Bob Schwartz

Month: June, 2017

Made Simple

Made Simple

Whatever you say or do
Or are made to do
Know who
And see through
The differences

Note: To get to the essence (it should accurately be called “______ Made Simple”, fill in the blank with anything) this is fewer words than some, more words than some, and either way less skillful than many. But beyond that, the point is the point. That point is the spot between this and that (again fill in the blank: hot and cold, light and dark, man and woman, love and hate, best and worst, Jew and Christian, AC and DC, Democrat and Republican, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, etc., etc.). That point is you, and you are not between anything.

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
Verses on the Faith Mind, Chien-chih Seng-ts’an 

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Wander

Wander

I try to stay home
But I wander
Not for somewhere better or new
Or because there is too much to do
I just forget to be here
Until I read a poem
That is the address
And I am home

Houses of Worship as Reminders on the Street

We often see houses of worship on our streets, from modest buildings to grand cathedrals. Some people have mixed feelings when they do.

A growing number think that organized religion is a negative or even destructive force. Some people are happy to see their own brand of churches, synagogues and mosques on display, but are not so sure about other kinds. Some are irked by the costly beauty and splendor, no matter how pleasant the view, when other needs are so great.

These are all legitimate concerns. Yet walking past houses of worship is also a reminder, no matter how sectarian those buildings, of something greater and deeper—a reminder that may be missing from everyday lives. You don’t have to believe or participate in a particular tradition, or in any tradition, to know that things are out of balance. You may think that some expressions of faith actually contribute to that imbalance, and some assuredly do. But seeing the best of spirit embodied in our streetscape can also be a good reminder of who we can be.

From Thomas Merton, The Street Is for Celebration in Love and Living:

A city is something you do with space.

A street is a space. A building is an enclosed space. A room is a small enclosed space.

A city is made up of rooms, buildings, streets. It is a crowd of occupied spaces. Occupied or inhabited? Filled or lived in?

The quality of a city depends on whether these spaces are “inhabited” or just “occupied.” The character of the city is set by the way the rooms are lived in. The way the buildings are lived in. And what goes on in the streets.

Pictured above: Benedictine Monastery, Tucson, Arizona.

Calculus

Calculus

Calculus
Of the lightened load:
Add less
Than you are losing

Steady and Stop

Steady and Stop

The ship she
Takes on weight
Ballast and anchor
To steady and stop
The journey on
The unsettled sea

Weary

One more story
About something that is nothing
One more missing
About something that is something
Eyes bleary
Ears weary
But who can tell
Anyone
Which is which

St. Anthony of Padua

You don’t have to be religious, Christian or Catholic to appreciate saints. Every tradition recognizes those whose lives, thoughts, or actions are worthy of attention. The particulars may not suit your sense or sensibilities, but these people represent the possibilities of being human—possibilities to which we may not personally aspire, but possibilities that still may inspire.

Today is the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua. The reasons for his sainthood involve his devotion and his preaching of the faith (he is often pictured with the baby Jesus and a book). His preaching was reportedly not limited to people:

Once, when St. Anthony of Padua attempted to preach the true Gospel of the Catholic Church to heretics who would not listen to him, he went out and preached his message to the fish. This was not, as liberals and naturalists have tried to say, for the instruction of the fish, but rather for the glory of God, the delight of the angels, and the easing of his own heart. When critics saw the fish begin to gather, they realized they should also listen to what Anthony had to say. (Catholic Online: Saints & Angels)

St. Anthony is the patron saint of the poor and of travelers, but is best known in popular Catholic culture as the patron saint of lost things. Though some have invoked him—successfully and unsuccessfully—with a simple childlike verse (“Dear St. Anthony look around/Something’s lost that can’t be found”), the story and meaning is explained more fully by others:

Since the seventeenth century Anthony has been frequently invoked as the finder of lost articles. When a novice took his Psalter without permission, Anthony prayed for its return. After a frightening apparition, the novice rushed to restore the book to its rightful owner. (Lives of the Saints: From Mary and St. Francis of Assisi to John XXIII and Mother Teresa)

