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Be Like the Tortoise

In Essay, Religion on April 24, 2012 at 12:55 PM

Maryland Tortoise in deep prayer

As luck would have it, I came across a tortoise out walking this morning. It had pulled in its limbs to the extent Lola, my dog, seeing me crouched over, and unaware the tortoise was a living being, flopped down on top of it.

My meditation and prayer room has a beautiful view of  fields. It also shares space with my desk and computer, and as I have a somewhat scattered mind, every time the iMac pings to notify me of a new deposit in my e-mail inbox, I want to jump up to read my mail.

Sea Tortoise, Flying Pig Pottery

My mind is like a tiger on the prowl. Its ears perk at anything new, and it pounces first right and then left, forgetting the path it was taking.

My mind prefers a Webpage with juicy links promising new information — the bliss of eternal distraction never having to follow one thing through — to a cloth and paper book with type running into the future like endless train tracks.

The Bhagavad Gita offers some advice to the spiritual seeker:

Even as the tortoise draws in its limbs, the wise can draw in their senses at will. Aspirants abstain from sense pleasures, but they still crave for them. These carvings all disappear when they see the highest goal. Even of those who tread the path, the stormy senses can sweep off the mind. They live in wisdom who subdue their senses and keep their minds ever absorbed in me [Krishna].

Like a tiger, my mind feels alive and important in action. But like the tortoise, it finds life in prayer.

Master of Meditation

In Religion on April 12, 2012 at 7:16 AM

Dhanurdhara Swami by Luke Hoverman

I meditate and pray each morning —  I look to the practice with both anxiety and desire. I feel anxious because I have not come up with a meditation regime that works consistently and many mornings I quit in despair after 15 minutes. I also feel anticipation when I wake in the morning because I know sometimes I do get it right and the reward is spiritual sweetness: a honeyed hum in my brain that lifts me skyward and a sense of God’s love that envelops my body.

American-born Hindu monk Srila Dhanurdhara Swami (don’t you love the Currier and Ives -style scarf wrapped about his head?) offers Five Qualities of Effective Mantra Meditation.

  1. Be Attentive
  2. Be Introspective
  3. Be Sincere
  4. Be Sweet
  5. Have Longing

His description of each quality is  beautiful — and effective. You don’t have to be a Bhakti Hindu to find the advice useful. Dhanurdhara Swami chants and meditates upon the traditional Hare Krishna mantra. He says,

Pay attention to the mantra itself. I have found it most effective to treat each syllable of the mantra as something important – and focus my attention on hearing that I am correctly enunciating each syllable each time I repeat the mantra.

His wisdom can be applied as well to Christian or Jewish mantra. I recite the Jesus Prayer: Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. But one might as well chant St. Francis’s Canticle of the Sun:

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

or even the St. Francis Prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

Most important, says Dhanurdhara Swami, is to turn your attention to the divine:

I now try to experience the mantra not only as Krishna but also as prayer to Krishna. So, I now turn my ear towards the sound of sincerity within the mantra I am pronouncing…. The sincerity in my chanting leads me to want to serve and please the object of the mantra: Radha-Krishna. Naturally, then, my next step is to shift the focus from my experience of the chant to Krishna’s experience of it.

Many of us Christians are accustomed to prayer as a time to petition God, or lay before him our unhappiness. Dhanurdahara instead, like a true devotional Bhakti, enters prayer with a heart full of gratitude, love and longing. St. Francis did the same.

Gospel of the Penniless

In Poets & Preachers I Like, Social Change on January 16, 2012 at 7:27 AM

James Cone,

Being Christian is like being black,” theologian James Cone says. “It’s a paradox. You grow up. You wonder why they treat you like that.

And yet at the same time my mother and daddy told me ‘don’t hate like they hate. If you do, you will self-destruct. Hate only kills the hater, not the hated.’

It was their faith that gave them the resources to transcend the brutality and see the real beauty. It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery how African-Americans, after two and half centuries of slavery, another century of lynching and Jim Crow segregation, still come out loving white people.

So writes James Cone, perhaps the most important contemporary theologian in America, says Chris Hedges reviewing his new book The Cross and the Lynching Tree  in truth dig.

“I like people who talk about the real, concrete world,” Cone says. “And unless I can feel it in my gut, in my being, I can’t say it.

