A Personal Psalm

“For those moments
when you wander,
Lost
in the halls of your mind,

“Look up and see,
Reach out and feel,
Be still and find:

“For I am with you
for Now
and Always.

“In your Joy
I rejoiced with you,
In your Sorrow
I wept with you.
In your Pain and Brokenness —
even then — I carried you.”

And so, even as
the waters swell
and the earth trembles,
I will sing and dance
at the glory and wonders of the world
around me.

And so, even as
my heart betrays me
and my spirit is breaking,
I will still cry out and proclaim
the beauty and mystery of the life
given to me.

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In the beginning

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How does one ever begin?

We always find ourselves in the midst of things, neither here nor there. Even sharing our experiences and thoughts with ourselves — let alone others — can be nigh on impossible.

In very action, every telling, there comes the weight of possible failure. What if, in doing, you fail to accomplish? What if, in telling, you fail to connect? What if — even worse — in doing or in telling, you leave the world worse than how you left it, whether it be your inner narrative & psyche or of the world at large? There are so many wounds and scars caused by the selfishness or carelessness of human beings.

But we live in a reality based upon physical matter, suspended in space and time. Just as our lives are manifested in physical bodies, strung along space and time, so our spirits are manifested in action and word. To not do is to die, slowly, day by day. The body, rendered immobile in an impenetrable fortress against famine and disease, withers and dies. So with the human spirit.

And so one is caught in this daily dance, risking life and limb to be their truest self — or to pull away from the world and allow the body and spirit to sabotage itself.

That is not to say that quiet and self-reflection is of no use. On the contrary! It is during these times that the maze around us can be combed, spun, and woven into tapestries, knitting the fabric of self, community, and history in ways novel and beautiful. It is how we create our inner and outer narrative. It is how we construct lives, communities, cultures, and societies.

All too often, however, this seclusion can have the opposite effect. The tapestry, instead of being grand and comprehensive caves in on itself, becoming gnarled into a grotesque thing, entirely circumventing the outside world (and creating its own house of horrors within).

These cloisters are not necessarily unpleasant — indeed, there are millions who walk among us, living happily and cheerfully within their private halls. You see it in their face, when they are confronted by the outside world — a fracturing reflecting the utter collapse of their inner fortress. Humans fight bitterly to prevent this destruction of the self.

And so it is with beginning anything anew, inner or outer: we risk utterly and completely shattering the world around us and within us. With every action, with every thought, we risk never being the same.

But I am here to tell you that you are already not the same. Who you were yesterday is gone, disappeared, as good as dead! You carry within you the pattern laid by your former self, every passing moment a little death of Who You Were — and at the same moment, the birth of Who You Will and are Meant to Be.

Every passing moment, a rebirth of your soul! May this new beginning open a spring of newness of life within you, welling into the utter and complete realization of your truest potential.

Musica celestis

The following was inspired by a captivating performance by the Chiara Quartet on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017 at their recital “Heavenly Voices.” The second half of the program consisted entirely of Aaron Jay Kernis‘ 50-minute work, “String Quartet No. 1: ‘Musica celestis'”. It was one of the most intense musical experiences I have had in recent memory. I was utterly and irrevocably changed. I can only hope that you may experience the same.

Mvt. I
An uneasy dance
between earth and sky,
heaven and hell.

A constant shuffling
since the dawn of time—
Not always heard—
but always felt.

Scratching at the edge
of consciousness,
Not quite unpleasant—
yet always unsettled.

Its strains have ever been
and will be ever after.

Mvt. II
The sun, it rises
through mountains grey
Cutting through the dark
of morning’s chill,
the life of verdant Spring
but a distant memory.

The rays catch a tear
falling down your cheek,
Night’s loss still too near to bear

And yet the light shines
from your face,
Hope lifting again a heart
weighed with care

As shadows vanish,
so death rescinds—
another day is born.

Mvt. III
In an improbable forest
dressed in fall
Comes two scallywags,
in an improbably stroll

Mozart, with deftness,
prances and tarries,
Stirring the leaves
in this sanctuary

While Bartok, whose feet
are caught in a jig,
with melodies effusing
from their harmonious rig:

Stately, yet folksy,
heavenly profane,
Won’t you come by
and dance again?

Mvt. IV
Frantically, desperately,
forever searching
for resolution —
starting, stopping, dashing
to cure

An insatiable yearning,
ever upward-turning
to find what has only been waiting,
breathlessly, patiently:

In your very heart,
Your Celestial Swansong!
Guiding your earthly footsteps
with heaven’s own grace

Leading you through
the paths you must follow,
Teaching you to sing
even in life’s sorrows.

The Witching Hour

Witching_hour

In the Witching Hour
the clock strikes Three
As rain falls, dripping,
from the eaves,
While wiser eyes
close to the dark,
And against night’s creaks
with dreams embark.

In my Witching Hour
images glare—
Of Murder, Guilt,
Pain and Despair,
Haunting our hearts—
the ones who care—
Vacant, from those
with pow’rs to bear

Us from ourselves,
our freedom-lust
Snapping the weave of
our world’s trust.

Where do you turn
when Silver speaks
Louder than the
screams of Legions?
Where do you turn
when Reason’s voice
Is brazenly shamed
into silence?

The End Times—A Review

ichthyosaur

Can you imagine being the first to discover the ichthyosaur? Even better: can you imagine being the first to discover an ichthyosaur before anyone even knew dinosaurs existed?

