Sunday, December 21, 2008
I would like to buy 3 dollars worth of God, please
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want the warmth of the womb not a new birth.
I want about a pound of the eternal in a paper sack.
I'd like to buy 3 dollars worth of God, please
How much God do you want?
You get as much or as little as you desire.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
One group of lovely people
Some Mulled Wine
A crackling Wood Fire
An embarassment of Cookies
and some poetry and music.
Leave in Room and see what happens.
It was glorious. And for your delectation a little poem.
Into The Darkest Hour
by Madeleine L’Engle
It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss-
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.
It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight-
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.
And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.
Monday, November 10, 2008
But on to happier things.
Autumn - that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness/ close bosom friend of the departing sun - has been late and lingering here in Sanctus Boscus. This morning the sun was shining, the air was cold and bracing and I was on my bike. It was glorious as I puffed my way to the top of the mountain, cycling on a golden carpet of fallen leaves and paying attention to the swaying trees. At the top I sat in the breeze and watched the ships on the blue Lough below, thinking, and paying attention to the sacred everyday. It refreshed my soul.
I've been reading a lot of Mary Oliver recently. If you haven't read her please run to the nearest store now and pick up Snow Geese and Thirst. If you like poetry and have a pulse, you wont be disappointed. The greatest thing I've learnt from Mary -and its not a new lesson, though one I have to be reminded of - is to pay attention to whats around me, particularly the natural world. This morning there was bird song, wind in the trees and the rhythmic sound of my tyres on the leaf strewn path , praying a simple prayer of thanks for nothing more than being alive and able to enjoy this ....
I'll leave you with a poem from Thirst and promise to be more regular here and less on Facebook in the coming weeks.
It doesn't have to be
the blue iris,it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
The words of the Sufi mystic poet Rumi. I find myself
travelling on the Seattle to Victoria clipper. Snowcapped mountains rise straight out of the Puget Sound. And I’m listening to my new love – Krista Tippet and the wonderful speaking of faith program on American Public Radio. Since Padraig introduced me to the wonder of Krista I’ve listened to the programmes with John O’Donohue, Elie Wiesel and Karen Armstrong. Today I’m listening to the Ecstatic Faith of Rumi with Fatima Keshavarz of Washington University.
Rumi was a 12th century Sufi mystic and poet who wrote in Persian and his influence is huge. He inspired the whirling dervishes by spinning around a column as he recited his poems. He also wrote some amazing sensual poetry. Fatima Keshavarz describes him as someone who saw human love as a mirror of the divine. His poetry is simultaneously in praise of God and also a more earthly love. He said everything is quickened or whirling in the face of love and there is no boundary between the two.
“How did Jesus raise the Dead. Kiss me on the lips. That is how.”
Longing itself is redemptive. Valuing perplexity – not knowing is a way of learning and propelling us forward. Rumi says we can never be done.
“Stay bewildered in God and only that.”
And perhaps finally something for our own fundamentalist age.
“Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrongdoing is a field. I will meet you there.”
The full programme is fantastic. Click on the title above to go straight to the Speaking of Faith website. I really believe it is the best thing on public radio. So check it out. It could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Monday, June 16, 2008
So I've been away for a while. Thanks to those who have kept dropping in to the blog. I cant promise any more regular blogs over the next while but there is a reason. So let me tell you a story. Its like this........
In the blink of an eye life changes. Sometimes it starts with something as simple as a conversation. In an old house, in a glacial valley we leaned in, elbows on the table, and talked quietly over the soup and wheaten bread. She smiled and looked at me with clear blue eyes. Somehow that was enough. A risk was taken, and an adventure began, the end of which is not yet written. It felt like coming home, a harbour for my weary soul, that first sight of land after a long ocean voyage.
A few nights ago we drove to a beach in Donegal for a picnic but the rain fell, glittering on the windscreen like jewels in the evening light. We couldn’t sit on the beach, but instead broke bread in a car made magical by her presence. Add in fresh cheese, olives, peppers stuffed with feta, strawberries and cream and some chocolate. And yet with a glass of wine in hand it’s the conversation that seems rich. Time slows down and just before the sun sinks away the rain stops. We walk on the cliffs for a few minutes, hand in hand silhouetted against the red clouds. I don’t know what the next chapter will be but right now this is enough. Right now I am content and secure in the present – almost to content to write. I have been surprised by joy and there is so much to say and share with each other that the blog world is fading in significance. I will be back at some point.
