The Flood

The world is a flood, a roaring flood
Of different voices and experiences
Each a call, a clamor for justification
Each drowning out all else

The song is shrill, fingers in ears
Eyes closed, mouth working
Streams that shatter instead of flow
(Just one sperm gets the egg)

Cast in the torrent we sink or swim
And in both the drift inexorable
Downward in the great dissipation
A waterfall of pure selfish Shout

By some chance an eddy forms
A silence outside the current
A strange vacuum we find, and
Hear ourselves for the first time

My great contribution to the world
My voice in its endless streams
Now in the beautiful stillness
Is heard as a strident “me, me, me”

In the clatter my voice was my own
As a puppet may be unique in all respects,
But still moved by the same strings:
Essence of chains though seeming free

In these backwaters there’s no need
To scream ourselves deaf in isolation
But listening together, a voice ex nihilo invades
Low frequency song from eternity past

The song was there in the flood
A hum of bass or treble dance of stars
But in the quiet heard for what it is
The tale of a different Stream altogether

Then a snake of a current grabs ahold
The quiet corner is no more
We disappear back into the noise
The striving to tell right from wrong

And we forget the sound of the voice
That alien song of still, deep pools
But we remember the memory,
And hope that by its magic
We might spin free from the flood once more

Easter Reflections From Kenya

It is the Quiet Saturday before Easter Sunday, when thousands of years ago the universe held its breath, awaiting the vindication of God for the as-yet-unveiled Messiah, Jesus. That vindication came in the most unexpected form–the resurrection of the dead! Long looked-for, but almost overlooked when it did come, Jesus became the firstfruits of that most remarkable of events, the completion of which we still eagerly desire.

I am writing at the Tumaini orphanage, near Nyeri, Kenya (where I have extended my stay an additional 5 weeks). From where I am sitting, I can see no end of reasons why we should continue to eagerly await that desire. It is the one fundamental hope that undergirds every other, because it is the hope which defeats the oldest and hardest of all despairs, which is Death itself. I have a lot of reasons (or so I think) to despair at the moment, and when I look at the children who surround me, I know that they have many more and legitimate ones–some have reason to despair even of life, which I know nothing about.

But there is one hope, that the one thing which is the most wrong with the universe can be righted. More to the point, it has been, if we have eyes to see. The fact that people still die is now the illusion, the lie struggling to prevail against the coming truth, which is already true, but which will shine forth in infinite clarity at some time yet to come.

And, as every despair, no matter how small, really derives its life in some way from Death, so the key to every hope, no matter how small, can be found in this one hope of life regained, and made indestructible. Though I have no other hope to cling to, yet this one hope will prove to be my salvation! And this is true, not just for those like me who have never tasted the true Sickness Unto Death, but also for those who have. It is the one firm rock on which to build my relationship towards the universe–the cornerstone which the builders have rejected, but which has, in time and in its turn, become the capstone.

This year, I have not appropriately contemplated all that I could contemplate during Holy Week, nor have I appropriately prepared myself to experience another Easter in the fullest way. However, I am certainly in a place to appreciate and long for the unique comfort which is the hope of the resurrection of the dead (and it is the telltale signs of that future resurrection in Jesus’ own resurrection which we celebrate tomorrow). I believe the renewal and serious appreciation of this hope is just what Easter celebration is all about.

“Tumaini” means “hope” in Swahili.

In past years, I have traditionally created some piece of art on Easter to commemorate the day (for instance, the two monologues I wrote for Easter 2003 ). I do not know if such will happen tomorrow, but at any rate think that in view of what the hope of Easter really is, nothing can be for me a more appropriate offering than the Suite Apocalyptique I posted in a recent entry (click here to read about and download it), given that its central theme is exactly this one of resurrection hope. Perhaps it will be of benefit to you in your Easter worship!

So, Happy Easter! Christ is risen indeed!

I will leave you with a poem, the lyrics to one of the songs in the Suite (Mvmt VI: The Sun Rises):

I breathe at last, the work is done
Like shining glass, sea and sun
Are sharp and real, bright blades of love
Which grew to heal the wounds of

Night is over now
Night is over now
The sun is coming up

But don’t turn away from the flames
These brilliant rays annul our shame
The fire burns, but we stand
For which we yearn is in our hands

When we touch the earth, it sings rejoicing
For the day has dawned, and we have returned
To ourselves as we were meant to be
To the world as it has longed to be

I breathe at last, the work is done
The shadow passed, and life begun

We Who May Yet Be

And now, the shorter, more poetic, and (I think) more important cousin to my earlier essay:

The Earth That Was (We Who Were)
Mountains, forests, deserts, and seas, full of beauty and life. They are stark as reality but good as truth. There is freedom to explore, to go one way or another, to drink from this or that stream, to sleep now or later, to eat from the fruit of this tree or to be satisfied with the berries from that bush. Whether I go or stay, I rest in the comfort that there was no better choice than the one I just made. I trust myself as a creature amidst creation, I trust myself to be aimed correctly, to never fail to be appropriately situated for the appropriate function towards the appropriate result at the appropriate time. Right and wrong may exist, but if so, they exist as a land beyond the mountains at the farthest reach of my eagle’s sight. Success and failure may exist, but if so, they exist as an imperceptible cloud bank miles off the shores of the sea, held at bay by the unshakeable high pressure of the perfection of the land. At any rate, they are not worth considering. What matters is what is at hand, and what is at hand is pure goodness and joy. How beautiful and fine the brush of God, painting not End but Beginning, not Command but Possibility!