In 1224, Francis entrusted his friars’ pursuits of studies to Anthony. Anthony had a book of psalms that contained notes and comments to help when teaching students and, in a time when a printing press was not yet invented, he greatly valued it. When a novice decided to leave the hermitage, he stole Anthony’s valuable book. When Anthony discovered it was missing, he prayed it would be found or returned to him. The thief did return the book and in an extra step returned to the Order as well. (Catholic Online: Saints & Angels)

Anthony should be the patron of those who find their lives completely uprooted and set in a new and unexpected direction….God did with Anthony as God pleased—and what God pleased was a life of spiritual power and brilliance that still attracts admiration today. He whom popular devotion has nominated as finder of lost objects found himself by losing himself totally to the providence of God. (Franciscan Media)

From the National Shrine of St. Anthony:

Prayer to Find What Is Lost

St. Anthony, when you prayed, your stolen book of prayers was given back to you. Pray now for all of us who have lost things precious and dear. Pray for all who have lost faith, hope or the friendship of God. Pray for us who have lost friends or relatives by death. Pray for all who have lost peace of mind or spirit. Pray that we may be given new hope, new faith, new love. Pray that lost things, needful and helpful to us, may be returned to our keeping.

Feeding the poor. Preaching to fishes. Finding lost things. Sounds like a full feast day.

Triage and Detritus

Triage and Detritus

What you watch
Tells you
What not to see
What you listen to
Tells you
What not to hear
What you keep
Tells you
What to discard

Note: There is as much in the title as in the poem.

Triage is from the French trier, to sort. It is best known as a medical term, the sorting of casualties according to severity of injuries. This is how it was used in the Napoleonic wars, later in World War I, and to this day in emergency medicine. But it has for centuries had non-medical uses, as in the sorting of wool, coffee beans, and even recently in discussing which endangered species to try to save first. So in general, triage is an assessment and sorting according to quality.

Detritus is also from the French. It is the disintegrated material and debris that remains after wearing away, from rocks or from organisms. It is related to the word detriment.

The context, particularly of the last lines (What you keep/Tells you/What to discard), is a review of stuff to be kept or let go. If you look at a thing, you may have all sorts of thoughts—arguments with yourself—about what to keep. But if you look at what is in the absolutely-must-have box, those things that require no thought, that tells you something, maybe everything, about the rest. The essential speaks for itself, but you do have to shut up and listen.

Infinite Jugglers

Infinite Jugglers

Juggle balls and knives
Fruits and vegetables
Jewels and poison
Planets and stars
Three to infinity.
It is a skill and a trick
Admired and applauded
When the circle stops
Objects laid on the ground
What is performance
Who is the audience
Who is the performer?

Between the rational and irrational and between the religious and the irreligious

Between the rational and the irrational is the place that so many traditions point us to, though not all who follow want to go. It is not in the middle, in the sense of being halfway in between, or to applying each one half the time. It is the entire space, with the wholly rational and irrational merely on the outside borders, a thin outline.

This does not sit well with many, who want to have it one way or another. Extreme rationalists frequently work hard to make ordered sense from evidence, rejecting the rest, and particularly vexed by those apparently too lazy or heedless to see how essential the rational way is. Extreme irrationalists may be driven by visions that may be delusions, or by personal preferences, and may indeed avoid the rational because it is hard work or because it may not suit their needs.

This plays out on a bigger social scale. With increasing frequency, the irreligious base their perspective on a loosely rationalist view, not only because there is no evidence of and for the religious, but because the religious seem to discard or ignore the rational in a disordered and possibly self serving way.

No one is right or wrong here, in the sense of winning an ultimately unwinnable argument. Instead consider the field where all things grow, neither rational nor irrational. The place, if we listen to the best of the traditions, where we are born and where we die.