In the blink of an eye life changes and for that I’m truly thankful.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Love and gratitude trump grief.
Life is not always easy
It hums along, sweet and low-key
And then the tsunami – real or imagined,
Wipes our smug snugness away
Devastated by loss, we weep,
We gnash teeth, we grieve, we're angry
At God, at life, at lack of control.
We regain calm, then lose it, lose it, lose it.
Slowly, slowly, normalcy returns,
Creeping back in like the daily tide.
The dawning of another day,
Bereft of the old,but blessed with the new,
First shows itself in the smiling eyes
Of dear friends, still here, still offering love.
Life, after all, is worthwhile
And love and gratitude trump grief
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Today I would like to celebrate 2 things. The glory of cycling and the wonder that is the BBC/Met office weather site. On it you can look at their prediction hour by hour for where and when rain will fall. In a one off scientific test I planned my cycle around a 2-hour gap between heavy showers. And it worked – Before I left the house it had rained and even hailed. Likewise after I got back but oh the glory of those 2 hours in between, giving me time to cycle through the forest to the top of the mountain and hey it might just be the endorphins talking but it makes you feel alive. Cycling through the forest, sunlight dappled by the newly green leaves, streams babbling after the rain and then on the top of the mountain the gorse bushes in an explosion of yellow flowers. Sitting on a bench and looking at the Ferry steaming up the Lough – sea changes colour as the clouds race across and planes come in to land. But yet nature feels close and uplifting. A few times this last month or two I’ve stopped dreaming because life is messy and it bruises your soul but each time something draws me back. We finished the Ikon Service with my favourite passage from my favourite Douglas Coupland novel. It is the last few words from Girlfriend in a Coma and it helped me to stand up and say, “ We have decided not to die”.
"You'll soon be seeing us walking down your street, our backs held proud, our eyes dilated with truth and power. We might look like you, but you should know better. We'll draw our line in the sand and force the world to cross our line. Every cell in our body will explode with truth. We will be kneeling in front of the Safeway, atop out of date textbooks whose pages we have chewed out. We'll be begging passers-by to see the need to question and question and never to stop questioning until the world stops spinning. We'll be adults who smash the tired, exhausted system. We'll crawl and chew and dig our way into a radical new world. We will change minds and souls from stone and plastic into linen and gold – that's what I believe. That's what I know."
Sunday, March 30, 2008
A Ritual To Read To Each Other
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Friday, March 21, 2008
In one of his early speeches he quoted a John Donne poem which speaks of our connectedness to each other as humans. And suddenly it seemed appropriate for Easter Weekend when we celebrate the ultimate humanity of God becoming man and dying a very human death.
We are all connected this weekend wherever we are and however we are. Life is messy but for those feeling alone or lonely this weekend where death becomes hope and darkness light – here is John Donne.
No Man is an Island
No man is an island, entire of itself
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were.
Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls
it tolls for thee.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
mi retrovai per una selva oscura,
che la diritta via era smarrita.
Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.
You can always tell its been a good day when I find myself reading Dante. But sometimes that’s where it’s at. I have spent most of the last year travelling. Consuming culture in Paris, eating at the sacred table of the Riddells in New Zealand (think Aslans table with better wine) , living in a beach hut in Vietnam, taking a boat trip up the Mekong Delta, faced the best and the worst of the human condition in Cambodia, trekked through the hills of Northern Thailand, elephant riding , white water rafting, come home to the embrace of a loving community and now for almost the last 2 months I have been in my second home in Nashville TN, writing, wrestling with God in the mountains, dealing with the realities and the messiness of life and relationships, good, bad , painful and wonderful at the same time.
And right now I find myself in a dark wood where the straight way is lost. Face to face with a painful truth that problems don’t change by travelling – you still carry them with you. Answers aren’t always easier to find sitting on a beach or in a log cabin in the mountains. I’ve learned much, experienced the divine in new ways, am happier with who I am as a person and yet still haven’t found the answer. I seem to be involved in a search for a new way of living, a new way of being – a structure to direct and illuminate the next part of my life and in truth I am a little afraid. I head home very soon and am still not sure what I will do next.