The Earth That Is (We Who Are)
The universe is a plane, infinite in front and below, but infinitesimal in width. It is a sheet of paper on edge, the cuts of which go deeper than any blade. The abstract has become the real, and the real has been flattened, coerced to serve a harsh and cold master. Life is walking the razor, the thin tightrope of Righteousness which is so ephemeral. To either side the void howls with a commanding rage, black maws agape and hungry. The line is safe but not sure. In fact, it is so thin the very molecules of my feet are sundered, falling into either abyss. I am slit, riven, sinking into the two-dimensional compression, and grasp at the gossamer strand. Oh, but it is made of sharply glistening diamonds and I am not! My hands turn to ribbons of flayed skin. How beautiful and cruel the spinneret of God, casting lines of hope that kill!

The Earth That Will Be (We Who May Yet Be)
The storm has come over the mountains, and has met the storm from over the sea. The land is ravaged, and not many survive. A great volcano was thrust up, and cast ash and unquenchable fire over the ruined beauty. The land is again ravaged, and now even fewer survive. I leave my shelter and weep over the destruction we have wrought. Where now the beauty? Where now the life? I stand on the plains of desolation and the sun pierces the ash in the sky. I am blinded; I have not seen the sun in a very long time. It illuminates the sludge in front of me. Look here! But it is a whisper of green, gently unfolding, a baby in the arms of mother sun. I remember the Hell where we have been, and Hope suddenly coalesces into Truth. My rebirth blasts Righteousness–diamantine no longer–into so many glass shards. With joy, I stretch my hand toward the naked and shy plant, and I sing. It responds with a movement more melodic than any lyric, dancing, unfolding new leaves, shaking brazenly in the sheen of a summer sun, an island of new in a sea of old. In a moment the buds, and before their fragrance has departed: fruit! Round, full, and inviting. I see that it is, without any doubt, good. I call to my brethren, to we who have outlasted both Ignorance and Knowledge, and with crucified wills we know what must be done. Come, Oak and Owl! Come, Pterodactyl and Tiger! How beautiful and loving the inexorable regeneration of God, crushing death itself with its power! Amen.

The Restless Slumber of Dry Kindling

It used to be the case that it didn’t take me long to write songs. I’d sit down with the guitar, fiddle around until I came across some chords that seemed good, make up a passable melody, and then move over to the computer and type some lyrics. Usually the process would take at most a couple hours. Then, I’d move straight into recording, bypassing the “practice” stage–the multiple takes were the practice. So I’d go from idea to mp3 in under a day.

Somewhere in college that changed…probably after I realized that the quality of both the idea and the mp3 were less than excellent. One of the effects of this realization was a drastically lower songwriting rate–from something like 12 a year at the end of high school to just a couple a year at the end of college. I’d like to think there was a proportional increase in song quality, but still, it was kind of sad to look back on a year and not have a lot to show for it, musically speaking. Although in truth, the songwriting hesitance had less to do with music theory and more to do with lyrics–I was just dissatisfied with everything I came up with; I was no longer writing “worship” lyrics, and I was no longer writing “how I’m feeling” lyrics, which meant that coming up with ideas was much, much harder.

All of the above is just meant to elucidate my surprise when, on Friday night, I sat down with the guitar, came up with a part I liked and a vocal melody to accompany it, and then in about an hour also had a complete set of lyrics for the song! I played it for Dav when he got back from hanging out with friends, and we decided to put it in the queue for the album we’re recording now. Hopefully that means you’ll get to hear it soon. It’s fairly original (I think) and is in 5/4, so I get props for that anyway. I called it “The Restless Slumber of Dry Kindling”, and I’ll reproduce the lyrics here:

Rising, a sliver, like the moon
Take me right away to doom
Hope shouldn't be the end of me
Yet whispers say I'm 23
Rugged, the way to sanity
A lonely, sad old colony
Overlooked by all who've gone before,
Easier to sail to other shores

More to the point is I don't know
Which way it is that I should go
Newness, a sharp-lit symmetry
Attractive; does reality
Speak up, gently colorize
Halting the heart's unconscious rise
Freezing the blood that wants to stir?
Hibernation is a lonely word

So wake me up, wake me up

Can't stop the fires
that are running
Through trenches
towards me

Oh no

Ooooooooo

If flame is the order of the day
Responsibility for fuel is laid
With you so don't waste our time
I can only sing so many rhymes
Love's only if I close my eyes
Still I can't help but look to the prize
Watchman's vigil in a tower room
Spiteful of the brazen rising moon

So how long, how long

Can't stop the fires
that are running
Through trenches
towards me

Oh no

Ooooooooo

Well, off to do more recording…

Tesseract’s End

We had a sort of “dudes’ retreat” last weekend (as staunchly opposed to a “men’s retreat”, of course), full of celebration and adventure (two words which aptly describe wandering around San Francisco on St Patrick’s Day) and much borderline-appropriate behavior. Most importantly though, we set aside a good bit of time to delve deeper into our artistic selves and lay bare our current souls via poetry and song. Needless to say, I was shocked and impressed at the quantity and quality of art that was produced, and the honest ways in which it was delivered. Various pieces from that time will probably float around the e4 weblogs soon enough.

