterned, social and emotive creatures–with the incredibly intricate skills for knowing and communicating that even the ‘simplest’ of us has.

Trying to speak just to the chora might be fearsome, unsettling, dangerous. It might appear as the goddess Kali, a terrifying mother of storms, who eats her children as well as nurturing them. That is, if you see the chora as a particular staging of the biological world of recycling death and life–a convergence of the body’s surging energies with the surging and billowing energies of the whole biological world–you have Kali of the many hands and thick braids. But if you take the chora as not an end but a medium of address–if you call and speak not to but through it, in a wild guess at a reception in ‘person’ behind it–you have prayer to a personal deity. Sometimes the chora is clouded, disturbed, churning; it lacks the semi-transparency we need for prayer. One must watch and attend the times.

After the inward turn of prayer, its further motion is extromissive. As a trout jumps clear of lake water, the self gets out of its auto-reflexivity, to soar through an air both languid and brisk. A not-me is touched into: bracing, unresisting, bright, astonishing–a shining and a wind. The self gets out, materially, centrifugally, out into the social and ecological networks of all that the prayer has touch with, through its language, images, and other connections. And the self gets out of individual awareness–into the material bases of those networks’ coding. These are just two things that happen–who would claim to explain more than small intimations here? In the process, the self is aufgehoben, in the philosopher Hegel’s term, ‘put up for later,’ thereby moving from being, into becoming, into existence again–then back into private being. This is one way it becomes the self for the last day–the day that is last by ultimatum not by temporal lateness–the ultimatum of materiality, into which the self comes back down. Because value, the love energy driving the process, has always been encoded in the innards of that wild stuff, matter-energy. A clump of matter-energy comes to hand where some love of fashioning is at work, and gets patted into shape by a willed intensity–as a friend’s little boy sat all a winter afternoon, kneading and kneading playdough into shapes. Resistant, yet it succumbs. Mythically, the stuff is Job’s monster Leviathan, every way tougher to work than playdough, rocky, dragonish–blocking infusions of meaning as selfhood. But they happen, and all the more intensely in prayer.

In the second discourse of Job’s whirlwind, Yahweh the whirling warrior-defender reveals himself, fighting Leviathan, as Anu battled Tiamat, the world serpent of chaos–battled for control enough to make meaning out of churning, deadening, mute, crushing, piling matter and dust, its molecules at first too simplistic for any new coding. Often Leviathan wins. Who can put a leash on it? “It sprawls on the mud like a threshing-sledge. Its heart is firm as a rock. Untiring energy dances ahead of it. It looks down on all creatures.” But always again the defender wrestles love into it. And riding that ripple of motion, the selves come down again. And they’re incrementally more than before, having recouped something achieved and known through the intensity of love–then being enfleshed again. Only out of and into time can this happen. Speaking from within a discourse of the inside, Job in anger at the nagging friends accusing him of guilt for his misfortunes, foresaw the end of the whirling god’s reply: “But I know that I have a living Defender, and that he will rise up last, on the dust of the earth. After my awakening, he will set me close to him, and from my flesh I shall look on God. He whom I shall see will take my part: my eyes will be gazing on no stranger.”

Eucharist at Menopause: The Broken Bowl

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . . . before the evil days come when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’; before the sun and the moon and stars are darkened, and the clouds return after the rain, the grasshopper drags itself along, the grinders cease because they are few, and the lookers through windows are dimmed; then one rises up at the voice of a bird, the golden bowl breaks, and all the daughters of song are brought low” (from Eccles. 3 & 12).

Does any death mean all of death?
Not alone the body must come to sweetness
And drop
From the tree of life,
But the spirit must ripen too.
Each spirit body, one in being, grown to rondure,
Adds to September’s brimful air
Its own self-telling scent,
Like apricot among the almonds–
Or down at a stream the mountain laurel’s mint suffusion
Among the sugar pines.

When is it time to die again
With the crucified one,
When the time to rise with him
And sing of Jerusalem?
The cup I have drunk,
Was it not the cup of his blood?
I ate unleavened bread,
Walked the scorpion way through deserts.
May I not sing the dying body,
Before the evil days come
And the golden bowl breaks?

The daughters of song fall silent then,
Dispersing into clouds of witnesses
That come again after the rain. [no stanza]
You floaters, onlookers from the valospheric ether,
You watchers and you holy ones, dancing
Relaying at jumped up voltage the intercessions
Begged by beasts of bone and blood,
Will I join you,
Flesh unready, songs unsung?

10. Prayer II: Body Surfing and the Lotus Leaf

Christ as a mental image for prayer is the Jesus of tradition and history. Once in a writing class, where I try to get students to do some real writing that they have to work on anyway, I had a Jewish student who was applying for rabbinical school. So she chose to draft her application narrative, as one assignment. If admitted, she would be the first woman ever to study there; she wanted it to be really well written. One part talked about prayer, and as we worked on the sentences, she asked me if Christians really pray to Jesus. How could we pray to a certain man? Her question was genuine and respectful.