I don’t want to leave this totally bleak because although Dante spent most of his time in hell looking down, he did eventually emerge and walk under the sky again and when he looked up he saw the stars.
Saturday, March 08, 2008
You're dangerous 'cause you're honest
You're dangerous, you don't know what you want
Well you left my heart empty as a vacant lot
For any spirit to haunt
You're an accident waiting to happen
You're a piece of glass left on a beach
Well you tell me things I know you're not supposed to
Then you leave me just out of reach
Hey hey sha la la
Hey hey sha la la
Who's gonna ride your wild horses
Who's gonna drown in your blue sea
Who's gonna ride your wild horses
Who's gonna fall at the foot of thee
In other news, I have come back down from the mountains to the first stirrings of spring. It had snowed on the mountains and I sat out on the porch, coffee in hand, wrapped in a quilt and watched the red Cardinals playing in the snow. Now back down in the valley the whole earth is quivering with the promise of new life and growth. The sun is shining and the first flowers are pushing tentatively through the darkness of the soil and into the light. May we all do the same.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Writing-she’s got me; I have the sickness and am not sure what to do with it. Part of me wants this life of spending time in coffee shops and log cabins and small rooms with desks. Having time for people and place and knowing what it is to live that life more abundant. It means rejecting the dominant paradigm of middle class existence, a secure income and all those oh so lovely benefits that come with full time employment. And part of me is scared. Scared because she is a harsh mistress – demanding time and attention and loving. She demands it every day, and that’s the test – she demands it on the days when you don’t love her, when you cant feel any inspiration, when the dryness inside sits there and mocks you, and your inner voice laughs at your pretensions of sharing your thoughts and dreams with the world. Even on those days you have to tend to her. It’s a calling, a curse as much as a blessing and not to be entered into lightly. If you take her on, your life will change and she will hound you with her demands. She will expect gold and diamonds and precious things from you. And that’s ok, because some days the Oran Mor – the rhythm of life is there – you can taste the wind, sense the rain, breathe with the trees and for a few seconds you grasp that divine beauty and you try to put it into words. A few pitiful words that don’t do justice to the vision that you had. You write through a glass darkly but there is still a hint, a scent of Eden and what was lost all those years ago.
She also demands something even more precious, and that’s time. She wants some of your day every day, she expects the best years of your life. And here’s the hardest part, she promises nothing in return. Not success, not even fulfilment, hell not even publishing of your pitiful efforts. Aye Hamlet there’s the rub.
Why do it? Why quit your job and lock yourself away from society to follow this insubstantial dream, this ethereal hope, which may turn out to be no more lasting than a fart in the wind. Simply put you don’t have a choice. It’s like falling in love. You can’t help it; you can not turn of the attraction, even when it’s the wrong choice. And he hasn’t lived who hasn’t made the wrong choice in love and suffered for it. Hell I’m still doing that and its like my old professor used to say – “the only thing we learn from history, is that we don’t learn from history.”
There is only one thing to be done and that’s to untie yourself from the mast, dive into the raging torrent and swim towards that siren. I’m not saying you wont drown, in fact that’s the most likely outcome, and even if you reach the island who’s to say you wont get smashed to pieces on the rocks. Ultimately the only way to stop that seductive chorus is to swim towards it.
This will be my last blog posting for a couple of weeks as I’m going into a wilderness so wild it is without internet. I’m heading off to a remote cabin in the woods to wrestle with the bitch and see if we can’t produce something beautiful together. Some days I will win and some days she will kick my ass. I may drown yet so if you haven’t heard from me by the start of March, please, please send out a search party.
Friday, February 15, 2008
There are not yet enough things that make me cry. Its part of my Stoic Ulster Presbyterian upbringing, one which was ever distrustful of displays of emotion. But as I get older more things sneak in under the wire and let those emotions out. And it’s a mix of things from the usual births and deaths to gratitude while sitting round a table with good friends breaking bread, sunrise over a Vietnamese beach, an episode of the West Wing, a story by Frederick Buechner, a poem by Hopkins, a smile from the right person at the right time. And I cry as often over beauty as I do sadness and there’s one scene in one movie which is a sure bet, gilt edged guarantee to break through my cynical journalist mask and without even realising it my face is wet with tears.
