Monday, February 15, 2016

Poem Set to Original Music

Meditation, Lection Divina, Ecumenism


The world is reluctant to allow us time for quiet thought or meditation. Why?

The rent is due, credit card payment is overdue, I must pick up something from the grocery store or pharmacy. Oh, and I have an appointment with the doctor tomorrow morning -- I almost forgot! As a Christian who also practices Zen meditation, I am able to identify with the struggle of calming the mind, which has been described by one Zen teacher as an "excited monkey!" Surely, most would agree that it is abnormal or unhealthy to be in such a continual state of distraction.

Recently I read a piece in which a modern Zen master emphasizes the necessity of actual physical practice. I'll attempt to summarize his argument and explain why his admonition was so important to me. It is easy for me to idealize the state of being in the present, enlightenment, so to speak. It sounds great. When I drink water, I drink water. When washing the dishes, I'm washing the dishes and nothing more. However, to reach this state, which by the way does not last indefinitely, one must first discipline the body. This is new to me (but shouldn't be!). Sitting correctly, regulating breathing, feeling as comfortable as possible while meditating on a regular basis, the mind will follow by slowing down and reaching its natural state, which is to be aware of the present, and not distracted by a myriad of competing distractions.

At the very least, I would like to be focused when doing tasks that require mental concentration and physical coordination. Driving, bathing, listening to music, reading Scriptures (lectio divina), meditating -- all activities that I would like to enjoy to the fullest. As day by day my life grows nearer to a close, I realize how important it is to taste fully of the gifts discernible by the five senses as well as participate actively in intellectual and artistic life. Who knows if any of this will continue on after death? So, live as if we have only this moment.


It is good to be aware of the similarities between my own professed Christian faith and other world views. One must also acknowledge the differences and move on. Move on to what? Well, to understanding and tolerance for a start. And, for those who are spiritually mature, one might consider sharing in the greater community of civilized religious people, yes, even practicing together, as when Buddhists and Christians sit to meditate, or when in the spirit of ecumenism, people of diverse faiths and persuasions cooperate in order to relieve the poor or to improve the living conditions of those who suffer from economic want.

Nota bene -- the phrase "civilized religious people." Here, I do not pass judgement on anyone or any group, except to say that for cooperative effort, it is imperative to have experienced and superior leadership. In-fighting, competition for dominance, and hostility in any form must be rejected, first by influential leaders, who are able to persuade factions to let go of their egoistic agendas, and finally by the entire community, who to the best of their ability vow to see others as fellow citizens in a global sense.

It is trivial to say that it's a small world. However, we are living this reality. And, genuine harmony requires (to take an analogy from a busy subway during peak commuter hours) stepping aside from time to time, and allowing others on to the crowded passenger car. We'll all arrive at our destinations by and by.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Temecula Haiku

I'm spending the week at a retreat for clergy of the Diocese of San Diego. Since I only engage in activities that include music accompaniment, I have some opportunities to enjoy quiet time when not busy with liturgies. As a result, the following haiku have come into being.

Agua Tibia *
Visible from Ynez Road:
Pine-clad memory.

Crisp, yellow and dry,
Here and there a leaf falling:
Still warm for autumn.

How many seasons,
These rocks in leafy shadows,
Sleeping in silence?

Oak and sycamore:
Other than small flighty birds,
No sign of wildlife.

Summer or autumn?
As the morning sun rises,
Air is fresh and cool.

Even warm breezes
Rustling through the cottonwoods
Refresh the senses.

Amber cliffs' faint glow,
Hills bathed in hazy purple,
At daylight's ending.


* Agua Tibia Wilderness near Temecula, California (Spanish word means "tepid water").

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Many Enemies, One Enemy

As St. Peter was reported to have said,
"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
   Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world."
(I Peter 5:8-9, KJV)

Depression, resentment, so many manifestations of the evil one. Truly like a roaring lion, the enemy seems always in pursuit.

Jesus said, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. 
(St Luke 22, 31-32, KJV)

The Evil One continually plays mind games, i.e. "sifts [us] as wheat" and the more confused we are, the greater his victory. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Memories, Time, and Recollection

I suppose I'll never have the patience to write extensively about my life. Even if I had anything that approached a knack for skillful writing, my attention span would be too brief to exploit that in any way. Nonetheless, as I grow older, some memories come back time and time again, compelling me to give them some form of expression. Music has been the most satisfying means so far. And very close to music is poetry, a form of writing at which I am an amateur at best, with no formal training.