My main contribution was a song I had written the day before the “retreat”, but I will save its lyrics for the time when I have a recording to go with it. I also wrote a short poem while on the top of Mt Tamalpais, north of San Francisco, where we had all gone hiking on Saturday. From Mt Tamalpais there is a glorious view of the SF bay, and this apparent division of the world into air and water, juxtaposed all about by land, inspired the poem, which I am calling “Tesseract’s End”:

Rugged shoulders to spines on back
A strange animal I traverse
Its own life an undefined breath
Overlooked substratum of heaven on earth

I walk sometimes up, sometimes in
Phase shift accomodating forms that
Disregard boundaries of texture--
Oh that my soul felt the same!

To swim or run or fly between
The lines that slice the diff'ring spheres
A hardened wire of surface tension
That feels, from altitude, as rock
(on it I fall, and am crushed)

To be of wing or fin was given
To marvels of motion and muscle
But lightspeed travel twixt high and low
Alone can I exhibit
--if only I could breathe at Tesseract's end

The Amnesiac Shipbuilder

Last night at community dinner, we did an exercise which was meant to replace/augment the normal process of sharing with one another how each of us is doing, what we are thinking about, how we are feeling, etc. Usually we’d just go around in a circle and have each person contribute whatever she feels like about herself, but last night we decided the contribution needed to be slightly more formal: we each took roughly 45 minutes alone with pen and paper, and wrote, either in poetry, prose, or a mix, the answer to the questions “where are you?”, “how are you doing?”, and “what are you feeling?”.

The idea was to imbue some more constrained object (a few paragraphs of prose, or a haiku, or a rant) with a more focused, albeit artistic, answer, with the hope that this presence would be actually a more meaningful way to share than just saying verbally whatever would have come to mind. Indeed, I was very surprised at the level of depth I felt we were able to achieve, seeing as we were working with a significant economy of words; in fact, when we came back together and read what we had written, we had enough time to go around twice, in order to further understand people.

Hopefully at least a few of us will post what we wrote on our weblogs here–I’m going to start with my work of the evening, entitled The Amnesiac Shipbuilder. It’s a story.

Land, that once felt safe and so sweet
Now a detestable spit of sand
What gave life and surety to feet
I'd banish if I thought it would heed a command

Water to drink is no good if it keeps
Life alive but alone, incomplete
Fruit follows suit, it belongs in the deeps
If health is all that there is in this heat

I have in the wreckage a thousand tomes
Whose wisdom's satisfied a thousand men
But my adventure lies not at home--
Useful a shipbuilding book would have been!

Resignation is my lover at night
With whom I wrestle sensuously
But her charms are not even close to delight
And in daylight, I spurn her contemptuously

Laziness would no doubt have been my bane
If I thought effort could affect
But helplessness never gave one gain
Unless him for rescue did God (or fate) select

Either one would be fine.

Life in the Ocean

Some random experiences from a few days in the Bahamas (from which I am now in the process of returning) spawned this poem, which spilled edit-free from my pen yesterday:

Shapes in clear water when moving
are blurred and the fuzz provides fear
For unknown says death's always seeking
and will in the end become near

So sun and life soon are forgotten
if only for a space of seconds
Heart and mind illusion-smitten
propel the soul back to the sands

From the shore heartbeats are slower
Embarrassment looks like the heat of the day
The water is clear, it seems fear need not tower
O'er a reckless rejoining the fray

But horizon reveals, dark symbols appear
Omens or fins? both blacker than sky
Recklessness checked, the imagined is here
It seems a more rational soul would have died

Discontinuity Reviled

Last month’s emotional bloodletting was musical. Here is this month’s: a paragraph that wants to be a poem when it grows up.

Some violent days the red and rain are all too thunderingly silent, staying stored in Heaven when Earth’s ironies are Hellishly blue and clear, spying down on cracked and broken souls that move and labor searching amidst blood for each other to wish wreckage was external, indicating the spiritual state–less existence equals less pain but color is beautiful and cannot be slain (only why won’t it rain singing water, rising up to drown unworth?), but grace prevails, the ship sails and souls float, regarding unjustly their inevitability of being, the world a mockery of them and they of it, made now of shimmering sand when floods should rule till penitence dies and comes again in more wrath and less doom, carving channels of whistling light to lands where mirrors give heed to more than sight, and true lenses perceive the matching hue of Heaven and Earth, for the first time: above and below to agree in mirth.