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Good morning Gentle Reader.  As I noted in PART I: ‘there is more.’  For some time I held this question: ‘How might I come to understand the difference between Tennyson and Basho?’  One day I was scanning through one of my volumes of world poetry and the following caught my eye.  As I read it I thought that this poem might provide me a response to the question I had been holding.

The poet was the great German poet, Goethe, here is his poem, ‘Found’:

I walked in the woods
All by myself,
To seek nothing,
That was on my mind.

 I saw in the shade
A little flower stand,
Bright like the stars
Like beautiful eyes.

 I wanted to pluck it,
But it said sweetly:
Is it to wilt
That I must be broken?

 I took it out
With all its roots,
Carried it to the garden
At the pretty house.

 And planted it again
In a quiet place;
Now it ever spreads
And blossoms forth.

Goethe stands, as it were, between Tennyson and Basho.  For Goethe, like Tennyson and Basho, there is the crucial moment.  For Goethe it appears as if the force of life is stronger than the force of intellectual curiosity.  His decision: Share this life with others.

Consider that Tennyson’s relationship to the flower is in the mode of having, or possession – in this instance not simply material possession by the possession of knowledge.  Then consider Basho’s and Goethe’s relationship to the flower.  Each sees it in the mode of being.  A life sustaining (Basho) and a life enhancing by sharing (Goethe).

The Having Mode and the Being Mode.

Goethe was a great lover of life, one who railed and fought against human mechanization (the Industrial Revolution gifted us with the ‘Mechanical Metaphor’ and later in the 20th Century with the ‘Banking Metaphor’ – both have been integrated into our Cultural Being).

Here is a short poem by Goethe that, for me, captures the essence of the Being Mode.  Goethe titled his poem ‘Property.’

 I know that nothing belongs to me
But the thought which unimpeded
From my soul will flow.
And every favorable moment
Which loving Fate
From the depth lets me enjoy.

Consider that the difference between Being & Having is the difference between a society centered in fully human beings and one centered in things.  Today, our Culture is a metaphor for the Having Mode.  We are consumed with a need to have more and more; we are consumed with a need to consume more and more.  Greed has become a core value.  Having things and consuming things is core to our Culture.

We do not understand a Culture that is not rooted in greed or property (think: Things).  Competition with others in order to obtain more and more trumps high achievement (in the concept of high achievement there is more than enough for all).  High achievement is sustained by the tap root of solidarity.  Competition is sustained by the tap root of antagonism.

Solidarity & Antagonism. . .

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These past months I have been holding a thought or two about ‘Two Modes.’  One is the ‘Having Mode’ and the other is the ‘Being Mode.’  Our Culture is, by the by, fed by a Tap Root of Having; but I digress (or Do I?).  As a way of introducing you, Gentle Reader, to the difference I will use as an illustration two poems (you might remember that I love poetry).

One poem is by the great English Poet, Tennyson – he lived in the 1800s.  The other poem is by the great Japanese Poet, Basho – he lived in the 1600s (my grateful thanks to my friend George for introducing me to Basho and his poetry).

Each poet describes a similar experience: his response to and then his reaction to a flower he sees while taking a walk.

Here is Tennyson’s poem:

Flower in a crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower – but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Here is an English translation of Basho’s haiku:

When I look carefully
I see the nazuna blooming
By the hedge!

[AN ASIDE: Gentle Reader if you are not familiar with Japanese haiku I invite you to explore this poetic style.  Young folks also love to write haiku, which is fun to do and learning the poetic style is easy for them to do].

Two poems about flowers.  For me, the difference is striking.

Tennyson reacts to the flower by wanting to have it.  He ‘plucks’ it ‘root and all.’  And while he finishes his poem with an intellectual thought about the flower’s possible function: to help one understand or attain an insight into God’s nature and   man’s nature; an unintended consequence is that the flower is killed.  Even though we might assume that Tennyson’s goal was not to kill the flower, in having to have the flower, Tennyson does indeed kill the flower.

Basho’s response to the flower is quite different.  He does not want to ‘have it by plucking it;’ he does not even touch it.  All he does (‘All’ is an understatement) is ‘look carefully’ in order to ‘see’ it.

I offer us D.T. Suzuki’s observation [AN ASIDE: Gentle Reader, you might check out Suzuki’s ‘Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings’].

Suzuki writes: It is likely that Basho was walking along a country road when he noticed something rather neglected by the hedge.  He then approached closer, took a good look at it, and found it was no less than a wild plant, rather insignificant and generally unnoticed by passersby.

