Poems for Stuart, Part 2
Last time I read a poem by Marie Howe called "The Gate." It's one of the poems I considered reading for my friend Stuart who was visiting from Australia, and wished to capture a bit of video in which I would read something that spoke to where my life is right now, sort of the state of my spirit. Well, that was a difficult choice. Several poems came to mind almost at once. Each acknowledged life's difficulty and darkness, but also hope and recovery. I've read a lot of what they call "Mindfulness Poetry" this last year. And the poems that mean most to me are the ones that recognize the reality of our suffering, but also the presence or potential of our joy. It is joy and peace which I can choose to move toward, and to live in.
So I emailed three poems to myself to be read from my phone that day, and I carried one hard copy of another with me. I would know when the time came which was the right poem to read. And though the one I read on video was the most fitting for the moment, and for the beautiful summer afternoon on which we recorded it, I felt it would be good to display the runners-up here on the blog, because they too are important, too important to not be read out loud.
Poems are created to be voiced, even if it’s just in your mind’s ear. You may have heard me say here on The Dad Poet in the past that a great way to get to know a poet, and what she or he was up to, is to read their works out loud. And I guess Stuart’s request has created in me a need to further explore why these particular poems chose me, and what else I can learn about myself and the poet who wrote them, by reading them for you.
As for the state of my soul . . .
Despite what horrors are brought to us from near and far, instantly through the marvels of our own created technologies–shootings and bombings, or the troubles from Brexit to Trump, in spite of lost friends and loved ones, life is ultimately good. I believe that. And while some days are very dark, most days it is not so much the darkness, but how we react to and choose to act in the dark that matters.
I choose to be at peace as much as possible, to sway like a branch when the wind blows, but not to be lost from the tree and my roots in it. I have much to be grateful for; I have three sons who have grown up to be good, kind, and intelligent young men; I have friends who stick, as that old book says, closer than brothers; I have the love and devotion of one particular man who cherishes my life. If I had only one of these things, I would be a fortunate man, rich beyond telling.
Not long ago I went through a period of time in which the world seemed a scary, dark and unpredictable place. I was always anticipating the next thing to go horribly wrong. But the truth is, none of the darkness, pain, and fear in the world compares to the plain and lucky miracle of being alive.
If this all sounds more spiritual than usual for me, I must ask, with no bitterness or desire to be answered, why should I need to believe in gods or spirits I cannot see when there is so much beauty right here in front of me, here, now, on earth? I will not waste one more minute of my life moaning with my eyes shut in prayer when I can be marveling at the birds, feeling the cold shock of a mountain stream’s water on my feet in summer, admiring the smooth veins of a leaf, or the coarseness of tree bark. There is beauty and glory here in the minutes we have to breathe, in the same air that lifts the hawk and the hummingbird.
That is true prayer, experiencing life, rather than wishing it away, or hoping for a deliverer, some devil or ancestor to blame. Not hoping for some mythical afterlife while we squander our precious few minutes on earth pining for an imagined reward somewhere else.
I believe in life. I believe in people, and I am learning how to be where I am, how to put faith in myself, not arrogantly, but trusting my instinct and ability to use the knowledge I have to place my foot, my next step, in a direction that is good, and if I fail, to not be too hard on myself as I alter course for the better.
Please, friend, reach out your hand. Try not to give in to the fear. There are millions of more loving mothers than there are heartless killers on this planet. Even if we haven’t met them yet we have many more friends, sisters, and brothers than we could ever have enemies. And those who choose to be enemies have their own reasons, be they conscious choices or the result of damage and hopelessness. But we need not live like that, and we need not live under the shadow of it either.
Maybe you can’t see hope right now, but maybe you can sense it? Can you smell it, hear it? That movement in the dark is more likely a friend than a wolf. Isn’t there enough evidence that the sun will shine again tomorrow, and that spring will come?
And I suppose that is my Sunday sermon, one day early.
I’ve come back after writing this because I wasn’t expecting to make a statement of faith, or non-faith here. But the plain fact is that I have found so much beauty and freedom and joy by leaving behind those teachings that no longer make sense to me, as fables and stories. Maybe they were meant to help; probably they were metaphorical in their beginnings. Maybe they were stories told to make children behave; certainly, they have been used since, even in recent times, to control and to oppress.
Still, maybe you find comfort in them. If so, this blog post was not written for you, though I hope you see the symbolism and find truth in them metaphorically more than literally. Maybe you can believe me when I say that I care as much about your peace of mind and happiness, as you care about the state of my soul.
And maybe you find all this offensive or insulting. If so, I apologize. The literal interpretations of so many holy writings have left many like me without hope or encouragement. I contend that we are doing great damage in the church today by teaching that we are born corrupt, that we are literally “nothing without Jesus.” If you find hope in the doctrine of original sin, and the propitiatory sacrifice of God’s son for your salvation, I mean you no insult or ill will.
I only wish to encourage those, like me, who might have been taught that not to believe such things means there is no hope or meaning at all in the universe, let alone their own lives. You see, I believe to the contrary, that it is a beautiful and surprising delight to realize that we create our own meaning in the world and that our lives need not fit some formula interpreted from antiquity.
It is comforting to think we have a heavenly parent, a father, or even a force of the universe that has our best interests at heart. It is frightening to move out into the dark alone. But oh how exciting and glorious to find we can! And maybe the imaginary friend of our childhood was just the beginning, practice at getting to know and be comfortable with our own selves, and building up the courage to recognize ourselves in others, and to reach out to them. After that, there is no need for friends we can’t see.
You want me to know the love of your god. I just want us to not waste the one life we are given waiting for something that will never come. How sad to stand at the corner waiting for a friend while thousands walk by. We are friends. Shake my hand, will you?
One last little thing while I am on this gigantic subject, I do not believe we need an unseen deity to create our moral code. We have done this on our own, no matter how we’ve framed it, or what stories our culture has taught us about it. We know in our hearts it is not good to hurt others or ourselves. We understand by instinct what it means to love, and if we need a book, or a code, or an unseen force to keep us from doing evil and harm, then we have some very serious problems that religion won’t fix.
I bid you peace, and courage to move toward those horses in the dark meadow that Jack Gilbert tells us about. Be careful, but while you’re at it, take a deep breath and be delighted in the chill of the night air, and anticipation of discovery.