On Instinct and Life…

Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people.’ People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war…. Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of the rest….

C.S. Lewis

Prayers by the Lake…

You pour out light over the darkness, Lord, and colors and shapes emerge. You bend Your face over the abyss, whose name is Nothingness, and the abyss tries to depict the beauty of Your face in shadows. All creation expresses You the way the abyss dreams of You.

My lake is also beautiful while the peaceful face of the sun remains bent over it. And all those who pass by praise the beauty of my lake. But as soon as the sun hides its face, my lake becomes dark and abysmal. And no passerby ever offers any praise for the lake except in the presence of the sun or the sun’s radiant companions.

The face of the abyss intoxicates those who do not see the sun bent over the abyss. The beauty of things begins when an onlooker bends his face over them. There is no mirror if there is no face in front of the mirror. But even a face in front of a mirror means nothing if there is no light.

In the light of Your face I pay no attention to any creature. Without You, creatures and I would not be mirrors of one another, but rather darkness, and an abyss, and an opaque chill.

Creation distorts Your beauty the way a dream distorts reality. Creation torments me just as dreams torment me. For what is creation except dreams of Your inexpressible Reality?

My neighbors say: “We have dreamed beautiful dreams.” The universe is my witness when I tell you that you are more beautiful than your dreams. The universe also dreams, and cannot dream enough about its own beauty. O my sleepy universe: as long as a dream dreams a dream, one dream is afraid of another, even if one dream seeks an interpreter and comforter in another. Who is prophesying to whom: the dream to reality or reality to the dream?

O my beautiful universe: dream of Reality and Reality will tell you everything. Admit the Reality, of which you are a dream, and you will awaken, and will no longer ramble about beauty, but will be Beauty. There is only one Reality and only one Beauty, and it is the reason for your dream.

Do not tell me, children, about the beauty of the stars. If the Lord withdrew Himself from the stars, your mouths would be struck dumb. Stand in the thick darkness by my lake and try to sing to it. Truly you will be struck dumb and remain silent until the sun dawns, until the sun pours its beauty over the lake and gives your speechless throat its voice.

Your face pours beauty over all creation. The universe swims in Your beauty as a boat swims in the sea. And when You bend over cold ashes, the ashes are transfigured and receive a face.
Bring my heart to its senses, my Lord, so that it may not be captivated by mortal beauty but by You, my Immortal Beauty.
O my only Beauty!
Allow me to see Your Face, just more and more–of Your Face.

Duluth…

is nestled on the side of a hill where Minnesota meets Lake Superior and the through it the seagoing world. Part dirty port town, part shining metropolis, and part bastion of urban civilization on the edge of the great northern woods. Creation gave it a location and its people have given it character.

In truth there are only four larger clusters of people living in Minnesota. St. Cloud to the west, Rochester to the south, Duluth to the north, the rim of a wheel in which St. Paul and Minneapolis are the hub. After them there is nothing else but expanse dotted with smaller towns struggling to attract 10,00 souls at best.  The farms are too large and the woods too deep to allow anything else.

Even the towns on the rim of the wheel are still smaller, not one has progressed above 100,000 people. Only the Twin Cities with its sprawling suburbs have managed to become anything anyone would call “big” and even then people from a truly large place like Chicago, New York, or Houston would find the whole thing quite provincial. Yet of the towns on the rim it would seem that Duluth is the most useful.

You see there are towns that produce services and towns that produce essentials and Duluth produces essentials. Ore, grain, timber, the basic stuff that underlies what we call civilization all flows in and through Duluth. Behind the veneer of carefully manicured suburban lawns and gleaming metropolitan towers there is the raw products that made it all and the people who produce it. That is Duluth.

In our illusions we think that meat comes from neat packages in grocery stores and forget about the immigrants working the slaughter houses. Milk comes in cartons, flour in bags, gasoline in pumps, and wood from hardware stores. It seems a kind of magic to us because we’ve been distracted from what the magician’s other hand is doing.