The poor help me to say it. The literary people help me to say it—[James] Baldwin is my favorite. Martin King is the next. Malcolm is the third element of my trinity. The poets give me energy. Theologians talk about things removed, way out there. They talk to each other. They give each other degrees. The real world is not there.

So that is why I turn to the poets. They talk to the people.”

Freedom Groove

In Poets & Preachers I Like on January 16, 2012 at 6:16 AM

Playlist: Inspired by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yoga is about liberation and nothing less.  In our quest for personal liberation and realization, we must be sure to adopt the ethic of non-violence and love that Dr. King utilized.   No revolution, personal, societal or otherwise will impart lasting change if it is based on violence, harming, enmity or hostility as the fruits will be full of violence, harm and instability.  The law of karma is clear.  The project we are engaged in, as my beloved teacher Sharon Gannon says, is to be “liberators of countless beings.”   This is the pledge of the jivanmukta and bodhisattva.  This is the echoing message of Dr. King.

                                                                                             —- Yoga Anonomous

1. “I Have a Dream (Srikalogy Remix)”  – Skrikalogy | Click to Purchase

2. “Slavery Days”  – Burning Spear | Click to Purchase

3. “400 Years” –  Bob Marley & The Wailers | Click to Purchase

4. “Old Slaves” – Stephen Marley | Click to Purchase

5. “Soul Rebel (Afrodisiac Sound System Remix)” – Bob Marley & The Wailers | Click to Purchase

6. “Mind Control” – Stephen Marley | Click to Purchase

7. “Free Like We Want 2 B” – Ziggy Marley | Click to Purchase

8. “Slave Driver” – Bob Marley & The Wailers | Click to Purchase

9. “Rebel Music” – Bob Marley & The Wailers | Click to Purchase

10. “Soul Rebel” – Bob Marley | Click to Purchase

11. “Keep On Moving” – Bob Marley & The Wailers | Click to Purchase

12. “Stepping Out a Babylon” – Marcia Griffiths | Click to Purchase

13. “We Shall Overcome” – Toots & The Maytals  | Click to Purchase

14. “Can You Feel It (Martin Luther King Mix)” – Mr. Fingers | Click to Purchase

15. “Babylon System” – Bob Marley | Click to Purchase

16. “Amerimacka” – Thievery Corporation | Click to Purchase

17. “Tolerance”  – Michael Franti & Spearhead | Click to Purchase

— By John Smrtic

In the Secular Night

In Poetry, Poets & Preachers I Like, Religion on November 23, 2011 at 5:43 PM

The Sacrament of Lima Beans: Storyteller and plein air artist Starr Kopper likes the physicality and immediacy of Margaret Attwood’s meditation on the unexamined life, In the Secular Night.

  • For me this poem paints a vivid picture of  a woman  remembering her adolescent self so poignantly.  How many of our young selves  felt  exactly this same thing:  That others were all having a lovely time?  Then comes the vivid portrait of her older self on the stairs.  The poem places us there on the stairs with her and  the bowl of baby lima beans. The poem shifts to her meditation; she is talking to herself, wondering  whether Anyone is listening.  She is old and alone and walking up the stairs in the dark.  At least this is how I see her.   It is powerful. It seems to me to be vintage  Margaret Atwood, bringing in the sound of siren, of  ordinary trouble outside in the night.  I have read it over many times and I am still not sure what she means by “only in reverse.”
— Starr Kopper
In the Secular Night
In the secular night you wander around
alone in your house. It’s two-thirty.
Everyone has deserted you,
or this is your story;
you remember it from being sixteen,
when the others were out somewhere, having a good time,
or so you suspected,
and you had to baby-sit.
You took a large scoop of vanilla ice-cream
and filled up the glass with grapejuice
and ginger ale, and put on Glenn Miller
with his big-band sound,
and lit a cigarette and blew the smoke up the chimney,
and cried for a while because you were not dancing,
and then danced, by yourself, your mouth circled with purple.
Now, forty years later, things have changed,
and it’s baby lima beans.
It’s necessary to reserve a secret vice.
This is what comes from forgetting to eat
at the stated mealtimes. You simmer them carefully,
drain, add cream and pepper,
and amble up and down the stairs,
scooping them up with your fingers right out of the bowl,
talking to yourself out loud.
You’d be surprised if you got an answer,
but that part will come later.
There is so much silence between the words,
you say. You say, The sensed absence
of God and the sensed presence
amount to much the same thing,
only in reverse.
You say, I have too much white clothing.
You start to hum.
Several hundred years ago
this could have been mysticism
or heresy. It isn’t now.
Outside there are sirens.
Someone’s been run over.
The century grinds on.