Probably each practicing Christian finds, over time, a personal vision of him. It’s done in terms of one’s own needs, knowledge, and cultural conditioning. For myself, I see him walking rough stone streets and rocky hill roads, maybe with a donkey, delivering carpentry work. He comes to his home village after a time away and reads out the prophecy of Isaiah on the anointed one, claiming it. People are angry. They push him to a cliff edge. He stares them down and walks away. He goes through lakeside towns. He tells stories. People join him. They get interesting, generous, strong together. After nights of fishing he’s ashore making breakfast barley cakes and grilled fish. He talks to men–farmers, villagers–about living Moses’ laws, not stealing, not even wanting other people’s goods, not informing on each other to the occupation force. He talks to women about the two sides of hospitality, food and company, or about escaping prostitution. He talks of living in so much God-fullness, so much God-presence that those things aren’t issues any more. The wildflowers don’t own their colors, nor the birds their songs, so laws aren’t an issue for them. Why for us? Abba the father grieves for even a sparrow’s fall, so how much more should we grieve for each other’s pain? Jesus does politics. He knows how to talk to whom, when, where. How to gather groups of people who can find the ‘reign of God’ in each other. How to turn aside threats with well aimed words and careful, warm responses. How to give blessings for curses, push for peace, outtalk insults, decline humiliation. Ordered to give, you give more, claim moral high ground, tell better stories than the oppressors have. Write simple questions in the sand with your foot, until the mob around a scapegoated woman drops their killing stones and drifts away. Of course eventually the big-time collaborators kill him. But people carry it on anyhow—the kingly reign of God. I see this Jesus inside my eyes when I pray through consciousness (which is only one way of praying), and I think that when I see him, I see God.

As a way into prayer to God the person, sometimes one could start with a kind of second-person saying of the Gloria prayer, then move into something beyond it. Its poetry dances through and among the persons of the trinity, weaving in and out of their oneness and multiplicity, adoring them each as both alone and together. ‘Glory to you in the highest, Lord, and peace to your people on earth. Lord God, heavenly monarch, almighty God and father-mother, I worship you, I give you thanks, I praise you for your glory. (Or one can say this with ‘we’ and ‘us,’ having someone in mind to pray with and for.)

After this dance of interwoven persons, one could in a sense start talking to them as one, by saying something like ‘Let me love you and listen to you.’ Then there could be a stretch of silence and attention, when some current problem, or maybe a sense of regret, could be held in the mind, to be turned over for scrutiny and help. A person one has offended. A failure one hopes to make up for. Or there might be no need for such a step. Then there could be a mental scan, in search of what one most wants to beg blessing for just then. A friend in surgery and mental trouble. The priest who blesses so many–ask him to go walking tomorrow. The task of tomorrow that one doesn’t know how to start. Someone who seems flush with gifts and is only to be celebrated with a flow of thanks.

This is not a listing of items but a kind of enveloping of each person or matter with love and concentration. After only a few, one may need to stop for this time. And then a while there can be just alert presence, as it were a time of sitting, looking into someone’s eyes. Some words of love particular to the moment may form in the mind. Or they may not.

This is only an example, a mode for ordinary time. (Moments of great trouble or fear, for instance, would need other modes.) It’s not so much that the words spoken in the mind are prayer. Rather, the words launch the self into prayer, as when in body-surfing one paddles briskly up to speed, launching onto the wave approaching from behind. Then one rides. The prayer is at once the wave, the rider, and the riding. If the colloquy with Christ is the riding, then God the Father-Mother may be the shore.

A different, in a sense opposite form of prayer is explained in the opening chapters of Thomas Keating’s Open Mind, Open Heart. While the prayer suggested above is fully passional, like the pleas and joys of the Psalms, at the other end of a pendulum swing is Keating’s centering meditation. It is quietistic–the drives of body and psyche are calmed into clarified, unmoving attention to the inner face behind the chora, until even the gaze of attention becomes unnecessary as one drops into sheer absorption in the divine.

One can start by sitting comfortably, breathing deeply and easily, thinking a while only of the breath, or the sounds in the room. Then choose a sacred word, something low-keyed, general, and positive, like ‘peace,’ ‘kindness’ or ‘light’—perhaps have a lit candle present. Speak the word once firmly, inwardly and say you are assigning it a meaning for this time, like ‘God, I give myself now only to silence in your love, and let this be the meaning of my word.’ Then simply wait, putting all thoughts whatever out of one’s consciousness. Twenty minutes. Half and hour. Maybe longer, though one may well set a time limit. It’s best not to try to reach any particular state of God presence. That will happen over multiple sessions, with the faithfulness of the practice. When distracting thoughts intrude, as they will, accept their presence cheerfully; just use the sacred word as a kind of easy feather to brush them along slowly, out of sight, down the stream of mental flow, like leaves or driftwood on water, so that silence is again achieved. The first several times maybe nothing will ‘happen.’ One will not always reach a sense of God presense and that does not matter. The good is in the practice of self-emptying, the quieting of the need to ‘say’ anything at all.

Centering The Active Life

My mind’s book is something filled,
As if someone delightedly
Had scribbled all the margins up
While finding clues at once to build and solve
A mystery.
Linkages, synapses being formed,
Cast up a dance of spirit
When each spiral turn
Flips up colored swirls–
Green perhaps, or violet,
Scented of sour-cream spinach soup with chives,
Or buttered blueberry tort.
A loving scrutiny, a taking care,
Has put it there
In the book.

I get up and go
To that place of bodied mind, sit tall and look
Within, beyond.
Diaphragm tensing, releasing,
Hands upturned and lightly curled,
I float on a modicum
Of striped and dappled humanness.
I wait for the end of all my trains of thought,
For the last caboose to rattle by.

I wait,
For strands of dark and lighted rays
Of vast instretching kindness from all sides
To fill me,
I wait, in the last layer of seeing.