‘And with the silence of stars I enfold your cities made by time.’
From our young Los Angeles poet laureate:
“Here’s to the women who have climbed my hills before.”
The text of 22-year-old Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” in full.
When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves with all nations.”
Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, Saturday, March 4, 1865
“The great privilege of the Americans does not simply consist in their being more enlightened than other nations, but in their being able to repair the faults they may commit.”
-Alexis Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835, Beinecke Library, Yale
Masha Gessen, The New Yorker:
‘Both times the poem (Amanda Gorman) raises “democracy,” Gorman pairs the word with “delay,” which tells us that democracy is a thing expected, anticipated—not a thing that we have built, or possessed, but a dream. This is not the way that politicians or even political theorists usually use the word “democracy,” but it is one way that philosophers have used it. Jacques Derrida, the French deconstructionist, used the term “democracy to come.” Democracy, he wrote, was always forged and threatened by contradictory forces and thus is always “deferred,” always out of reach even in societies that adopt democracy as their governing principle.’
My take away from President Biden’s inaugural speech today:
Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders, leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation, to defend the truth and defeat the lies.
“So now what do we do? We don’t forget, we remember EVERYTHING that has brought us to this moment.”
Brook Gladstone, On The Media
Documentary film maker Ken Burns:
“I used to think there were three great crises: the Civil War, the Depression and the Second World War in American life. I would add this. And maybe this is the very, very worst. But at the same time, we just keep going forward. There is no other option but to endure.” [NPR]
‘Well, darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable, and lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.’
American politics has reached a moment of existential uncertainty. Beyond the headlines and news alerts are problems bigger than any one administration—problems that stem from the deep tensions and challenges in America’s political institutions.
It’s time to reevaluate and revisit how we think about American democracy. The Founding Fathers did their best, but the hosts of a new podcast, “Politics in Question,” have some ideas, too. They discuss political reforms in this first-of-its-kind show that asks the very biggest questions.
Join hosts Lee Drutman, Julia Azari, and James Wallner, three lively experts on American political institutions and reform, as they imagine and argue over what American politics could look like if citizens questioned everything.
There are a lot of podcasts about the daily chaos. But “Politics in Question” is the first to step back and think big about the basic structures and processes of democracy — and to take nothing for granted.
This podcast is part of The Democracy Group, a network of podcasts that examines what’s broken in our democracy and how we can work together to fix it.
“From all the thoughts of ‘I’ and ‘man,’ that man finds utter peace.”
The extremist behavior and violence that took place in Washington, D.C. on January 6 was truly shocking and worthy of condemnation—many have already done so. The whole world is transfixed, bearing witness to the awful and extraordinary unfolding of history.
In my previous letters I wrote about the DISORDER that is already upon us, as well as the consequences that ensue when illusions of power and privilege co-opt and distort Christianity. At the Center for Action and Contemplation, we are free to speak in great part because we are not beholden to the usual constituencies. Using the brilliant metaphor from the Hebrew Scriptures, we are “outside the camp” of either political party, any need to influence an election, and, by the grace of God, any negative or fear-based church pressure from Rome, Santa Fe, or Assisi.
We are also, like few other organizations, free from the coercion of donors and finance, thanks to almost thirty-three years of operating with our priorities clearly in view to all who cared to study or read our publications. Blessedly, our donors have not run for cover over time, but only increased in numbers, continuing to join us—even from outside the usual camps of both religion and politics.
Few people enjoy such freedom of living and teaching from the edge of the inside. This is the unique position that a prophetic charism holds and for which it is responsible; it is structurally quite rare, and therefore we must use it.
“Moses used to take the tent, and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. . . . Anyone who wanted to consult Yahweh would go to this tent of meeting outside the camp.” (Exodus 33:7)
The “tent of meeting” is the initial image and metaphor that eventually became our much later notion of “church.” Moses had the prescience and courage to move the place of hearing God outside and at a distance from the court of common religious and civic opinion—this was the original genius that inspired the entire Jewish prophetic tradition. It is quite different than the mere liberal and conservative positions, and often even at odds with them. Most of liberalism is based on a secular foundation of knowledge, and most of conservatism is identified with boundary-keeping, order, and control. By contrast, Prophecy and Gospel are rooted in a contemplative and non-dual way of knowing—a way of being in the world that is utterly free and grounded in the compassion of God.
