When I heard Li-Young Lee read this stunning love poem I instantly dissolved in tears. It’s depth took me to regions beyond human love to that intense longing for the beyond, the more, to the inscrutable mysteries of the universe where I have found the divine in my old age. I can hear it whispered by desert mothers and fathers in the caves of Cappadocia and encounter it wafting on the notes of Hildegard von Bingin’s ethereal chants. This is the stuff of mystics. Enjoy.
Weekend All Things Considered February 24 interviewed Li-Young Lee. (Listen here)
I Loved You before I Was Born
I loved you before I was born.
It doesn’t make sense, I know.
I saw your eyes before I had eyes to see.
And I’ve lived longing
for your every look ever since.
That longing entered time as this body.
And the longing grew as this body waxed.
And the longing grows as this body wanes.
That longing will outlive this body.
I loved you before I was born.
It makes no sense, I know.
Long before eternity, I caught a glimpse
of your neck and shoulders, your ankles and toes.
And I’ve been lonely for you from that instant.
That loneliness appeared on earth as this body.
And my share of time has been nothing
but your name outrunning my ever saying it clearly.
Your face fleeing my ever
kissing it firmly once on the mouth.
In longing, I am most myself, rapt,
my lamp mortal, my light hidden and singing.
I give you my blank heart.
Please write on it
what you wish.
Louise Penny writes a mystery series about a detective in a mythical village in Quebec called Three Pines. I love these books especially for the author’s keen insight into human nature and her prose which flows like poetry. A favorite from the series is The Beautiful Mystery, about a murder in a monastery set deep into the wilds of Canada. Although hidden away, the monks are renowned for their near perfect expression of Gregorian chant. The abbot says, “Each of us individual notes. On our own, nothing. But together? Divine. We don’t just sing, we are the song.” The narrator says, “Gamache wondered if an equally important part of a chant wasn’t just the notes, but the space between them. The silence…They had such a profound effect on those who sang and heard them that the ancient chants became known as “The Beautiful Mystery.”
Photo Credit: https://www.smov.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=347&Itemid=717
Along with millions of others I recently viewed a photo on Facebook of a group of elderly women at La Vita Bella nursing home in Dickinson, Texas. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey they sat in water up to their waists waiting to be rescued. Not exactly the Beautiful Life they had expected. One resident did craft work, others just sat and waited. How does one keep one’s self stable and centered when fear stands watch outside the door threatening to knock it down? As I’ve continued to ask myself that this week a memory of another tragedy caught my attention.
September 11, 2001. An eerie, out-of-character silence had settled on my class of seventeen-year-olds as we waited for news of a sighted but now missing hijacked airplane. Two had already crashed into the twin towers. A wail shattered the silence, emitted from a slumped-over manchild. “Where is my brother? He isn’t answering his phone. WHERE IS MY BROTHER?” How does one keep one’s self stable and centered when fear stands watch outside the door threatening to knock it down?
One day at a time, one choice at a time. In another era we would have said one self-denial at a time. As a young nun in pre-Vatican II days I wore sacrifice beads and pulled one down with each denial. Please. Meister Eckhart fiercely condemns such practices as blocks to birthing the real God in our lives. I think we prepare for those times of no control with the practice of relinquishing control. By letting go of the need to control we become free and able to endure lack of control. We can let go of our need to have the last word, the most stunning idea, the brilliant psychoanalysis of our neighbor. By living outside of our egos we learn to live inside of ourselves where we are sparks of the divine. If we address the fear which stands outside our door from that place, we know how to wait for the rescue.
For the Women of La Vita Bella
Cold water rising
Strong women reap peace past sown
Fear flees in its wake
rita h kowats 9-4-17
Photo Credit Hands: creative commons https://pixabay.com
Photo CreditLa Vita Bella: Trudy Lampson via AP
“This effect grants the power to cause a hurricane in China to a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico. It may take a very long time, but the connection is real. If the butterfly had not flapped its wings at just the right point in space/time, the hurricane would not have happened.”
Wispy tendrils of hazy smoke
from Canada’s forest fires
Lasso branches of not-so-evergreens
And the aberrant heat drapes
its humid blanket over this bed
We now must lie in.
