Lord of Miracles

A ruined cathedral, partially buried by lava rock, against a background of blue sky, clouds, and tree-covered hills.

Paricutin Cathedral – Photo credit: Daniel Tapia. Some rights reserved.

In 1943, two Mexican towns were consumed by a sudden yet gradual volcanic eruption. All of the townspeople’s lives were spared, together with most of the nearby cathedral.

Lord of Miracles

Nevertheless,
the north tower thrusts toward heaven
a gnarled and knobby index finger
jabbing, accusing,
hissing, “You did not lay me low.

Oh, you tried,
on the day you wrapped your
gentle, burning arms
around my brother and me.
You reached up, and you held me,
and you pulled my stone
toward yours,
yet still I stand.”

Its sibling to the south says nothing,
its throat and mouth having plunged
to mingle with the jagged tumble
of dark lava-rock
surrounding and permeating
the cathedral that was,
the sacred place that is,
sixty-five years after
God’s hot embrace.

Behind those brothers –
one tall, one reduced
to stubby fingers reaching up,
an open hand to receive the gifts
of the sky – is the chapel
with three walls and no top.
It too is ready
to accept heaven’s favors
even if they descend from above
as a slow avalanche of fire.

Pilgrims fill the chapel –
seekers dressed in yellow and red,
in green as vibrant as the brush
that ekes out life upon this
snaggy, igneous landscape.
They come for the icon enshrined within –
el Señor de los Milagros.

And were there ever miracles here?
Was it love that was raining down
when the people of two towns
lost their homes,
yet thanks to the slow tenderness
of God’s scorching grasp,
not a single soul lost her life?

El Señor hangs upon his tree –
the ruin at which he eventually arrived –
as the women who loved him weep.
He seems to gaze upward
at the similar cross
that sits proudly atop the northern spire.
In the late afternoon sun
the tower’s stone and brick skin is black
and brown, tan and red like flame,
like human flesh.

And in the sunlight,
it stands.

ode to the table – day one

uneven and paint-splotched
    knobbly     wobbly
you’d teeter like the tippling pals
you held upright the night before
except for the wadded-up napkins
someone jammed beneath your toes

this is no place for flawlessness
yet your mighty central pillar
elevates your broad circular surface
    welcoming     balancing
high enough above the filthy floor
to ground my nervous drumming fingers

it’s dark in this stranger-full room
and i’m sharing you with two women
    not-yet-kate    not-yet-erin
who aren’t talking to me
because although this is a sort of church
it won’t be my church for another year

so i stare down at you instead
studying your lavish ornamentation
of gum-wads and peeling/curling stickers
until the indescribable commences
    uncontainable    untameable
and i am beguiled for good

Entering the Stream

(three versions)

 

entering the stream

perhaps
i’ll wade in
despite
my flaws

perhaps
i’ll swim

 

Entering the Stream

I’m not ready.
I’m not worthy.
I’m a fraud.

Surely the rush of
clear, cool water
will reject me –
vomit me out.

Or maybe I do not need
to be enlightened first
before I dip in a toe.

Maybe I can wade in,
imperfect as I am –
just up to my ankles.

And then, perhaps I can
continue walking,
until the stream comes up
to my thighs,
to my belly,
to my chest…
over my head.

Until I must learn
to breathe
underwater.

Or maybe
simply
learn to swim.

 

Entering the Stream

I’m not prepared to wade in here.
My worth is much in doubt.
My fraudulence is all too clear.
This stream will spew me out.

Unless – perhaps I need not know
enlightenment at first.
What if I may dip in a toe?
(I’ll try…I haven’t burst!)

Now ankle-deep I venture in,
now thigh, now gut, now breast.
And now, two feet above my chin…
and terror grips my chest!

I need to learn to breathe the stream
and bear this state most grim.
Or else…perhaps a simpler scheme:
I’ll merely learn to swim.

fourfold

called to embrace life
though permeated by suffering
it’s dappled with beauty
this is all real

empowered to release reactions
watching clouds take shape
letting them drift away
they don’t snag me

delighted to glimpse clarity
seeing beyond habitual responses
compassionate freedom opens wide
ah, clear blue sky!

prepared to journey onward
twisting path conceals much
that is tomorrow’s business
here is step one

listening

it doesn’t matter if i listen
i said to her

if i listen
or if i do not listen
when my body has something to say to me
it will certainly make itself heard

if my body wants to convey ANXIETY
then my chest will clench
as if the teenage iguana
that lives inside it
woke up and uncurled
stretched out its spikey legs
and bit down on my esophagus
hard

if my body wishes to say DESIRE
then it will vanish all my ambivalence
about my maleness
in a coup of utter control
directing my eyes
and other parts
toward the object of its infatuation

if my body would communicate DESPAIR
it will do so
and my face and shoulders and heart
will all follow its lead
drooping and sliding
into the deep

so you see
it doesn’t matter if i listen
or not

Underneath

I know it’s not real.
I know.
My father told me so,
and I believe him.

He always tells the truth.

So I know
that when my father
turns off the light,
and it’s quiet
(at first)
and then I hear the scritch,
       scritch,
               scritching,
I know
that it’s all in my head.

