A little Spark of Madness: Artists, Mystics and Misfits


seattle lighting thunder


As I take up pen today I see trees swaying with the wind that is bringing in more thunder and lighting, atypical of the Seattle area.  It’s hard to wait for the fireworks to commence because the built-up tension from ninety degree temperatures and high humidity also builds in me, seeking release.

The tension in the pending storm mirrors the tension that lives in me and in many of you as well.  We seek release from the horrors happening in our world.  We stagger in our beings, bouncing from Israel to Syria to Ukraine to Nigeria to Iraq and back again, with little respite from grief and rage.  Now life has become too much for Robin Williams.

Myriad media accounts have offered us much to ponder while emotion catches up to thought.  Most meaningful for me is this quote from Robin Williams, “You’re only given a little spark of madness.  You mustn’t lose it.”  What are we doing to our artists, and at what cost to our society?  That spark of madness lives in the foreground for artists, mystics and misfits of all varieties.  Their differences threaten a society which puts them into a cloven pine like Ariel in The Tempest, allowing them out only when a laugh or quick look into the soul is called for.  Never mind the price artists pay for unveiling their holy spark of madness.

How different our world could be if we released the voices of our conscience and consciousness from the faux safety of the cloven pine and treasured their humanity instead of the roles assigned to them.  In a society which valued the right-brain as much as the left-brain, and which taught its children to value it, war and suicide could become obsolete.  Thank you Robin Williams and all your tribe for showing us how to be human.

“You Go, Leaves!”

golden grove unleaving


Gerard Manley Hopkins
“Spring and Fall”
to a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name: Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Recently the Seattle area experienced two back-to-back wind and rain storms, so severe that the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge was closed.  Police officers had to escort a few traumatized drivers to safety.

Still today, I see leaves clinging to trees as if they don’t know they should have fallen last week, or, as if they refuse to fall until they are ready.  Driving through the city I spontaneously burst into several rounds of “Rocky” music, shouting raucously, “You go, leaves!”  I think this is a healthy spiritual practice.

But the leaves must fall, and
November must come,
Lest there be no spring.
There must be spring.

I have long prayed with Gerard Manley Hopkins.  He is my modern Meister Eckhart, and another profound mystic.  On a retreat many years ago, this poem became a call to integrity for me.  The gloriously colored leaves remind me of the artist and mystic in each of us.  Contemporary society often fears and therefore shuns that aspect of ourselves.  I learned that we need to mourn that loss and commit ourselves to nurture it back to life.  We should mourn when something beautiful dies, because, “It is Margaret [we] mourn for.”