It happened again last night at the Lenten film series at Downtown Presbyterian Church. The feature was “The Shawshank Redemption” and in a story packed with gems the scene that gets me every time is when Andy Dufresne the almost Christ like central character finds a record of Mozarts Marriage of Figaro. He locks himself in the Wardens Office and plays the track “Che Soave Zeffiretto” over the Prison loudspeakers and suddenly everyone in that grim dark place stops and listens. But enough from me, it is best described by Andys best friend Red played by Morgan Freeman. Click on the title above to watch the scene on You Tube – I haven’t quite worked out how to embed yet or just enjoy the words.
"I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are better left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was as if some beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free." - Red
Thursday, February 14, 2008
All he can think of is the Church sign that he passed earlier while cycling in East Nashville, which simply said " DONT MAKE ME COME DOWN THERE. GOD. " Not sure which version of the Bible they found that quote in but it makes him wonder what sort of God they believe in and if by any chance its the same one that he believes in. He has been reading Frederick Buechner recently drawn to him by his honest treatment of doubt as an integral part of faith. CS Lewis said that 'doubt is the shadow cast by faith' and the man resonates with that. In fact he wonders if God even doubts himself sometimes ? Like most of his thoughts though, they are not original and it turns out, that GK Chesterton got there a long time ago. In Orthodoxy he says the New Testament portrays a God who, by being wholly present in the dying cry of Jesus of Nazareth, even doubted and questioned himself. Thats the kind of God the man finds himself believing in and praying too while sitting in a public library staring at his unfinished novel on a computer screen.
Monday, February 11, 2008
In Nashville and pondering the differences between what we imagine, what we perceive and what is real. This works on a number of levels and not always in a good way. I think all of us can fall victim to the tyranny of imagination and expectation. When we build up an idea of what someone or something is or could be to us then look out reality. Reality can never match the power and majesty of the imagination and the perfection we have dreamed off. Real life is harder and messier and takes more courage to face with our eyes and hearts open.
This also works in our perception of ideas and theology. I’ve had that challenged this last 10 days by visiting church. A church that at least in theory, by splitting from its denomination is on one particular side of a current hot potato issue in the church. One of those big issues that we all like to fixate on while ignoring the overwhelming message of scripture which doesn’t say much about it at all.
But lets not get into that now. Instinctively I find myself on the other side of the argument from this church, but friends I’m staying with were going there and enjoying it and so I’ve gone along and had my preconceived notions challenged. I’ve enjoyed the services and met some interesting people, people who are exploring ideas in an honest and sincere way. And not just the kind of ideas I would expect. I was expecting conservative but have seen a wide range of opinion and some good answers to my questions – Hey I even met one person who is reading Pete Rollins book – How Not To Speak of God – and enjoying it and digging the Eckhart inspired constant deconstruction theology. And that’s good enough for me.
So I’ve been pleasantly surprised and challenged about my own perceptions. My friend JDD is currently working on a book about the sacredness of questioning everything and he describes it thus – good questions make new worlds possible, let in the air …….and create conspiracies of hopefulness. There’s way more good stuff in there but its not published yet so no more quotes - buy it when it comes out.
And my conclusion is to please answer that summons to sacred questioning , keep talking and have the courage to get beyond perception. My life is richer this past week from asking questions, the answers to which revealed that my expectations and preconceptions were quite simply WRONG.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Yep this is gonna be a happy one you can tell. Last night we had a gentleman’s whiskey night at Trevor’s. As we sat eating cheese and drinking some fine single malt, the tornado warning sirens went off and the storm moved in. Married men called their wives, the TV was turned on and we followed the progress of the storm. Turned out we were safe even though one bolt of lightning hit the alleyway directly across the street, scaring the crap out of Trev who was standing on the porch at the time. For us it was quite an awesome, exhilarating experience but elsewhere in the country people were dying, 50 at the last count.