The early desert fathers and mothers imitated both Moses and Jesus by fleeing to Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Cappadocia—and some as far as Ireland and Scotland. Beginning in the 4th century, we Christians surrendered our unique and free perspective to the Roman and Byzantine Empires. In the desert and outside the camp, these people discovered what we now call “contemplation”: the alternative mind and the alternative community to the status quo—then and now—of money, power, and war.
The free and graced position found in the tent of meeting is what allowed Jesus and all prophets in his lineage to speak from a minority position. It is always less desirable, compared to the comfortable and enjoyable places at the center and the top; yet it is the Jesus stance, and the place where all Franciscans follow after him.
“Let us go to him, therefore, outside the camp, and be willing to share in his degradation.” (Hebrews 13:13)
For many people, religion as a “cosmic egg” capable of holding universal Truth, collective and personal meaning, is broken. Now, the cracks in this very “uncosmic egg” are rapidly spreading in all directions. Delusions enthrall us and inherent deceit becomes overwhelmingly apparent and manifest in the nihilism of our postmodern age, the denial of science and reasonableness, and the denial of the pandemic that now assaults us all. The very future of the meanings of words and truth are at stake, as specifically exemplified by Trumpism in its many forms.
We must again move with Jesus outside the camp and even be willing to “share in his degradation” if that be God’s will. We must trust that the one who has called us into this present moment will also sustain us and lead us through it.
“Yahweh would speak with Moses face to face [outside the camp] as a young man speaks with his friend. And then Moses would return to the camp.” (Exodus 33:11)
This is the primary vocation of the Center for Action and Contemplation. We invite you to join us—first, in the tent of meeting outside the camp for prayer, dialogue, and deep discernment. Then, like Moses, we must all choose to “return to the camp,” where all of our brothers and sisters live and die.
Maybe unity is not possible, yet, we can remember that we are one, one in humanity as species and co-creators in our reality with ourselves and in each other…especially in context and proximity of losing our democracy, our republic, just three weeks ago. Can we pledge, at least, to cooperation? To listening? To empathy?
We are ‘we the people.’ Let us remember. And may we vow today to divest ourselves from the for-profit platforms and groups that feed disinformation and hate into our collective bloodstream. It must end.
And in less than 24 hours, the first woman vice president in the United States.
The New Moon in Sagittarius with a total Solar Eclipse (seen in parts of South America and Africa) is Monday, December 14th at 9:16AM Mountain Standard Time (MST).
This is a tricky new moon, magnified by the solar eclipse but really good for spiritual prayers and work.
The positive aspects are the potential for an uplifting of energy and vibration into an experience of great unity, spiritual connection and personal clarity of action. The negative aspects and ones to watch out for include delusion, addictions, despair and a very confused and foggy mind.
Work with your spiritual practices even though they may not be focused on anything solid or particular. Prayers for improvement may be enough. The practice itself will give you a sense of purpose and grounding. Work with the sun as the powerful masculine that works with the feminine aspect of the moon.
Do what you can during this powerful time to become clear on your actions and inspired by your imagination and your intentions. Put boundaries against others’ delusions and projections and watch your own. You may want to spend some quality time by yourself, out in nature if you can, or at least in a place where you feel supported and nurtured with little interference from others.
Think of this time as the completion of some chapter in your life and allow what is dissolving to release. Make space for something new.
Be patient and trust the great and indelible solitude at work in you. This will be a nameless influence in all that lies ahead of you to experience and accomplish, rather as if the blood of our ancestors moves in us and combines with us, in the unique, unrepeatable being that at every turn of life that we are.
Dec. 26, 1908
He will watch as his towers crumble to the ground and we melt down the gold-tinted glass and steel to create a gorgeous bridge across our southern border. His golf courses will be transformed into highly diversified ecosystems where sophisticated natural reciprocity, not small men, reign. Everything he built his personal brand around–unlimited wealth and toxic masculinity and an anemic sort of freedom defined by individualism–will become compost for the new world we grow. His worldview will become so archaic as to be understood as the twisted mythology that it is.