Adam lies drowning
In a pool of lethal despair
While in Bahrain more mundane matters
Press on Ahmad and the butterfly spirals down
To The Boneyard of Indifference.
©Rita H Kowats August 3, 2017
Photo Credit: photo credit: judygva <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/52450054@N04/34052621551″>Juniper Hairstreak – Callophrys gryneus, Phelps Wildlife Management Area, Sumerduck, Virginia</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Be wild; that is how to clear the river. The river does not flow in polluted, we manage that. The river does not dry up, we block it. If we want to allow it its freedom, we have to allow our ideational lives to be let loose, to stream, letting anything come, initially censoring nothing. That is creative life. It is made up of divine paradox. To create one must be willing to be stone stupid, to sit upon a throne on top of a jackass and spill rubies from one’s mouth. Then the river will flow, then we can stand in the stream of it raining down.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With The Wolves: Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman
A fish cannot drown in water,
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of creation,
God doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.
Each creature God made
must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?
Mechthild of Magdeburg in The Flowing Light of the Godhead
Wild flowing light calls
Nature to nature responds
Human beings blaze
Rita H Kowats
Photo Credit: G. Brad Lewis/ Barcroft Media, edited
One spring day in 1949 a man strolled through our lazy Seattle neighborhood, leading a black and white pinto pony. I left my little heart on 50th St. in West Seattle that day. “Hey, kids, you want to ride my pony?” Duh. We ran into the house and wore Mom down with begging. After all, for just $5 she would have a swell portrait of us.
I remember that day as the happiest of my childhood- not the details- I didn’t know until recently that my sister had wanted to wear the chaps, but she let me instead. It’s the experience of ecstasy I remember. It’s there on my face, bursting through the dimples.
I also remember sitting on the floor in front of the book case at age seven and a half, ecstatic at my re-discovery of a book, If Jesus Came To My House. It portrayed a child leading Jesus by the hand through the house and neighborhood, pointing out the most special people, places and toys. I remember feeling so close to Jesus as I read, and the yearning for him to come to my house and stay. The seeds of mysticism planted. A remodled house now, an evolved image of Jesus; nevertheless, the same yearning.
Jesus arrived at my house the day the black and white pinto pony came, and every time since then, when I watch toddlers play, and my cat chase her tail. This old shaker song ,“Simple Gifts” was written and composed in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett. It says it all.
‘Tis the gift to be simple,
’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
“I have often stated that there is a power in the soul that touches neither time nor flesh. It flows out of the spirit and remains in the spirit, and is totally and utterly spiritual. In this power God is as totally verdant and flourishing in all joy and in all honor as he is in himself….In the power God is unceasingly glowing and burning with all his wealth, with all his sweetness, and with all his bliss.” Meister Eckhart
This morning I landed on “Thomas and Friends” while surfing channels to escape the rigors of surgical rehab. Thomas was winding through a mountain pass when thick fog set in, robbing the little engine of all visual perspective. Immediately I stepped into panic mode. What if the tracks are shattered? What if something is on the tracks? What if another train has switched over onto Thomas’ track? The dense fog slithered around me and took control as surely as if the situation were real. “STOP, THOMAS!” I ALMOST YELLED. Then…Oh. It’s just a cartoon, Rita. But fear had touched me on a primal level.
The fog of fear moves in when we least expect it, and like a photo shop tool, distorts who we really are. God’s power in the depths of the soul is so abundant, that we fear it will overtake us. But who are we, if not “sparks of the divine” (Meister Eckhart)? We fear that God’s power will stun others with its light and they will withdraw in their discomfort, leaving us alone. But we can’t name the fear that way. Instead, we camouflage it by convincing ourselves that we are nothing. We are sinful and proud wretches. Fear is very effective in preserving that illusion. And we remain safe from the risks inherent in the choice to grow.
We don’t trust that God’s power is enough to carry us through and beyond the fog. We don’t trust that the power of God in us has eyes to see when we lose our sight. May we develop the ability to see and accept the power of God in us, and the courage to let it spill out in spontaneous acts of unconditional love.