Margaret Atwood, “In the Secular Night” from Morning in the Burned House.

Copyright © 1995 by Margaret Atwood. 

More on Attwood: Atheism as a Religion

                                   Bill Moyer Interviews

Was He Married?

In Poets & Preachers I Like on November 11, 2011 at 6:23 PM

Stevie Smith

Smith’s Poetry: My friend OM sent me “Was He Married?”  Stevie Smith’s meditation on Christ. Should we expect more from Jesus than we have, it asks. 

  • I like adding logic to an examination of religion. The poem has a simple frame as a dialogue; It’s the kind of talk one might have with a spiritual guide or with oneself.                 — OM

See also thoughts on Smith’s prose, by  at the Guardian.

Smith’s Novels: Beautiful Melancholy

  • She was renowned for her poetry, but in her novels Stevie Smith captures, with exquisite stillness and delicacy, all the pains of love.          — The Guardian UK

Was He Married? 

Was he married, did he try
To support as he grew less fond of them
Wife and family?

He never suffered such a blow.

Did he feel pointless, feeble and distrait,
Unwanted by everyone and in the way?

From his cradle he was purposeful,
His bent strong and his mind full.

Did he love people very much
Yet find them die one day?

He did not love in the human way.

Did he ask how long it would go on,
Wonder if Death could be counted on for an end?

He did not feel like this,
He had a future of bliss.

Did he never feel strong
Pain for being wrong?

He was not wrong, he was right,
He suffered from others’, not his own, spite.

But there is no suffering like having made a mistake
Because of being of an inferior make.

He was not inferior,
He was superior.

He knew then that power corrupts but some must govern?

His thoughts were different.

Did he lack friends? Worse,
Think it was for his fault, not theirs?

He did not lack friends,
He had disciples he moulded to his ends.

Did he feel over-handicapped sometimes, yet must draw even?

How could he feel like this? He was the King of Heaven.

…find a sudden brightness one day in everything
Because a mood had been conquered, or a sin?

I tell you, he did not sin.

Do only human beings suffer from the irritation
I have mentioned? learn too that being comical
Does not ameliorate the desperation?

Only human beings feel this,
It is because they are so mixed.

All human beings should have a medal,
A god cannot carry it, he is not able.

A god is Man’s doll, you ass,
He makes him up like this on purpose.

He might have made him up worse.

He often has, in the past.

To choose a god of love, as he did and does,
Is a little move then?

Yes, it is.

A larger one will be when men
Love love and hate hate but do not deify them?

It will be a larger one.

— Stevie Smith (1902 – 1971)

New Selected Poems. Copyright © 1972 by Stevie Smith.

New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Is Religion Art and vice versa?

In Poets & Preachers I Like on November 8, 2011 at 5:38 PM

parisreview: I think art is sublimated libido. You can’t be a eunuch priest, and you can’t be a eunuch artist. – Anthony Burgess

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

In Poets & Preachers I Like on June 16, 2011 at 5:11 AM

I’ve read Wendell Berry’s novels for years, but I was first introduced to his poetry by fellow students at Wesley Seminary. (The Mad Farmer poems in particular). He’s more subversive and less churchy than I expected. Berry was born in August, 1934, in Henry County, Kentucky. A Baptist, he’s criticized Christian organizations for failure to challenge Americans’ complacency about destruction of the environment.

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,

vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

One of the articles in Reclaiming Politics (IC#30)
Fall/Winter 1991, Page 62

Phenomenal Woman

In Poets & Preachers I Like on June 10, 2011 at 11:08 AM

African-American poet, Maya Anjelou, is best known for her autobiographical I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970). She was born in St. Louis, MO, in 1928, and has written dozens of works of inspirational prose and poetry.

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need of my care,

‘Cause I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Maya Angelou, 1928 –

From Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women

Thanks to Poetry Chaikhana (Sacred Poetry Online)

What we call the beginning is often the end

In Poets & Preachers I Like on April 25, 2011 at 6:00 AM

And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

T. S. Eliot

From “Little Gidding” 1942

The Four Quartets


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