Yet its the places where the factory lights are on all night, where derricks and cranes hug the shore, smoke floats through the air, and people get up early that keeps the whole thing running. So other places are more glamorous for sure but none are as important. You like your lawyer and your massage therapist is very nice but you need a farmer, the person who cuts wood, drives a truck pulling a tank of gasoline, or loads and unloads ships with the things that let us live when the lights go down and the cold comes ripping out of Canada. In other words we need Duluth and if we don’t have one we’re obligated to either create one or be beholden to those who do.

We probably shouldn’t forget that.

 

 

A Poem for Tuesday…

The Parson’s Son by Robert William Service
 
This is the song of the parson’s son, as he squats in his shack alone,
On the wild, weird nights, when the Northern Lights shoot up from the frozen zone,
And it’s sixty below, and couched in the snow the hungry huskies moan:

“I’m one of the Arctic brotherhood, I’m an old-time pioneer.
I came with the first — O God! how I’ve cursed this Yukon — but still I’m here.
I’ve sweated athirst in its summer heat, I’ve frozen and starved in its cold;
I’ve followed my dreams by its thousand streams, I’ve toiled and moiled for its gold.

“Look at my eyes — been snow-blind twice; look where my foot’s half gone;
And that gruesome scar on my left cheek, where the frost-fiend bit to the bone.
Each one a brand of this devil’s land, where I’ve played and I’ve lost the game,
A broken wreck with a craze for `hooch’, and never a cent to my name.

“This mining is only a gamble; the worst is as good as the best;
I was in with the bunch and I might have come out right on top with the rest;
With Cormack, Ladue and Macdonald — O God! but it’s hell to think
Of the thousands and thousands I’ve squandered on cards and women and drink.

“In the early days we were just a few, and we hunted and fished around,
Nor dreamt by our lonely camp-fires of the wealth that lay under the ground.
We traded in skins and whiskey, and I’ve often slept under the shade
Of that lone birch tree on Bonanza, where the first big find was made.

“We were just like a great big family, and every man had his squaw,
And we lived such a wild, free, fearless life beyond the pale of the law;
Till sudden there came a whisper, and it maddened us every man,
And I got in on Bonanza before the big rush began.

“Oh, those Dawson days, and the sin and the blaze, and the town all open wide!
(If God made me in His likeness, sure He let the devil inside.)
But we all were mad, both the good and the bad, and as for the women, well —
No spot on the map in so short a space has hustled more souls to hell.

“Money was just like dirt there, easy to get and to spend.
I was all caked in on a dance-hall jade, but she shook me in the end.
It put me queer, and for near a year I never drew sober breath,
Till I found myself in the bughouse ward with a claim staked out on death.

“Twenty years in the Yukon, struggling along its creeks;
Roaming its giant valleys, scaling its god-like peaks;
Bathed in its fiery sunsets, fighting its fiendish cold —
Twenty years in the Yukon . . . twenty years — and I’m old.

“Old and weak, but no matter, there’s `hooch’ in the bottle still.
I’ll hitch up the dogs to-morrow, and mush down the trail to Bill.
It’s so long dark, and I’m lonesome — I’ll just lay down on the bed;
To-morrow I’ll go . . . to-morrow . . . I guess I’ll play on the red.

“. . . Come, Kit, your pony is saddled. I’m waiting, dear, in the court . . .
. . . Minnie, you devil, I’ll kill you if you skip with that flossy sport . . .
. . . How much does it go to the pan, Bill? . . . play up, School, and play the game . . .
. . . Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name . . .”

This was the song of the parson’s son, as he lay in his bunk alone,
Ere the fire went out and the cold crept in, and his blue lips ceased to moan,
And the hunger-maddened malamutes had torn him flesh from bone.

