The Evensong

Music is the noise I love most;
dance the action paired with it.
Through the ear – melodies and rhymes –
pulse thru channels to the heart.
Quickening in beat. Widening the chambers.
Stirring limbs to roll, tap, bounce and sway.

An ebbing tide slowly gives way,
revealing a temporal drift in
all created gifts. A transitory need
quickly filled… its flagging
strength lets go; and simply dies away.

September’s ubiquitous cicada
make this hour their own.
Grating out a shrill unvaried
Love song – appealing –
to, just, one, female.
Their tune – rising and falling –

The hour slogs on toward dusk.
As a limping breeze trips over the
notes of their rasping voices –
darkness puts an end to the recital.

Families retreat indoors with a hush,
and all around the neighbouring village,
a covering of quiet blankets all
eager for its nourishment.

The time of Vespers alights; roosting in solitude.

Like a teaspoon of sugar,
deeply recessed silence courses
through the veins, becoming grains
of coal that catch fire
and glow – to the beat of a
yearned for harmony…

A porch light flickers at the dark –
a single night cricket chirps in reply.

Guide for reading:
It is time set aside for evening prayer during the month of September. Summer has not yet ended and the heat causes the poet’s hyper-sensitivity to movement and sound. There is a seeking and a letting go that takes place as the poet negotiates with her interior and exterior environment.

In stanzas 3 and 4 the high-pitched noise of hundreds of cicada lend a strident tone to the atmosphere. Then finally like a roosting bird, stillness and quiet arrive and it is most welcome.

In stanza 7 the mixed imagery of sugar’s sweetness paired with burning coals suggests a longing for the sacred; there may even have been a sacred joining but the grace of the Evensong slips away; leaving only the chirping of a single cricket and a flickering porch light in the darkness.

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Tibicien linnei (aka annual cicada) original photo by Bruce Marlin
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Why did I cry?

It is a tumultuous year,
where the fruits of seeds
sown long ago
are ripening in the sun.
One with floating corn silk hair
above a boisterous mouth,
bereft of tender sentiment
and pandering to fear.
The other grim and shrilling
draped like chairman Mao
Tse-tung,a visage that once
enjoyed protection in the womb.
Both promise their very selves as
America’s future dream.

But near and far the sounds
of thunder – herald rain storms,
earthquakes, bombs and
tumbling concrete. Telling
tales of hundreds to millions
of broken lives, bodies and hearts.
Our world is bursting with
anguish – and I cried.

Not just because the waves of
despair and depression threaten
to drown me in their tide. No.
I cried also because my heart
was moved to pray for  it could
not coax my mind to build either
rational or reasonable petitions.
It knew only how to soak itself
in tears for countless souls in pain.

More than this I cannot do when
grief is at its peak – than simply
stand or kneel with God –
heart pleading onto heart
completely drenched (confused)
by the storms of human crisis.

Comment about the poem:
Today – August 27th – on the feast of St Monica, I am reminded of the power tears have when praying to God. She who spent so many years, drenching the earth with her tears for her son who would become the great St. Augustine. Tears are a language simple and clear in sentiment for they come from the very depths of the heart.

Something about Listening

The following excerpt is from a reflection written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer OCD

When we “listen deeply” to, say, natural sounds, the thing we are actually hearing can, of course, vary.  It may be the sound of wind at the window, or of geese honking as they fly by overhead, or of a distant train, or of waves washing against the shore, or of rain pounding the roof, or the murmur of water running over stone along a creek bed.

These are each particularly haunting natural sounds.  Or at least I find them so.  And when I listen to them, I hear, yes, the sound itself.  But I hear, “deeply,” something else, something hidden yet present within the sound.  You might say the sounds have acquired a kind of sacramental quality to them.  They help make present the sacred.

It is an interesting topic.  Here is a link to the original post: Listening Deeply

Fr. Sauer is the Provincial Delegate to the Discalced Carmelite Seculars of the Province of St Therese (aka the Oklahoma Province)

would that I had known

How foolish, tired and worn
in mind, and heart and bone
I found myself strapped,
poorly prepped and mussed
on a journey
too much rushed.
No one bent their ear so
a hole I dug – myself –
forth with and placed my goal.
Leaving there a soul in
darkness grasped – clung to –
much like rotted dung.
Ashes choked my tongue
where bitter bile did ooze
and jagged marks
compete with depression’s
blue and black waves.