And I know
that when I call out,
“Stop!
Stop scritch,
        scritch,
                scritching
underneath my bed!”

and I hear in reply,
       no, little poppet
       you do not want me
           to stop
       because if I stop
           scritching
       then I will begin
           chewing
I know
that too
is all in my head.

My head
is clearly not right,
but I do not want it
to be chewed
off my neck.

So I don’t try to stop
the scritching
anymore.

It has been
one hundred and eight days
since I last slept.

And now,
because my nails
have grown
so fine and sharp,
and my teeth
       all in my head
       all in my head
have become
so long and cruel,

I know that
it is time for me to leave.
It is time for me to go
and find another child’s bed
to scritch
        scritch
                scritch
underneath.

concrete and iron

my feet are encased in concrete
massive blocks of my own casting
the left is named “befuddlement”
the right is called “craven fear”
they’re easy to pour but hard to lift

that’s why i don’t move forward
or do anything worth mentioning
to remedy this present situation
to disrupt our shared delusion
of deeply cutting separation

i cherish my cement shoes
they make me rooted and safe
but my harridan heart keeps nagging
to lift them high and bring them down
smashing them to bits as i run

before another perfect shining child
emerges from the womb’s embrace
and holds out her trembling wrists
to receive those rusty iron shackles
forged from scarcity and shame

Prayer of the Trinity

Source of all creation!
Within your love,
within your being,
you bear everything there is to bear.

Every one of us.
Each of our hurts,
each of our joys,
each of our awakenings to you,
each of our violations of one another.

You enfold the whole universe,
and in you the universe is made one.

And could it have been
that your creation took the form
of an undifferentiated reality,
uniform and pristine,
perfect and unmarred by ruin?

Perhaps.
But it is not that.
It is not that kind of creation.

So you became incarnate!
You took individual shape,
formed of solid bone and muscle,
and you became the beloved child.

And your beloved child…
missed you.

But your beloved remembered
where to find you:

at the time of baptism,
and at the table,
and day after day,
in stillness,
and in prayer,

your child encounters your spirit!
And your child discovers wholeness –
finds integration with you.

Source, and child, and spirit:
three in one,
and one in love.

Captivity

By the rivers of Babylon

by the rushing waters of Prosperity,
and the mighty flood of Security

there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

At least, we thought we remembered.
We had this picture in our heads anyway,
clear as day
of a world, a nation, a life
permeated with Shalom.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying,
Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

But then these punk teenagers stole our harps –
plucked them right off the trees!
(Kids these days have no respect for private property.)
And they started singing a new song.

And it reminded us
(some of us, the more honest among us)
of the songs of Zion.
The tunes were familiar,
yet more generous and varied,
and the beat was more ingenious
and insistent.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;
if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Then a girl with dark brown skin
said to me,
I will teach your right hand a new cunning.
I will show you how to play this song.

Your tongue can learn to sing this melody.
It does not need to remain
cleaved.

Do not be afraid.

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said,
Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof.
O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed;
happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones
against the stones.

I remember now.
I, child of Edom.
I, daughter of Babylon.
I remember saying “raze it, raze it”.
I did not shout it in the street.
I did not even vote for it.
But I bought in.

“Prosperity, Security.”
I floated along these mighty rivers
untouched by the cries
of the people on the banks.

And now,
as I sit and weep
beside these waters,
I turn to this young girl
and I say,
Teach me.

Three (a spiritual autobiography)

So far, I’ve lived through three tumultuous seasons
engulfed within the tsunami called conversion.
The first time, that hot and hasty summer of ’99,
I met the Buddha in the form of an exiled monk
who taught me to take refuge in the Triple Gem,
and to confront my anger, ignorance, and fear.
I didn’t know that my ecstasy was fueled by mania;
nonetheless, all of my prostrations were sincere.

The second time, I came home to the Church,
having been astonished by some Arizona Baptists.
When those red Episcopalian doors opened wide,
it felt like coming home. And me? For years I was all in.
I gave myself to God, to the Church, to my church,
until slowly, in the opposite order, they betrayed me,
and I wandered in the wilderness for forty years.
OK – six years staring at my own unkempt backyard.

The third time was long after I had given up, and
it was occasioned by admitting defeat to my friends.
The very moment I told my church I was a nonbeliever,
my atheism was doomed to live no more than a month.
I’m still an atheist – what I’m not is a reliable narrator.
But I’m a queer heathen, given my trinitarian streak.
So yeah, now I call myself a “scientific pantheist”,
and I think we’re all one, and the universe is sacred.

Weird, I know.

The common thread through all of these conversions
is – my God – how I’ve always excessively loved liturgy.
I mean, Tibetan Buddhism is “smells and bells” Dharma,
with incense and chanting, icons and ritual pomp.
And my Anglican church tradition is justly known as
“Catholicism lite”, on account of the litanies and thurifers.
And now? Well, this naturalistic mystic sure does dig
a Eucharistic liturgy or a Vajrasattva purification mantra.

So what’s the unifying thread, making all these motley
pieces of me groove to the funky rhythms of sacrament?
I think it might be emptiness. Because liturgy is poetry,
which is shaped by the space between words, and lines.
To Buddhists, emptiness – shunyata – is the ultimate truth.
To Christian mystics, emptying self reveals God’s fullness.
All this is just crazy philosophy, but in my bones I believe
That the space we perceive between us is actually sinew.

It’s weird,
I know.