-Courtney Martin, author and activist
[“Weird drawing I did while listening to the “debate” last night.” -Courtney]
“Some Pain is simply the normal grief of human existence. That is pain I try to make room for. I honor my grief.”
“What happens next depends on each one of us…and all of us together.”
“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?”
“Stop grumbling among yourselves.”
-Gospel of John 6:43
“No miracles, please.
Just let your laws
from generation to generation.”
“We can only consider things so long. After a while, all the information…all the options and opinions…will begin to weight us down. After our deeper eyes have seen the situation, all the well-meaning voices telling us what we should or should not do will start to feel like strings we can’t cut through.
The only way to know what awaits us is to live it.”
This morning, finding peace in the chaos, calm in the inevitable. We will get through the pain and suffering the next few months politically and socially, and many more for COVID. Our country’s spirit runs deep. We know it will be painful and frightening. Yet, as Courtney Martin writes, all of this will become ‘compost for the new world we grow.’ We choose now, in this moment, how, and what, we want to grow.
Design by Scott Naismith
I am learning to see something new. In addition to sky and land, a third thing has equal significance: the air.
Things usually appear to me as finite and limited in comparison with the great body of Earth. But here there are many things that seem like islands…alone, brightly caressed on all sides by ever-moving air that makes their forms stand out so clearly.
-Rilke, Early Journals
Leave the cruelty to kings.
Without that angel barring the way to love
there would be no bridge for me into time.
-Rilke, From the book of Hours I, 53
These are extraordinarily difficult days. Together, let’s be careful what we amplify, not only with our thoughts, but our words and messaging. -dayle
‘Dear darkening ground, you’ve endured so patiently the walls we’ve built, perhaps you’ll give the cities one more hour.’
We don’t get over loss or tragedy.
“We learn to hold them both at the same time. in an open mind and heart, at the same time. In an open mind and heart, there is room for both.”
Dalai Lama about 9/11: ‘It happened.’ 📿
‘Don’t try to see or force yourself to see the traumas of your past as gifts. They are givens.’
-Roshi Joan Halifax
‘An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive, abusive, unjust, unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy.’
And if our earth needed to
She could weave us together like roses
And make of us a garland.
Gaia will be fine. She will rejuvenate and make new. Humanity…our species…must decide now if we are to survive. Gaia wants to make us a garland. And we continue destruction…politically, socially, economically.
How many times does a person have to lie before you stop listening to them?
If he is given, or steals, another election, greater karmic forces are at play beyond what we know.
We have so much to atone.
‘The tragedy of nations is perhaps this: that even the best rulers use up a piece of their people’s future.’ –Rilke
A rose by itself is every rose.
And this one is irreplaceable,
perfect, one sufficient word
in the context of all things.
Without what we see in her,
how can we speak our hopes
or endure a tender moment
in the winds of departure.
Robert Dale Ohlau
“Avoid providing material for the drama that is always stretched tight between parents and children; it uses up much of the children’s strength and wastes the love of the elders, which acts and warms even if it doesn’t comprehend. Don’t ask for advice from them and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is strength and blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.” -Rilke
From Father Richard Rohr, Barbara Holmes, and Bill McKibbon:
Goodness is a first principle of the universe. God declares it on the first page of the story of creation. —Barbara Holmes
Creation is the first Bible, as I (and others) like to say , and it existed for 13.7 billion years before the second Bible was written. Natural things like animals, plants, rocks, and clouds give glory to God just by being themselves, just what God created them to be. It is only we humans who have been given the free will to choose not to be what God created us to be. Surprisingly, the environmentalist and author Bill McKibben finds hope in this unique freedom. He writes:
The most curious of all . . . lives are the human ones, because we can destroy, but also because we can decide not to destroy. The turtle does what she does, and magnificently. She can’t not do it, though, any more than the beaver can decide to take a break from building dams or the bee from making honey. But if the bird’s special gift is flight, ours is the possibility of restraint.
We’re the only creature who can decide not to do something we’re capable of doing. That’s our superpower, even if we exercise it too rarely.
So, yes, we can wreck the Earth as we’ve known it, killing vast numbers of ourselves and wiping out entire swaths of other life—in fact . . . we’re doing that right now. But we can also not do that. . . .