 This is a plain fact described in the poem with no specifically poetic feeling expressed anywhere except perhaps in the last two syllables, which read in Japanese kana

 This particle, frequently attached to a noun or an adjective or an adverb, signifies a certain feeling of admiration or praise or sorrow or joy, and can sometimes quite appropriately be rendered into English by an exclamation mark.  In this haiku the whole verse ends with this mark.

Tennyson, it appears, needs to possess the flower in order to understand, and by his having it, the flower is destroyed.  What Basho wants is to see – not only to look at the flower, but to be at one with both himself and the flower – AND, to let it live.

AH, Gentle Reader, there is more. . .

QUESTION #2: ‘Where is your brother?’

This is not a question directed only to ‘Cain.’  It is a question directed to you, to me – to each of us (especially to ‘The People of the Book’ – Jews, Christians, Muslims).

We have brothers and sisters who are attempting to escape difficult situations – environments of physical, emotional, and psychological violence.  We have brothers and sisters who are seeking a better, safer, more compassionate, and more loving place to live; who are trying to escape to freedom.

We have brothers and sisters who are, literally and physically, wounded and lying in a ditch waiting for the Good Samaritan to stop and experiencing too often the ‘good, clean Jew, Christian, or Muslim who passes them by.

How often do their cries of anguish and suffering go unheeded?  How often do you and I say: ‘I am not responsible!’ 

‘Where is your brother?’  Who is responsible?  I am thinking of a story.  The people of a town kill their mayor – they deem the mayor to be a tyrant.  The murder is committed in such a way that no one really knows who committed the deed.  When the royal investigator asks: ‘Who killed the mayor?’  Each person replies, ‘Everybody and nobody!’

Today, our response to the question, ‘Who is responsible for the blood of our brothers and sisters?’ is, ‘Nobody!’  It is not me, I am not responsible – I did not have anything to do with it.  I am sure some ‘one’ is responsible but it is not me!’

YET, God’s question is directed to each of us: ‘Where is your brother?’

We claim no responsibility.  We have become like the ‘good people’ Jesus describes in His parable of the Good Samaritan: It is easy for us to ‘see’ our brothers and sisters lying half-dead in the road or on the boat or struggling at the border and perhaps we even say to ourselves: “It is a sad and sorry sight – too bad for them.’  AND, we convince ourselves that we are not responsible, nor are we response-able.  We convince ourselves so that our consciences are clear – we even go to the extreme of blaming them for their own suffering.

We live in a culture of comfort.  We do not want to be disturbed.  Our seeking comfort and our seeking not to be disturbed hardens our hearts and closes our ears to the crises of our brothers and sisters.  The poet, Mary Oliver, reminds us that if the doors of our hearts close then we are as good as dead.

Our closed hearts and deaf ears do not lead us to violence but to something worse – indifference.  If we truly ‘saw’ our brothers and sisters as ‘God’s Image’ then we would not harden our hearts nor close our ears.

For Christians, Jesus said that they only sin that was not forgivable was the ‘Sin against the Holy Spirit.’  The Holy Spirit is the animating spirit, the life-force that permeates all living creatures – part of God resides in all.  Thus, to not respond to the plight of our brothers and sisters is to commit the sin against the Holy Spirit (how’s that for upping the ante).

We live in a global culture of indifference.  We have become so used to the suffering of others, especially the suffering that does not ‘touch’ or ‘affect’ me-you-us.  Their suffering doesn’t affect me and hence it doesn’t concern me and hence it is none of my business.

‘Adam, where are you?’  ‘Where is your brother?’

These are the two questions that God asks us; questions especially directed to ‘The People of the Book’.  God asked these at the beginning and God continues to ask them of us today.

Let us begin by weeping; let us cry out as Peter did when he realized he had betrayed Jesus.  Let us ask God to forgive us.  Let us then continue by taking one or two or three small steps so that our brothers and sisters can be cared for, loved, healed and saved from the dark side of our nature.

This morning I pray that each of us chooses to become a little piece of healing light so that together we become a beacon of healing light for all.

 

 

This morning, Gentle Reader, I am addressing ‘God’s Two Questions’ to ‘The People of the Book’ [Jews, Christians, Muslims]; others might resonate with these questions as well (actually, given all that is unfolding in our global community I wonder how many ‘People of the Book’ find them to be crucial questions to hold and live into).