From "Upward Glance"…

“I can hardly wait to retire.  Man, I am going to __________.”  All of us have heard this conversation and some of us may have even spoken those very words.  That blank can be filled in with everything from travel and fishing, to doubling my income with another job.  Some of those words come from people who still have 15 or 20 years left in their career!  Would you believe the average man or woman will spend 50,000 hours at their job during a lifetime?  That’s just average…you are no doubt above average!   How much better it would be for us to find satisfaction in our daily lives rather than living for the future.  This is true rather one is living for retirement or a promotion.  Sometimes the best laid plans (of men and women) can go astray.  Take for a good example the following story:

The Associated Press ran this story of Andre-Francois Raffray.  Thirty years ago, at the age of 47, he worked out a real estate deal with Jeanne Calment, age 90.  He would pay her $500 each month until her death, in order to secure ownership of her apartment in Arles, France.  This is a common practice in France, benefitting both buyers and seniors on a fixed income.  Unfortunately for Raffray, Jeanne Calment became the world’s oldest living person.  She was still alive at 120 when Raffray died at the age of 77.  He paid $184,000 for an apartment he never lived in.  According to the contract, Raffray’s survivors must continue payment until Mrs. Calment dies.

Talk about missing the mark when it came to the future!!  Mr. Raffray presumed he knew what the future held, but the future is one thing we can seldom accurately predict!  Consider this Scripture passage from James that warns us of presuming to know what the future holds: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow…Instead you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”

Now I’m not saying God is opposed to planning.  Planning is good except when we get too carried away with it by trying to live in the future.  We can get so caught up with our plans and schemes for the future that we forget about the day at hand.  We’ve all seen people that had their hearts so set on a promotion that when they weren’t chosen, their world was turned upside down and they became unbearable to be around for quite a while.  Or perhaps you know folks who lived their lives for retirement only to find soon after retirement that sickness or worse put an end to their plans.  One little saying that has always helped me in this area goes like this: Live this moment as if the Lord is coming back today and plan for the future as if He is not coming back in your lifetime.  All of us are just a heartbeat away from the Judgment Seat of Christ…something we don’t think about very often.  May all of us enjoy the gift of life God has given us today and commit our future plans into His hands.

By the way, if any of you are interested in my house, we can work out a deal where you start paying me $1500 a month now and….   :>)  (Just kidding…)

May the Lord bless you richly this day…indeed… this very day!!

Prayers by the Lake…

Come closer to me, closer still, O majestic Spirit of Truth. Draw near, and enter into me, more deeply than light and air enter me. Indeed, I can spend an entire night without light, but without You I cannot even lie down on my bed. I can take ten steps without air, but without You I cannot even take one.

Take up your abode in my soul more deeply than my thought can follow. The entire universe is insufficient to encourage my soul to persevere in virginity, if You do not encourage her.

The world incessantly asks for the hand of my soul, in order to be wedded to her. The world offers my soul all its treasures, if only she will abandon her waiting for You. The world whitewashes all its sepulchres,1 just to entice my soul. The world sets all its ashes out in the sun and pours flattery and pomposity all over it, just to seduce my soul.

Manifest all Your splendor, O Holy Spirit, so that my soul may recognize whose bride she is.

Come closer to me, closer still, O Power of the Holy Trinity.  Enter into my consciousness more deeply than thoughts and emblems of the world can. In the same way as a wise mother, when she conceives, prepares and embellishes a cradle for her child, so prepare and embellish my mind for that which will be begotten from You, O Beauty and Purity.

Many evil thoughts lurk like serpents around the cradle of Your Son. And many wicked desires emerge from my heart and seek the cradle of Your Prince, to poison Him with their arrows.

Defend the cradle of my mind, and teach my soul how to give birth and care for an infant.

Shroud in deep darkness the journey of all malevolent visitors coming to see my newborn son. And raise aloft a most radiant star over the way of the Wise Men from the East2 men who are truly wise, because they are coming to visit my most precious child with three gifts—faith, hope, and love.3

Come closer to me, closer still, O majestic Son of God. Descend deeper into my heart than any emotion, or desire, or passion of the world can descend into it. Protect my heart from the countless merchants, from the numerous buyers and sellers, who are forever swarming in legions around my young and inexperienced heart. And teach my heart not to be crazy about the motley illusions of people and things.

Take up Your abode in the bottom of my heart, as the master of a house does in his own home, my beloved Son, and be for me a merciless judge and a sagacious counselor.

Once purity of soul and sagacity of mind occupy my heart, truly in vain will evil spirits dance attendance in order to step into it.

And my heart will be filled with an ineffable heavenly peace, and will glorify God in chorus with the cherubim and the seraphim. And enriched, it will return to the soul and the mind what it borrowed, for as their equal it will recompense them in equal measure.

