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.

Reflections in Haiku Style

Café International – 12:30 pm

During the time I was unemployed I frequented a Vietnamese coffee shop in San Diego where I sat drinking hot strong Vietnamese-style milk coffee. Perhaps it was the dark interior of the place that was conducive to reflection, especially on memories of when I was youthful, strong and often foolish. The memories are not all bad ones. However, it is honest to say that what I remember most are the bad memories. The following haiku capture, if in a cryptic way, the pain of some of these memories.

Here I am again –
It hurts, and I’m thinking,
Trying not to think.

Foreign melodies
Uncover past memories:
I force back the tears.

No comfort in this
Special place of confusion:
One-cup reflection.

Though memory fades,
Those tunes from the dark night
Sing sweetly today.

What’s beyond this form?
Youthful exuberance fails,
Yet, old men do dream.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Time of "Grace"

It's 5:00 am. I can hardly believe the alarm-clock has rung so soon. It seems only moments ago that I laid my head down on the pillow, and now I'm using every ounce of strength I have to drag my tired body out of bed. It is still dark, so I grope my way to the bathroom, fighting dizziness along the way. Of three Sunday Masses at St. Patrick's at which I assist as organist and pianist, the earliest begins at 7:30 am. At this Mass, I face a special challenge, both playing the piano and singing alone, and leading the congregation.

I spread a yoga mat on the floor and begin stretching. This daily habit helps get my body parts moving and warmed up for the day's work. In the beginning, I hardly believe that I'll be able to complete even one round of simple stretches and postures. The dizziness is still there, but subsides slowly as I stretch and breathe my way to the end of this simple routine. A little light begins to seep through the blinds, and it feels more like morning.

Sunday mornings like this have happened often. I drag myself out of bed, and in spite of pain and unbelievable weakness due to anemia, I prepare to drive 30 some miles to Carlsbad, one haltering step at a time. Here, there is an element of being more or less coerced into living in the moment. It works out so long as I don't get ahead of myself.

Later, I prepare to sing and play, organizing the sheet music to be sure all pieces are accounted for. The amazing part happens next, when I begin to play the introduction to the Entrance Song. Thanks to some serious cateracts, I place the sheet music as close to my face as possible. Even then everything is out of focus. At times such as this, I'm glad I practice at home during the week.

Playing a two-manual organ

Singing hymns and spiritual songs boosts my spirit, and as the congregation joins the singing, I'm transported to a state where I can't help but smile. Chanting the simple tones of psalmody deepens even more my connection with the music and the spirit of the occasion. In short, I complete three Masses, never feeling much in the way of pain, shortness of breath, or fatigue.

A skeptic will no doubt explain this as an adrenaline rush, or maybe just plain stupid, e.g. getting up at 5:00 am, driving 30 miles, and throwing myself into the liturgy with abandon, in spite of my terminal illness. It's an opinion that I can also respect. Yet, for me these moments are seasons of sheer grace -- in the words of St. Paul, a sort of "strength manifested through weakness," by the grace of God. And, who knows? Perhaps if I had never stretched my humanity to that degree, I would have missed out on some awesome experiences.