There are four ‘C’ Words that are the tap roots that are to help nurture, sustain and guide us: Consciousness, Conscience, Character & Conduct.  The first three determine the fourth.  This morning my desire is to Challenge us to reflect upon the first three so that we might choose to conduct ourselves differently when it comes to the stranger, the other, the outsider, the immigrant, the refugee.

As People of the Book we might recall that after Adam chose to be like God that he became conscious (awake and aware and disturbed) and he hid.  God’s first question to him was:

‘Adam, where are you?’

The Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us that today God continues to search for us – Too often we believe that it is God who is ‘hiding from us’ when it is ‘We, The People of the Book’ who are hiding from God.

To put it mildly, Adam had lost his way; he was no longer ‘centered.’  Simply stated: Adam wanted to control everything.  God had entrusted Adam (think: We human beings) with being steward (care-taker); Adam, adulterated his charge and re-interpreted his role as ‘controller of all’ not as care-taker (We, ‘The People of the Book’ continue to seek more often than not to control rather than care for).  The balance and harmony continues to be lost (to be sure, an understatement for what followed).

One ‘loss of balance and harmony’ involved/involves the loss of harmony and balance in relationships – especially in relationships with the ‘other.’  This loss of harmony and balance continues to exist today.

‘The Other’ is not my brother and sister; people to be loved and cared for.  ‘The Other’ is now experienced-viewed as the ‘disturber.’  My comfortable life is disturbed by ‘The Other.’  At minimum, ‘The Other’ is viewed and judged to be a ‘threat’ and at maximum ‘The Other’ is dehumanized and guilt-free harmed.

This reframing of ‘The Other’ leads us to God’s second question:

‘Cain, where is your brother?’ 

 One consequence of our ‘grand illusion’ of being all power-full – of being as great as God (to becoming God) – is that we can ‘guilt-free’ ignore or even overtly harm ‘The Other.’  We can even spill our brother and sister’s blood – and do so in the name of God.  [AN ASIDE: Last week I heard a ‘Good Christian’ woman tell a reporter that her brothers and sisters were Christians that were members of her church (literally, her local congregation).  She upped the ante when she said that the immigrants knocking on our country’s door were not fully human and certainly were not Christian – once in a while the ‘Good People of the Book’ actually reveal their ‘Satan-Side’ to us.]

‘Where is your brother?’

As it was with Abel’s blood, our brother and sister’s blood cries out to God – the volume of their plaintive voice continues to rise each day.  God hears.  We, ‘The People of the Book’ choose not to hear.

If WE, ‘The People of the Book’ did choose to hear and respond as God would then the plight of ‘The Other’ would be greatly eased (because we are imperfect beings the plight of ‘The Other’ will not cease to exist).  Our ‘Conduct’ judges ‘We, The People of the Book.’

This is not a question addressed to others.  This is God’s second question addressed to, first and foremost, ‘The People of the Book.’

‘Where is YOUR brother?’

 

 

For the past few months I have been reflecting more and more on ‘The Stranger’ and how I-You-We are responding to and reacting to ‘The Stranger.’  As long as there have been humans there have been strangers at our door.  Today, more than ever before, there are more and more strangers appearing – or striving to appear – at our door.

This morning I am going to quote extensively from a Homily (think: Sermon) that Pope Francis delivered on Monday, 8 July 2013.  His Homily was delivered at the ‘Arena’ sports camp, Salina Quarter Lampedusa, Italy.  If you search on Google you will find the entire Homily.  You might also want to search for Lampedusa, Italy and learn about its history; this will help you put into context the Pope’s message. I also refer you, Gentle Reader, to a speech he delivered at Vatican City on 15 August, 2017: ‘Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees’ [A ‘Google’ search will also produce this speech in its entirety].

As I have previously noted, I am a follower of Jesus-The-Christ; I am a Christian.  For me, Pope Francis is one of the very few public figures (think: Faith-Based, Philosophic-Based and Humanistic-Based) to alert us, over and over again, to the dangers of following Pontius Pilate’s gesture of washing our hands of the consequences of the current trials and tribulations, of which we are all, simultaneously, victims and culprits.

Victims and Culprits: I am thinking of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s admonition-reminder: Few are guilty, but all are responsible.

Pope Francis speaks to us of the vice and sin of indifference.  He had this to say in his Homily at Lampedusa (coming to grips with what Lampedusa is and what it symbolizes and what it is a metaphor for is, in itself disturbing for any who have an active conscience).

Among other ‘identities’ Lampedusa is a symbol of when and where the current ‘moral panic’ and the ensuing moral debacle started.