The following are recollections focused through the lenses of time and a cryptic form of poetry called 'haiku.' The memories are of a childhood journey (I was actually in my teens) through the mountains and desert places of east San Diego County.


East and South of the Snowy Ridge

Once I stopped to rest
in the afternoon stillness:
there my heart remains.

That stunted black oak,
its leaves already changing:
listen to the wind.

Lone bird on a limb
swaying in the gentle breeze
sings until nightfall.

Air is crisp and cold
and the evening star sparkles:
I gaze in wonder!

If I leave at dawn,
by tomorrow afternoon
I'll reach the desert.

14 February, 2013

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bird Song

Recently while staying at a hotel in Torrance, California, I spent part of an evening flipping TV channels in search of something interesting. I happened to view a program about how young Native Americans in southern California have taken an interest in the ancient songs and dances of their ancestors, notably a style of singing called "bird song." Afterwards, I couldn't help but recall an unforgettable experience I had long ago.

When I was a boy in my teens, I was fond of taking an occasional break from city life to go hiking and backpacking in the mountains east of San Diego. I would spend days at a time in remote areas, rarely encountering other humans. These were some of the happiest times in my life. I sought silence -- not the absence of sound, but the whispering of wind, the distant call of a crow, an owl charming the pre-dawn hours -- that sort of silence. Visually too, I was blessed with breath-taking views of mountains and canyons, pine-clad ridge tops, meadows of flowing grass, wild roses -- things that filled my heart both with gratitude to the Creator, and love of all created things.

And, there were so many wonderful surprises along the way.

On one such journey, I happened upon an ancient Kumeyaay village site, and rested there a while. The place was situated in an open forest clearing among the scattered pine and oak common to this part of the mountains. As I picked up broken shards of pottery and examined them, time seemed to stand still as I thought about the significance of what I held in my hands. Rounded pieces, some with thumb prints still visible; I began to weep silently as I imagined people actually making and using these vessels for cooking and storing food. In that moment, I felt a mystical connection with these ancient ones who are long gone.

As I write about this incident, lyrics from Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn's song 'Red Brother Red Sister' come to mind, e.g.

  Went down to the museum, red brother,
  Saw your ancient bloom, cut, pressed, and dried.
  The sign said, "Wasn't it clever what they used to do,"
  But, they never did say how you died.

  Hey, hey, hey.

Although I am generally an optimist, there are times when I am compelled to lament the course of human history. In this moment, I couldn't help but wonder if the encounters between European colonists and native populations in the New World might have been different. We learn from history. Or do we? As I held the artifacts in my hands, I felt love for these ancient ones whom I will never meet, at least in this life. Hence, the tears welled up as I thought of the horrors they endured during centuries of conquest and abuse.

While I strive to live in the present and hope for a brighter future both for me and for my neighbors on the planet, I keep a realistic perspective. I can do very little as an individual. Yet I must do something, even if only to live out the greatest commandment, and the one that is like unto it, e.g. to love God as I understand the Divine, and to love and respect my neighbor as myself. These ideals illuminate my consciousness, and I feel proud of the native people who survive and even thrive today. I am pleased that here and there it is still possible to hear the Kumeyaay bird songs. God bless the elders and the young people who keep alive the tradition.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Reflections in Haiku Style (2)

Café International – 1:30 pm

Another day at the Café International. Having been diagnosed with cancer, I was beginning to accept it. The following haiku are not depressing. They actually reflect an ongoing effort to live in the present and enjoy what’s left of life as I know it. The verses are inspired by sights and sounds in and around the café, and are no doubt fueled by the wonderful stimulus of the coffee served there.


This old man prefers
The rhythm of cawing crows.
Throw out the disco.

Alas the story
The wheel of Samsara
In midsummer heat.

Bamboo and the crows:
What do they know that I don’t?
This moment in time.

I love late summer
For the crickets’ ceaseless cries.
Sing the mystery.

As if thru the fog,
The world on the other side:
A man struggles on.