We have the tools (nonviolence chief among them) to allow us to stand up to the powerful and the reckless, and we have the fundamental idea of human solidarity that we could take as our guide. . . .
While the lives of our elders, our vulnerable, and essential workers are at stake during the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions of us across the globe have been restraining ourselves at home, choosing not to do many things for many weeks in order to protect those we love (and those others love as well). Surely the earth is breathing a sigh of relief for our reduction in pollution and fossil fuel use. This “Great Pause,” as some are calling it, gives me hope that we will soon find it within ourselves to protect our shared home, not only for our own sake, but for our neighbors across the globe, and future generations.
How is a huge part of the world organised under a system that has different meanings country-to-country, and could even mean something different to you, and the person standing behind you in the line to vote?
How do we know democracy is broken if we don’t know what it is?
by Patrick Chalmers.
“To my mind, there seems no better starting point for understanding politics than to grapple with the word “democracy”. What does it mean and how should it work?
The word is easy enough to define. It comes from the Greek for people (demos) and power (kratos), translating as people power, or government by the people. Most of us know democracy as something like that. But things quickly get more complicated when we ask what exactly that means in everyday life.
‘…there’s ubuntu, Watch South African Anglican cleric and human rights activist Desmond Mpilo Tutu describe ubuntu in this video clip.the Nguni language word for a humanist philosophy and way of living from southern Africa. It’s most often translated as “I am, because you are”, a profoundly political concept which evokes the connectedness that exists, or should exist, between all people and the planet – a manifesto for inclusive government.’
The distorting – if not corrupting – influence of money helps to explain why elected representatives rarely reflect the societies they are meant to represent but rather their richer members. Consider the representation of women in government. Though their share of seats in legislatures worldwide is growing, they still represent fewer than a quarter of deputies. The same goes for minorities – whatever they may be, wherever they may be. So while, for example, western countries are becoming more ethnically, racially and religiously diverse, their legislators generally haven’t kept pace with these changes. If the current US presidential race is anything to go by, the face of democracy is still pale, male and stale. In parts of the world where people of colour are the majority, male and stale usually covers it.”
As the arrow endures the bowstring’s tension so that, released, it travels farther. For there is nowhere to remain.
Concentrate on seeing all the beauty your soul can absorb but turn away from what is ugly and vile and degrading. The higher your sights, the better your spirits. Everything we do requires us to reveal our inner longings. Identify them clearly and make productive use of them.
There is nothing more tragic in the modern world than the misuse of power and action to which men are driven by their own Faustian misunderstandings and misapprehensions. We have more power at our disposal today that we have ever had, and yet we are the more alienated and estranged from the inner ground of meaning and love than we have ever been. -Contemplation in a World of Action, 1965
A Democratic Pledge
I would like to
- become more selective in what I watch and read
- become more critically aware of the messages I receive
- find new sources information about the things I care about most
- participate in local media
- create interactions in my community
Living Democracy is emerging within the human services, focusing not solely on individual self-reliance but also on the capacities of people to work together for mutual healing and problem solving. Society’s obligation to help support citizens with specific needs does not have to mean top-down governmental control; self-help and society’s help are mutually enhancing and mutually beneficial.
Towards a Moral Revolution
Moral reckonings are being driven to the surface of our life together: What are politics for? What is an economy for? Jacqueline Novogratz says the simplistic ways we take up such questions — if we take them up at all — is inadequate. Novogratz is an innovator in creative, human-centered capitalism. She has described her recent book, Manifesto for a Moral Revolution, as a love letter to the next generation.
‘I think, in this moment of such peril & possibility, we really could build a world like the world has never seen before. If there was ever a decade to do it, it’s this decade. I want future generations to say, “Look how hard they tried,” not “Look at how blind they were.”’
‘There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the infinite passion of life.’
‘Ah, the knowledge of importance
that haunts our days
is their very fragrance.
We in our striving think we should last forever,
but could we be used by the Divine
if we were not ephemeral?’
‘Planet of the Humans’
‘Mass shutdowns and plummeting air travel, one impact from the coronavirus, have shown how swiftly the planet could benefit from a change.’