Pope Francis: How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another! 

 And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed. . .

 The question has to be asked: Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? 

 Nobody!

 That is our answer: It isn’t me; I don’t have anything to do with it; it must be someone else, but certainly not me. . .

 Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. . .

 The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others.

 Indeed, it even leads us to the globalization of indifference.  In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. 

 We have become used to the sufferings of others.  It doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!

 Pope Francis called on us ‘to remove the part of Herod that lurks in our hearts; let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty of our world, of our own hearts, and of all those who in anonymity make social and economic decisions which open the door to tragic situations like this.’

Having said this, Pope Francis asks: ‘Has anyone wept?  Today, has anyone wept in our world?’

As the Christian Bible reminds us, over and over: ‘Let he who has ears listen!’

 

My friend, George, sent me a photo in 2013. I have titled this photo: Wild Fire & Rage.  As I sat with this image that captures mystery, power, and transcendence I thought of all of the wild fires that have raged within me.  As I held this photo yesterday, I recalled a poem that emerged into my consciousness in 2010: I Carry Anger. This morning, Gentle Reader, I offer my poem and George’s photo and dedicate both to all of us who know inner wild fires and consuming rage.

I CARRY ANGER. . .

I carry anger and rage within me
As someone carries concealed weapons.
I am not always aware they are there

Yet when called upon they are within easy reach.
Simple things can summon them from their resting place;
An interruption when I am concentrating,
A question that challenges me in some way;
I sense no pattern although I believe one exists.

Sometimes I wonder where all of this anger and rage comes from;
Sometimes I simply accept the reality of their existence.
At times I am puzzled, if not perplexed, by their presence;
At times I surrender to the reality of their residence.

Although I have experienced their spontaneous awakening
for many years I am almost always taken aback by their
intensity.

The spark that ignites the flash in the pan is the result
of a remark, observation or question.  The flash of fire
touches the black powder that explodes and sends my
anger and rage ripping through the once calm air.

This is an anger and rage that tears into someone like
a mini-ball does when it spreads soft skin and shatters
bone and organ leaving deep wounds and permanent scars.
–©Richard W Smith, 4 April, 2010

by George-I Carry Anger-Poem-30April2013

Too much noise.  I am whelmed over by noise.  I seek relief…  Do I, really?

Too Much Noise.  It is easy for me to blame my culture or to blame them or to blame ‘out there.’  Too much noise.

Yet, when I am alone, in my own living space I invite noise from ‘out there’ into my life.  I turn on the radio or the television or the computer.  Too much noise.  When I decide to not invite the ‘out there’ into my space I soon discover that the more powerful noisy noise is emanating from within me, from in here.

This is when I ask myself: Richard, do you really want relief from the noise?  

 This leads to other questions: What will emerge if you soften your internal noise; if you turn the volume down?  What purpose does maintaining the volume of noise that resides within your heart and soul serve?  What needs are met?  What needs are avoided?  What keeps you from choosing to silence your noisy heart and soul?  

 I know it is not a matter of knowing how?  I know that it is not a matter of not having the knowledge.  I know that knowledge itself does not change provide [sounds like Yoda is talking now].

Seeking Silence requires knowledge, yes, and motivation, and commitment, and intentionality and action.  It also requires, for me anyway, an acceptance of what lies behind, or is it within, the noise.

Acceptance.  Acceptance = approving reception.  Am I willing to receive with approval all that emerges when I quiet the noise?  Is what emerges simply more noise?  Perhaps it is not noise.  Noise = a din of voices.

Perhaps what emerges is a whisper.  Whisper = to make soft, rustling sounds.  Noise whelms me over and distracts me and adds to my disconnection [from myself and from others].  Perhaps a whisper invites me to pay attention, to focus, to be response-able; to listen attentively and deeply with a searcher-seeker ‘ear.’

Perhaps, this whisper that can only be discerned amidst silence is the whisper of the wisdom that resides within or is the whisper of the divine or the whisper of the guiding spirit or perhaps the sustaining spirit.  Perhaps it is the whisper of the transcendent calling me to be, to become, and to use my self to meet the needs that exist in my world.

I am not sure.  What seems to be clear, however, is that as long as I invite and celebrate noise in my heart and soul I will not be open to, much less be able to hear, the whisper; the whisper that is for me alone to hear.

This photo from my friend, George, invites me into the wonder and awe of silence.  This is silence captured in an image.  I can hear the soft whisper as it moves the through the valley and hides within the mist.

by George-12Oct2017