A swift purple dash
stokes across the sky.
As days light fades,
traces of cheery swallows
flit about, lifting
me from  misery.
Their wings taunt
my spirits forward to a
warmly glowing sunset, where
burnished orange, braces
the slant of grey clouds.
On the morrow this glorious
orb will rise once more;
as must I – to face again
a casket void of talent.
Would that I had known this
journey would be harder.

Then the Son’s amber
golden eyes, reflect rays
of grandeur and treacle
in two words –
“Trust! Me!”  And
Promises to take me
– on Farther –
through my sisters
and my brother.
Thus illumined
in Paschal light
let the Spirit’s pall
carry me on a carpet
according to His Will.

a journey into prayer – part 4

Secular Discalced Carmelites have a required discipline of setting aside at least 30 minutes each day for Mental Prayer.  And this is a unique type of prayer involving the use of the mind.  Yet the mind is not focused on being discursive or meditative – at least those aspects are not necessary  – because the focus is on presence; on being present to God in an attitude of loving quiet solitude.  By its very definition, it is a simple form of prayer; however it is not easy to do and requires two things in abundance – patience and perseverance…that is what makes it a discipline.  These 30 minutes set aside for Mental Prayer are separate and apart from other types of prayer – such as the Liturgy of the Hours, adoration, personal devotions such as the Rosary and the like.  (As you continue to read the rest of this post, I hope to put a bit more context around Mental Prayer for better understanding.)

Also, as our calling is under the protection and patronage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the character and practice of our prayer life is patterned after the Blessed Virgin Mary.  She who by example, teaches us to ponder all things in the heart – which is naturally contemplative in character. But what does this mean; to pattern our prayer life after that of the Virgin Mary?

In the gospels Mary doesn’t say much, and in the few instances in which we encounter her, she isn’t endowed with answers constructed like doctoral thesis or anything in the manner of a long winded or complex treatise on faith. Instead her position is one of witness to a profound faith.  Her rare dialogue is that of asking simple, direct and pertinent questions, or making equally simple, direct and pertinent statements. Her open and humble – direct and uncomplicated example teaches how one can, and should interact with Jesus; the son of God; second person of the most Holy Trinity – or so it seems to me.

Other structures for our life of prayer come from the writings and teachings of both St Teresa of Jesus and St John of the Cross. It is our way – our calling –  to seek friendship and union with God; and it is a way particularly suited to those called to live this life. Formation received for this calling expresses itself in a daily routine of making space and time for interior and exterior silence – which requires effort, fidelity and perseverance – for we give ourselves over to a meditative and contemplative life within the context to our primary responsibilities.

That this life of prayer requires effort is to say, it requires making a choice from day to day.  Our choice is to say YES, so as to remain oriented towards God.  We make a choice to turn away from exterior noise, distraction and whatever makes up our everyday routine; or whatever develops in our lives that is not routine.  And so we turn away from that which is our secular and active life, for 30 minutes of Mental prayer.  In saying Yes we turn towards the Divine – to God – and we seek solitude by entering into our room of prayer so as to be alone with Him.  Once there we again choose to turn our minds and hearts away from any interior noise of personal concerns, hardships and numerous distractions that interrupt our efforts to be lovingly present and attentive to God – who is already waiting for us to be with Him.

Fidelity to this way of living orients the heart, the mind, the whole self towards a loving encounter with God.  There are many levels and layers that go beyond the boundary of the natural; making us appreciative of mystery; especially to the awareness that God does speak to us.  He does so in and through the holy scriptures; through people in our lives; in situations we find ourselves; in the stirrings of our hearts encouraging us to fulfill our duties; and to so many other ways in which we grow in a loving knowledge of Him.

All this may sound complex, even undoable and at times it is quite difficult to just sit still.  But just as each geographic region has its own compliment of seasons, so too does each soul; for every soul is unique and unrepeatable.  And every soul that has begun to pray, goes through many different stages of prayer.  More than anything, what is most needed is determination to persevere; something  Pope Francis spoke about just recently during his Wednesday general audience.

Ah yes!  Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross were declared doctors of the church because they not only lived heroic lives of prayer but were granted singular graces to adequately describe these mysteries associated with prayer and they did it with authenticity, clarity and delicacy so as to teach a world of Christians how to follow this path…take this journey…

…in ending this series I wish to point out, that prayer truly is a journey – one that should take us into a loving encounter with God.  Its end and goal being full communion with the God we know, who loves us.