From YouTube: “Michael Moore presents Planet of the Humans, a documentary that dares to say what no one else will this Earth Day — that we are losing the battle to stop climate change on planet earth because we are following leaders who have taken us down the wrong road — selling out the green movement to wealthy interests and corporate America.
This film is the wake-up call to the reality we are afraid to face: that in the midst of a human-caused extinction event, the environmental movement’s answer is to push for techno-fixes and band-aids. It’s too little, too late. Removed from the debate is the only thing that MIGHT save us: getting a grip on our out-of-control human presence and consumption.
Why is this not THE issue? Because that would be bad for profits, bad for business. Have we environmentalists fallen for illusions, “green” illusions, that are anything but green, because we’re scared that this is the end—and we’ve pinned all our hopes on biomass, wind turbines, and electric cars? No amount of batteries are going to save us, warns director Jeff Gibbs (lifelong environmentalist and co-producer of “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Bowling for Columbine”).
This urgent, must-see movie, a full-frontal assault on our sacred cows, is guaranteed to generate anger, debate, and, hopefully, a willingness to see our survival in a new way—before it’s too late.”
Global release today. [14-minute film.]
In this time of great uncertainty, the Elders are calling all of humanity back home to the heart.
For humanity to survive, we must shift our consciousness from the mind to the heart.
“This is the time of the Feminine.” Women will now be leading the way.” This film is a blessing.” -Mona Polacca, an Elder from Hopi.
This film is a blessing, and a prayer.
The earth, she is trying to communicate with us.
Our ancestors, ‘they are in us, those long departed ones, they are in our inclinations, our moral burdens, gestures that arise from the depths of time.’
St. Salvayre, France
Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things”
“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things …”
Practice: Forest Bathing
Center for Action & Contemplation:
“The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.” –Paracelsus
Recently, in reference to concerns about COVID-19, I said, “Love always means going beyond yourself to otherness.” African American mystic Howard Thurman understood this deeply through a connection with nature which provided him with “a certain overriding immunity against the pains in life.”  In his youth he found solace in a relationship with a tree near his home. He writes:
Eventually I discovered that the oak tree and I had a unique relationship. I could sit, my back against its trunk, and feel the same peace that would come to me in my bed at night. I could reach down into the quiet places of my spirit, take out my bruises and joys, unfold them and talk about them. I could talk aloud to the oak tree and know that I was understood. It too, was part of my reality, like the woods . . . giving me space.
During this time of social distancing from other humans, it is still possible for some of us to practice “ecotherapy” or in Japanese, Shinrin-yoku—refreshment and healing by walking or resting where there are trees or forests. For those who don’t have access to nature currently, I hope you will have an opportunity soon. I also have a feeling we will all have a newfound appreciation for the outdoors when this time of “sheltering in” is over. From M. Amos Clifford’s book Your Guide to Forest Bathing:
The invitation is simple: Walk slowly [or sit still], while silently noticing what is in motion in the forest. There is always movement, even when things seem perfectly still. Strands of a web drift in the air, trees move in the breezes, birds fly by, and squirrels scramble in the branches, grasses bend, insects crawl. . . .
Until you become accustomed to it, walking slowly for more than a few minutes is, paradoxically, stressful. . . . Because the mind and body are a single entity, slowing our body will also calm our mind. . . .
The eternal movement of the forest gives our minds something to engage with. Just as with sitting meditation the breath is always there and available for watching, in the forest there are always things in motion. Your mind will drift, and many other thoughts will arise. When they do, gently bring your attention back to noticing what’s in motion.
When you find you have automatically sped up, come to a complete halt for a moment. It’s an opportunity to fully give your attention to one thing, noticing how that thing is in motion. After a brief pause you’ll be ready to continue your slow walk.
I recommend that you walk like this for at least 15 minutes. That’s enough time for your mind to go through several cycles of distraction and calming. 
M. Amos Clifford, Your Guide to Forest Bathing: Experience the Healing Power of Nature (Conari Press: 2018), 34–35.
Ecological philosopher Joanna Macy understands: “Our difficulty in looking at what we’re doing to our world stems not from callous indifference or ignorance so much as it stems from fear of pain,” she says.