And my heart will be filled with sweet love for its Lord, and with compassion for and good will toward suffering souls in the world and in Hades.

Come closer to me, still closer, my majestic Lord.

Prayers by the Lake…

You pour Your holy oil into the stars, O Holy Spirit, and out of senseless conflagrations You make vigil lamps before the Glory of Heaven. Pour Yourself into my soul also, and out of a passionate conflagration make a vigil lamp before the heavens.

You stroll through fields of flowers without being heard, and You sprinkle the flowers with Your grace, so that the blood of the earth may not look through, but the beauty of God. Sprinkle the field of my soul with Your grace also, so that it may not be said that the field of my soul sprouted from the blood of the earth, but that it is adorned with the beauty of God.

You mingle with every heap of ashes and pour in life. Pour life into the ashes of my body also, so that I may live and glorify Your works.

You tame the fire and wind, and out of demons of fury You make servants of the Most High. Tame my pride and make me a servant of the Most High. You are kind to the animals in the woods. Show kindness to me also, who am animalized by ignorance.

You fertilize every seed of life. You hover in every womb. You sit in the egg of a bird’s nest and masterfully form a new miracle of life. Fertilize, I beseech You, the invisible seed of goodness within me also, and keep watch over it until it reaches maturity.

O Awesome and Almighty Spirit, by Your presence You turn a den of thieves into a haven of Heaven, and a terrifying universe into a temple of God. Descend into me also, I beseech You, and turn a handful of ashes into what You know how to do and can.

Ave Maria…

The world is naked this night,
fearful, exposed, afraid, ashamed, perplexed.
Life’s winds blow cold, eyes fill with tears,
and hearts are boiled in anger.
Speed through the darkness Earth,
a traveler in unfathomed space.
The world is convulsed this night, but heaven
is neither empty or asleep.
The silent crying,
the scream caught in a throat,
the words unutterable,
have found an audience beyond the stars.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

The day after…

the snow falls is often a cold day but bright with the sun. The clouds that mark the snow bearing front have passed and the northwest wind, the driver of blizzards in these parts, brings air from Canada, cold and clear.

Its the pleasant scene that people in places without snow picture when they think of winter and Christmas. Clean whiteness everywhere, dark tress highlighted with frost, and warm houses with chimney smoke dotting the streets of a small village. Light comes from windows as the sun settles in the evening and children flow down the hills in sleds.

It’s not like that, of course. Those days, even if they ever existed, are long past. The snow is gone soon after it falls, plowed away by a phalanx of orange trucks. The wheels of commerce are seldom slowed even by the largest storm and the morning after they will quickly spin back to life. A moment looking out the window and seeing simply the snow, and feeling its quiet, is always short lived.

Yet its a good moment, one of those rare times when business stands still and its normal courses are interrupted for something larger, the courses of nature and the snow that has fallen on this land, despite the tall buildings, endless miles of wires, and every built in convenience, since the Mississippi River flowed not far from this place, unfettered and on its journey to the sea.

The sky is the color…

of dirty cotton. The snow is hard and even the grass that found its way through the crust looks forlorn. On television the man talks about wind chill, again. It’s late November. It’s morning in St. Paul, and everything looks frozen in place.

Stuck is what you learn about as you grow older. Kids, and the ones who never moved away from childhood, think everything can move with the sheer power of will. Mostly, though, we learn over time that sometimes things are just stuck in place. The weather, the times, the economy, our obligations, our fears, and every time of preparation, are all a kind of glue that can hold even the most ramble prone in place for a while.

Impatience is easy to come by in such times. In a world where we’ve been trained to get food in seconds its hard for us to stay put, to learn the lessons that come from being captured by a moment in life. Ice falls from the sky and you have to stay home. Times are hard and you need to keep your job for a while. Things are happening far above your pay grade and the world isn’t the way you want it to be and you must wait.

Yet wisdom tells us there is a voice in all of this, a wisdom to be gained not simply in the moments of change and movement but also on November days when the snow is hard, the air cold, and there’s no place to go. Those who pursue this grow deep and the shallow world has little power over their hearts.

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