Calling All Prophets

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“The Sound Of Silence”

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silenceIn restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a streetlamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
No one dare
Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said “The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence”

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Submarines and Food Stamps: Called to Nineveh

“Jonah” is a poem I wrote during the first Gulf War, which was raging during my tenure as a nonviolent resistor to the nuclear weapons at Subase Bangor in Puget Sound.  Living beside the railroad tracks leading into the base, I witnessed monthly  shipments of missile propellant fuel destined for Trident submarines.  Admiral Trost said that the subs were necessary to “protect the lifestyle to which we had become accustomed.”  Nevermind, that most people do not share that affluent lifestyle, and they are in poverty partly because taxes are allocated to these weapons, while food stamps are drastically cut.  My spiritual practice is to try to live a lifestyle that doesn’t depend on the weapons to protect it.

The poem reflects the despair I felt then and now, but it offers hope that resistance can breed resistance.  It was dedicated to Steve, a submariner who applied for, and received, conscientious objector status. We are called by conscience to go to Nineveh.  Will we go?

Jonah

JONAH

For Steve, Who Broke the Silence

How obscene.
How obscene that submarines slither through unseen.

Journalist to Pentagon briefer: “Sir, is it true that
A cruise missile was fired from a submarine?”
General Kelly:  “We never discuss submarines.”
They slither through unseen.
As unseen as the bodies in Baghdad.
How obscene.

Today I sit on Hood Canal-
Mountains, sun, spring wildflowers.
Euphoric, here where
Submarines slither through unseen.

As if to confirm the paradox
Two patrol boats pass.
Do they escort the Leviathan?
I can’t hear it.
I can’t see it.
The beast breaks silence,
Its dark, hulking frame mimicking the
Great Orca of Puget Sound.
Sacrilege.

Shivering, shedding silent, shame-full tears…

I re-member:
When the beast descends this time
It goes down depleted.
Another Jonah has tumbled out,
And his “No” will echo forever in
The belly of the whale.

© rita h. kowats

Disarmament of the Heart

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When all is said and done our call in this life is simple: Love God, Love Self, Love Others. Love is born through a rigorous process of disarming the heart. it is an act of unparalleled trust. It frightens us, so we fiercely protect our center like petals protecting the heart of a flower . The choice to unveil the beauty of the center leaves us vulnerable, so we resist and protect it. I am deeply grateful for the witness of many prophets who faithfully do the hard work of disarming so that they can preach the truth from a clean place. Because they are doing it, I believe that it is possible.

The practice of disarming the heart is so important, that without it, we have no moral authority to do justice. Our call to do justice presupposes the call to let go of the ego entrapments that motivate us: unbridled power, arrogance, addictive control, unfocused fear, selfish competition, resentment. The more these attitudes motivate us, the more we stifle dialogue with an adversary; however, knowledge and acceptance of our entrapments create openness and opportunity for dialogue. Paradoxically, this is a very strong place from which to do justice. When we are committed to disarming the heart, we are truly “walking the talk.”

Although the practice of disarming the heart is difficult, we can do it in simple and practical ways. Foremost, the process necessitates a degree of solitude and silence in which we have the space to allow peace to germinate. Without peace we cannot bore through the clamor of ego enough to see and recognize the needs of one another, much less the needs of the world. We unconsciously allow the clamor to persist because it throws a safe cloak around our inner core. We fear the power of our deepest self because if that gift is acknowledged, life becomes dangerous and demanding. It’s easier to hide the prophet in us. But we must do the work, and expose the prophet, because unconscious “peace” only plays at doing justice.

Within the moments of silence and solitude which we carve out, saying mantras can be a powerful spiritual tool.  For four years I leafleted weekly at a nuclear submarine base in Puget Sound.  To stay alert and focused at 6:00 A.M. I recited, “Come Lord Jesus, set us free.”  It was a plea to let go of the fear and prejudice which blocked leafleters and workers from honest dialogue.  Sometimes preoccupied by angry challenges, or still half asleep, I forgot to say the mantra.  A frequent traveler into the base came in a pickup truck with a rifle on a rack.  I would think, “Oh, does this guy hate me.”  One day I was able to pay attention when the truck came through.  The driver looked depressed, and from some place in me I blurted, “How are you this morning?”  He responded, “How am I?  I’m terrible.  How else would I be, having to go in there every day and do the work I have to do?”  We were connected from that moment on, because We both had allowed the Spirit to disarm our egos.

We are sometimes unable to dialogue peacefully because we cache resentment and blame, finger tip-ready to call up on queue. Such arming of the heart causes violence and blocks progress toward achieving justice. Buddhists have a practice of forgiveness in which they pray to forgive self and others for all conscious and unconscious harmful acts. I think this prayer should be a part of every training for nonviolent action, and a daily practice for anyone serious about falling in love with God, self, and others.

Finally, I want to say something on behalf of ego. I embrace it, because it’s in the mix of being human. Like the petals which surround the heart of the flower, it has a purpose. When strong and focused, it keeps us safe and gives us the courage to love. The goal is to harness the ego, not annihilate it. We want to have a sense of humor about it all, lest we become zealots to whom no one wants to listen. Meister Eckhart says that “God laughs and plays,” and that works for me! The more fear we have of exposing our own complicity in injustice, the more inclined we are to set up protective barriers; however, if we hold our own flawed natures lightly, we are less likely to attack our adversaries for their flawed natures. Disarming in this way doesn’t mean we have to condone the unjust action. It simply means that we accept our commonality as human beings.

In his poem, “Peace,” Gerard Manley Hopkins offers a unique description of heart-disarmament: “And when peace here does house, he comes with work to do. He does not come to coo, he comes to brood and sit.” May our brooding create a peace which births justice.

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“Disarmament of the Heart” was first published in AMOS, a journal of the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, Seattle: ipjc.org