It is largely after the fact that faith is formed—and gloriously transmuted into hope for the future. Only after the fact can you see that you were being held and led during the fact.
You say one love, one life (One life)
It’s one need in the night
One love (one love), get to share it
Leaves you darling, if you don’t care for it. U2
Living the Questions
On Being host Krista Tippett reflects on this moment as one of collective transition and ponders what we might integrate into the people we become on the other side of it.
To a question from listener Colorado Springs, Krista reflects on seeing this as a collective moment of transition (which is always stressful in human life) and ponders what we might integrate into the people we become on the other side of it. “To really, actively, accompany each other in holding that question — that might be a spiritual calling but also a civilizational calling for this very extraordinary transition,” she says.
Ever again, though we've learned the landscape of love and the lament in the churchyard's names and the terrible, silent abyss where the others have fallen; ever again we walk out, two together, under the ancient trees, ever again find a place among wildflowers, under heaven's gaze. -Rilke, Uncollected Poems
Anything that removes what grows between our hearts and the day is spiritual. The aim of all spiritual paths, no matter their origin or the rigors of their practice, is to help us live more fully in the lives we are given. [Parker Palmer] The life of spirit is everywhere: in in dust waiting for light, in music waiting to be heard, in the sensations of the day waiting to be felt. Beings spiritual is much more useful and immediate than the books about books would have us think.
Pure logic is the ruin of the spirit.
-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Creativity requires serendipity and a playful, receptive spirit. Let yourself go when you are trying to invent something new.
Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us, because we feel momentarily abandoned by what we’ve believe and grown accustomed to; because we can’t keep standing as the ground shifts under our feet. That is why the sadness passes over like a wave. The new presence inside us, that which has come to us, has entered our heart, has found its way to its innermost chamber, and is no longer even there…it is already in our blood.
And we don’t know what it was. We could easily be persuaded that nothing happened, and yet something has changed inside us, as a house changes when a guest comes into it. We cannot say who has entered, we may never know, but there are many indications that the future enter us in just this way, to transform itself within us long before it happens.
That is why it is so important to be alone and attentive when you are sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than any loud and accidental point of time which occurs, as it were, from the outside.
‘Let us pray together for doctors, hospital staff, and volunteers who are giving their own lives to save others. And for civil leaders, for those who have to make decisions at this time. All these people are the pillars defending us in this crisis.’
In Italy, one priest asks for photos from his parishioners to place them in his sanctuary as he prays for them, everyone, during this time of pandemic.
From Hailey, Idaho’s Rev. Lea Colvill: ‘This Italian priest demonstrates how we see with our hearts.’
Father Richard Rohr, at the Center for Action & Contemplation in New Mexico:
‘As we grow in the spiritual life, our life will become increasingly centered. Only a few things will really matter. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, I see a lot of people right now thinking this way. There’s a sense that we’re all in this together—every continent, country, class, religion, race, age, or gender. We’re all subject to this crisis. Suffering has an ability to pull you into oneness.’
But in these dancing tears,
what is often withheld can be found:
‘…love your solitude and bear the pain of it without self-pity. The distance you feel around you should trouble you no more than your distance from the farthest stars.’
‘If a man has to be pleasing to me, conforming, reassuring, before I can love him, then I cannot truly love him. Not that love cannot console or reassure! But if I demand first to be reassured, I will never dare to begin loving. If a man has to be a Jew or a Christian before I can love him, then I cannot love him. If he has to be black or white before I can love him, then I cannot love him. If he has to belong to my political party or social group before I can love him, if he has to wear any kind of uniform, then my love is no longer love because it is not free: it is dictated by something outside itself. It is dominated by an appetite other than love. I love not the person but his classification, and in that event I love him not as a person but as a thing. In this way I remain at the mercy of forces outside myself, and those who seem to me to be neighbors are indeed strangers; for I am, first of all, a stranger to myself.’
-Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration, 1965
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith on the purpose and power of poetry
The two-time American poet laureate joins The Ezra Klein Show for a powerful conversation on love, language, and more.
‘It’s the rare podcast conversation on The Ezra Klein Show where, as it’s happening, I’m making notes to go back and listen again so I can fully absorb what I heard. But this is that kind of episode.