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taken by Elizabeth in Wroclaw, POLAND

a journey into prayer – part 3

Like most human beings, while exploring “that which was for me,” I managed to over-complicate the matter and was about to encounter a necessary aspect of growth.  The harmonious prayer rhythm and prayer routine I was accustomed to, once so sweet and delectable, became burdensome and almost sour.  Of course what I needed to learn had been spoken of at length, in the writings of St Teresa of Jesus [Avila]; The Life; the Way of Perfection; The Interior Castle.  And so the “dreaded” dryness  I had read about settled upon me during the second year of my preparation for the Definitive Promise.

Dryness: the word signified an uncomfortable change – one in complete contrast to being sopping wet with prayer.  I felt disoriented, like a person lost at sea in a boat without wind in its sails.  But for once in my life, reason kept me faithful to the practice of daily prayer.  In retrospect, this was a confusing period and it’s from the perspective of distance by several years that things look clear.  A significant part of the dryness manifested itself as tremendous distractions before, during and after prayer.  Distractions are a topic I want to explore separately in a future writing session.  But at the time, nothing seemed to fit or satisfy…

Then one day, out of the blue something emerged – or maybe a better word is blossomed – within me as I prayed this Psalm:

O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.
For your love is better than life,
my lips will speak your praise.
So I will bless you all my life,
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
my mouth shall praise you with joy.
on my bed I remember you.
On you I muse through the night
for you have been my help;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast. (Psalm 63:2-9)

It was the realization that I had been walking on top; maybe even skating on top of this beautiful Psalm.  Suddenly I found myself part of the Psalm, almost as if my own heart – my true self – authored the words.

This commitment and obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours was changing – not drastically, but gently – and with it came refreshment and new life.  Psalm 63 gave expression in words, to the yearning of my soul.  It reminded me, or maybe I should say it re-focused for me, who I sought.  It was the start of me learning to do more than read with understanding.  It was a beginning for me to be more attentive to God’s word…it was strange, it was nice, it was difficult and would take me out of my comfort zone.  Now, with the comfort of distance and a tiny bit of experience and wisdom it is not presumptive to declare that God gives what is needed at the time it is needed.

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Observation: experienced individuals who garden, whether it is indoor or outdoor gardening, know the value of allowing certain plants to dry out between watering.  Some plants will actually die if not allowed to dry completely between watering and so too – in my way of looking at this process – our soul.  Why should this be?  Both St Teresa and St Therese in their teachings on prayer and the state of the soul, come from observations of the natural world.  So borrowing from their attentiveness to nature, I present this observation for reflection:  of likening our soul to a plant, in the knowledgeable and caring hands of the ultimate gardener.

to be continued….

 

a journey into prayer – part 2

Certain life changes – especially when leaving one employer for another – can have profound effects on self-realization and self-knowledge.  It was during one of these involuntary changes that I had the opportunity to delve deeply into my faith.  Being able to watch EWTN everyday filled in many gaps of my poor sacramental formation and helped me to become a daily Mass attendee.  As I began to understand my baptismal responsibility better and learn more about the saints, it became evident that saints weren’t born holy; yet by entering into relationship with God they became holy.  What became clear was, a relationship with God and the path to holiness was hinged on a life of prayer.  It was a simple – and at the time maybe simplistic – way for me to explain this burgeoning need within myself.  Somehow, my natural inclination was almost an insatiable appetite for prayer that lay dormant all my life; and was rumbling to life like a volcano.

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Oh the twists and turns of one seeking to fulfill a life’s calling.  Between Mother Angelica and Fr. Benedict Groeschel – both of blessed memory – how well they pointed me to all the needed resources.  Books, homilies, “family chats” on their TV shows and yet what I needed most was just to “do it” and stop futzing about.  So I did, I read books that unpacked what prayer should be, I said the rosary daily, I went to holy hours to adore our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and yet intuitively I knew I wasn’t entering into the fullness of “doing it.”

In time I made my way to the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order knowing without a doubt, that was where I belonged.  It was like being 4 years old again and beginning school – it was awkward, unfamiliar, imprecise, challenging to my solitary and introverted nature.  It was downright uncomfortable.  But I was in it for the long haul “warts and all” – and let me tell you, there are lots of warts! Month after month, year after year, putting one foot in front of the other; learning about prayer and community and why both are tied together.

Regardless of discomfort, prayer remained singularly important; and the balancing act started to make sense as I settled into familiar routine and rhythm.  Consolations were poured out on me during private and community prayer; I was learning to love the Psalms – but didn’t understand why.  And then one day the expected and unwanted took place; dryness.

to be continued…