Today is Ash Wednesday in the church calendar and for me its always one of the most poignant service’s of the year as we are forced by its very nature to contemplate our own mortality. Julie Lee and I went to the noon service at Redeemer and Father Mackenzie talked about the people who had died in the Tornado and reminded us all that we were going to die. And its sobering going forward to kneel at the altar and for him to anoint you with ash and say “from dust you came, to dust you will return.”
Perhaps the only thing that made it bearable was that the act of penitinence is quickly followed by Eucharist. The Anglican liturgy is always close to my heart but on this particular day it seemed more life affirming than ever, drinking the wine ….”the blood of Christ keep you in eternal life.” Amen Let it be so.
As we walked out shriven and redeemed, Julie said – “Thanks, I needed that service today.”
And all I can say to that is, me to!
In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Companion,
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Monday, January 14, 2008
Last night we had a beautiful Ikon service remembering and celebrating the life of John O'Donohue. It struck the right note with poetry, song and personal reflection. We also had a liturgy based around his favourite drink. If you enjoy it please raise a glass in memory of a man who lived life well and fully.
A whiskey Liturgy remembering the dead
An East Belfast Aristocrat recently said “ I don’t get those pop and idol shows / the good things they take a little longer.” And he’s right. Good food , good wine , yeah even life itself takes time . Many writers are fans of whiskey, a golden nectar that represents the process of creating something beautiful over time. John liked his whiskey – or firewater as he liked to call it. Whiskey is a common drink at an Irish wake and it is a living symbol of the process of life we all go through to become what it is we are meant to be.
(lift bottle of Bushmills…..)
Take some pure irish spring water, malted barley and yeast.
Grind the malted barley grains into a coarse flour. Mix it with hot water to form a mash. Then add a little yeast to trigger fermentation. Take the whole mix and triple distill it in vast copper pots. Finally it’s ready to be matured. At Bushmills they use American Oak barrels and Spanish sherry, madiera wine and port casks. The whiskey will gradually become what its meant to be ….. sitting in these barrels for 5, 10 , 15 or 20 years. And yet we are still not there …. Finally a team of blenders will combine the whiskeys from different barrels together to get the taste just right, and the journey finishes in the bottle held in front of me. Or almost finished because the whiskey still has one task left.It is to be drunk, perhaps in a celebration , or in mourning , or simply in appreciation. Maybe it will fuel conversation, or thoughts that will change the world. Finally it will be consumed.
Even the name is a thing of beauty. When the English soldiers came to Ireland they would ask what this fiery drink was ? and the locals would reply “Uisce Beatha” ….. in Gaelic it means the water of life, gradually anglicised to whiskey …… but I like water of life best !
John used to call it firewater and it is but it’s also the water of life. Its strong, It is sweet and bitter. It burns on the way down but after you have tasted it, you know that you are alive.
Tonight is not just about John, its about celebrating life , affirming life and remembering those that have made that journey ahead of us. I’m going to invite everyone to come up and have a shot of whiskey or a non alcoholic alternative …take it, drink it, walk to the table and turn over your glass and say a prayer or simply just remember someone who has passed on …. Celebrate their life and be inspired to live your own. The chapter on death in Anam Cara ends with a 13th century Persian prayer/poem which is a call to life …….” Some nights stay up till the dawn as the moon sometimes does for the sun. / Be a full bucket, pulled up the dark way of a well then lifted out into light. Something opens our wings, something makes boredom and hurt disappear. Someone fills the cup in front of us, we taste only sacredness. “
Remember that dark is not all there is …… beyond all dark there is a shining river of light and all the death that ever was , set next to life would scarcely fill a cup.
Come share the water of life and drink to lives well lived. In the name of Christ amen.
Saturday, January 05, 2008
There is a place we have heard of , thought about and maybe even dreamed of. In a way we all journey towards it every day. Yesterday a beautiful irish writer journeyed there ahead of us, and we who are left behind are the poorer for it.
Rest in Peace John.
Go maire na mairbh agus a mbriongloidi
I bhfoscadh chaoin dilis na Trinoide
(May the departed and their dreams ever dwell
In the kind and faithful shelter of The Trinity.)