Tracy K. Smith is the chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton and a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, and was the two-time poet laureate of the United States from 2017 to 2019. But I’ll be honest: she was an intimidating interview for me. I often find myself frustrated by poetry, yearning for it to simply tell me what it wants to say, aggravated that I can’t seem to crack its code.
Preparing for this conversation, and even more so, talking to Smith, was a revelation. Poetry, she argues, is about expressing “the feelings that defy language.” The struggle is part of the point: you’re going where language stumbles, where literalism fails. Developing a comfort and ease in those spaces isn’t something we’re taught to do, but it’s something we need to do. And so, on one level, this conversation is simply about poetry: what it is, what it does, how to read it.
But on another level, this conversation is also about the ideas and tensions that Smith uses poetry to capture: what it means to be a descendent of slaves, a human in love, a nation divided. Laced through our conversation is readings of poems from her most recent book Wade in the Water, and discussions of some of the hardest questions in the American, and even human, canon. Hearing Smith read her erasure poem, “Declaration” is, without doubt, one of the most powerful moments I’ve had on the podcast.
There is more to this conversation than I can capture here, but to say it simply: this isn’t one to miss, and that’s particularly true if, like me, poetry intimidates you.’
I want to utter you. I want to portray you
not with lapis or gold, but with colors made of apple bark.
There is no image I could invent
that your presence would not eclipse.
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, 1967.
Prayer, contemplation, is freedom and affirmation growing out of nothingness into love. Prayer is the flowering of our inmost freedom, in response to the Word. Prayer is not only dialogue with God: it is the communication of our freedom with ultimate freedom in infinite spirit. It is the elevation of our limited freedom into the infinite freedom of the divine spirit and of the divine love. Prayer is the encounter of our freedom with all the all-embracing charity which knows no limit and knows no obstacle. Prayer is an emergence into this area of infinite freedom. Prayer, contemplation, then, is not an abject procedure, though sometimes it may spring from our abjection. But prayer is not something that is meant to maintain us in servility and helplessness. We take stock of our own wretchedness at the beginning of prayer, contemplation, in order to rise beyond it and above it to infinite freedom and infinite creative love in God.
-Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action, 1965
When do we
become one with earth and stars?
It is not achieved, a young friend, by being in love,
however vibrant that makes your voice.
Learn to forget you sang like that. It passes.
Truly to sing takes another kind of breath.
A breath in the void. A shudder in God. A wind.
-Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus I, 3
Because Jesus did not directly attack the religious and institutional systems of his time until his final action against the money changers in the temple , his primary social justice critique and action are a disappointment to most radicals and social activists. Jesus’ social program, as far as I can see, was a quiet refusal to participate in almost all external power structures or domination systems. Once we have been told this, we see it everywhere in the four Gospels. Jesus chose a very simple lifestyle which kept him from being constantly co-opted by those very structures, which we can call the sin system.
The city of Sepphoris was the Roman regional capital of Galilee and the center for most money, jobs, and power in the region where Jesus lived. It was just nine miles from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Yet there is no record that Jesus ever went there, nor is it mentioned once in the New Testament, even though he and his father, Joseph, were carpenters or “workmen” and Jesus traveled through many other cities much farther away. He also seems to have avoided the money system as much as possible by using “a common purse” (John 12:6, 13:29)—voluntary “communism,” we might say.
Jesus was finally a full victim of the systems that he refused to worship. Is this not a much more coherent explanation of why Jesus died?
What can we learn from Jesus’ life about how we might address the systems of inequity and oppression in our own cultures? One lesson seems to me that we have to “start local.”
He simply goes around doing what he knows to be right, which he surely discovered during his long periods of solitude and silence (a form of contemplation) on the outskirts of town, and others begin to join him.
-Fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation
our own impermanence is concealed from us.
The trees stand firm, the houses we live in
are still there. We along
flow past it all, an exchange of air.
Only the woman who has had to face despair is really
convinced that she needs mercy.
I miss you, D.
Twenty years now
Where’d they go?
I don’t know
I sit and I wonder sometimes
Where they’ve gone
And sometimes late at night
When I’m bathed in the firelight
The moon comes callin’ a ghostly white
And I recall