A House Blessed

vincent-van-gogh-paintings-from-the-yellow-house-4The doorbell rang around 11:00 a.m. My hubby George and I were both upstairs.

“Can you get it?” I called to him from my study.

“Nope, I’m changing my clothes. I don’t have pants on,” he answered.

So I ran downstairs and opened the door.

A small woman stood there smiling, wearing a suit and a straw hat that seemed to be from an era long past. She looked to be in her early sixties. “I’m Rose Goldman,” she said. “I grew up in this house.”

“How lovely,” I replied.

Not missing a beat, she continued, “I know it’s odd to have a stranger come to your door, and I’d understand if you weren’t comfortable letting me in, but…” [Read more...]

Everybody Should Write Poetry

Vision After the Sermon (1888), Paul GauguinPeople who read poetry but don’t write it are like those who have just heard about the burning bush. They’ve got to write poetry. They’ve got to read it also, because then they’ve heard about the burning bush, but when you write it, you sit inside the burning bush, which is different. I think everybody should write poetry.

This radical viewpoint is that of poet Li-Young Lee, speaking to the editors of a rich book published a couple years ago, A God in the House: Poets Talk about Faith. When I recently quoted Lee’s words to a friend who is a fine poet, at first he scowled. Doesn’t writing poetry take special dedication and talent and hard work? That’s what his scowl seemed to ask. And yes, of course, writing good poetry does take all this.

But that’s not Lee’s unconventional point. He’s saying, in effect: everyone needs to nestle down inside language to get to know its ways, to get comfy with how playful it can be, how expansive, how unexpected in its openings to new experience. [Read more...]

Inner Peace Part 2: Mirror and Furnace

Yesterday I traced the spirituality of a Zen Garden stroll, then of meditation based on the ancient Eastern insight that, as the Upanishads says:

This whole universe is Brahman… He who consists of mind, whose body is the breath of life… He is my Self within the heart, smaller than a grain of rice or a barley-corn… greater than the earth.

Mysticism is the general name for this insight: that, in a nutshell (or a barley-corn), God is my Self within the heart.” All major religions have their mysticisms, because all have believers who’ve experienced the transcendent God within their hearts. Islam has Sufis. Christianity has monastic life, with meditation its core practice: the discipline of disposing oneself for direct experience of the divine. Often called “contemplative prayer,” it’s widely practiced by ordinary Christians as well.

Though contemplation, meditation, and mysticism aren’t always interchangeable, they can be for my purpose here. All religions are definitely not interchangeable, but they all share the mystical spiritual experience. This is logical, since there’s only one God; and direct experience of God would be as unmediated as an experience can be. [Read more...]

Inner Peace Part 1: Zen Gardens

Zen gardens were all the rage when I installed a modified version in my backyard some years ago. They still are, I’ve noticed.

Peek behind the gentrified urban home or into a back corner of the suburban lot and you’re likely to see the telltale rock triad, the twisting gravel path, the lone dwarf evergreen, and the stone water bowl of the Zen garden.

Just a peek won’t give you the intended experience, though. Japanese gardens are meant to be strolled through.

The sound of the gravel under your feet is soothing. Shinto priests in pre-Buddhist Japan sensed this over fifteen hundred years ago, and so their sacred spaces were spread with small stones.

The odd windings of the Zen garden path are meant to slow you down, while taking you meditatively through real life in abbreviated form. Medieval Zen priests planned out these gardens as spiritually-directed space. The way to enlightenment is necessarily contorted, they said. The Zen path is designed to take you through life’s inevitable twists and turns without getting tangled or tied in knots.

You might come upon an asymmetrical rock grouping or a single rock with its swirling strata roughly exposed. These are the irregularities of human relations, the ups and downs, the rough and the smooth. Suddenly confronting them, you mustn’t stumble. [Read more...]

Ripping Out My Past

I’m in the attic staring at boxes. One is labeled Journals, 1979-1985. Another is Journals, 1986-1990. Another is Letters: friends and family, 1975-1982. Another…

But I stop to muse: Look at these hundreds of pages of letters exchanged in only seven years. Typed or handwritten originals from recipients; carbon copies of my replies. Yes, we wrote long letters then, and treasured them enough to keep them.

And the journals. Spiral bound notebooks that I kept by hand daily from 1979 until a couple years ago, though the past ten years or so are scanty. That’s because I started using the computer for all my writing.

The journals had been my “commonplace books,” as I thought of them, modeling myself on Virginia Woolf. She kept notes of her reading, notes for writing projects, and personal reflections all in one consecutive notebook. Once I started thinking of myself as a writer, I imitated her practice.

So in these boxes of notebooks is a record of my every thought during about thirty years.

And they all have to go.

[Read more...]


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