It might be the current socio-political and economic climate. It might be that the world is getting smaller every day—and humanity’s darker side clambers to the top of every news feed. Not to mention the preponderance of earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires blazing across the land these days. It might also just be a strikingly odd coincidence that several books I’ve dived into recently have centered on natural history—and how it all points to our own eventual demise.

No, it’s not time to build a nuclear fallout shelter. (Not that that isn’t a good idea to begin with.) But we, as a people, have discovered troubling ripples fanning out across the animal kingdom, etched in the earth’s geological strata, and even stretching out into the future—including us, at its pinnacle. These discoveries come to us thanks to our development of rigorous studies in biology, natural history, and genetics.

It all began while I was working in the stacks of our local university’s orchestra music library. While digging through stacks of Stravinsky, mountains of Mendelssohn, and bundles of Brahms, I listened to Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. For better or worse, the title led me to expect a treatise on humanity’s sociopolitical and cultural history, boiled down to fifteen hours of audio. I should probably get better at reading book synopses.

A Short History took me down a very different historical path, via biology and the earth sciences. With this unexpected detour, I found a new set of lenses to observe the world around me and discovered a new way of understanding our place in history—and perhaps more importantly, our blunders and ego-filled attempts to ascribe it.

In Western Europe, this understanding shifted radically from the likes of Cuvier (and his fossil collection), Lyell (and his theory of gradual geological change), and Mendel (and his discovery of units of heredity using… pea plants?*). At one time, we believed the world around us to be immutable and permanent; every creature had its place in the world and was perfectly formed to live it in. God, it was reasoned, was incapable of making faulty creations. Thus, everything that is, was, and ever will be appeared at the moment of creation, of genesis. The world around us was created for our enjoyment, benefit, and sustenance.

sweet peas
Who knew the humble pea would lead to the discovery of heredity—and a century-long fascination with eugenics and genetic purity? (Yes, I’m talking about Nazis. Bad logic warps good ideas in horrendous ways.)

This line of thought broke down with mankind’s population explosion after the eighteenth century. As humanity burst beyond their borders, explorers “discovered” new territories, bringing with them death and destruction wherever they roamed. Small colonies was more than enough to wipe out indigenous creatures, having lived for millennia without man’s influence. It was almost a joyous occasion from the settler’s point of view: in a strange new land, they discovered creatures who had no fear of man (or means to defend against them). In the span of decades, entire species disappeared. Slowly, it became obvious that god’s creation was not immutable. (While everyone points to the dodo, I find the Great Auk is a similarly classic and tragic example of such a careless case of extinction.)

Great Auk
Weirdest hobby ever: sailing out at odd hours to kill the last of a bird species in the middle of Scottish waters. It really happened.

Even as mankind effortlessly wreaked havoc on abroad, scientists and intellectuals at home bickered over whether the world was shaped by catastrophic forces (the Cuvier school) or by gradual ones (a la Lyell).

What becomes obvious in following this intellectual evolution** is that man tries very, VERY hard to wedge the facts into his own preconceptions. We are very skilled at fabricating meaning and relationships out of nothing—and subsequently pigeonholing everything that follows after right back into this cobbled framework, like endless round pegs into square holes. Simply listen to these interviews done by Vice with white supremacists at Charlottesville; it becomes apparent very quickly that we will do anything necessary in order to protect our own worldview, no matter how riddled with holes and inconsistencies it may be.

This becomes even more troubling as we consider how we are still wreaking havoc across the planet. The Sixth Extinction explores this havoc, giving a gripping play-by-play of the development of natural history and paleontology into their current-day forms, all while recounting the stories of numerous species either on the brink or over the edge of extinction. (I seriously got a little teary-eyed at the bit regarding white-nose syndrome in bats in North America. Seriously, what did they do to deserve such devastation?***)

little brown bat
There are estimates that 80% of bats in the US Northeast have died from outbreaks of white nose syndrome—a fungus which causes bats to use up more energy than usual while hibernating, They literally starve to death. Where did the fungus come from? Europe, where their bats are already resistant. It likely jumped the pond from human activities.

It quickly becomes obvious that the world around us is constantly changing—and we are vastly capable of changing it. Questions arise as we as a species continue to grow and wipe out ever-greater shares of the biodiversity around us (and subtly shifting the makeup of our oceans and atmospheres). Yes, a species’ first prerogative is to be fruitful and propser—but at what cost?**** When is destruction of the world around us “natural”, and when is it needless?

What becomes obvious is that there are many forces at work in our world, and any time we consider any of its events to be sudden, inexplicable, or inevitable, we simply haven’t studied or paid attention long enough to understand the actual processes taking place.***** Even disasters are simply the tipping-point of long and slow processes. It is vitally important, however, whether we decide to continue exploring these mechanisms and how their interrelationships shape the world around us—or continue to pigeonhole the facts into convenient mindsets. Just because we do not understand it yet does not mean it will forever be inexplicable.

Besides, we’re human. Figuring out how things work is what we do.

###

*Trust me, this humble-sounding experiment (and its even humbler husbandman) was the unassuming spark that began the wildfire into genetic study and inquiry.

**It is probably more apt to compare this evolution as an all-out war between different schools of thought. Darwin, originally an understudy and close friend of Lyell, was cast out after the publication of his seminal The Origin of Species. Science circles can be so fickle.

***Luckily, we’ve found a cure for our flying, furry friends. Long live batsy.

****It’s really not very hard to cause a major extinction event. Even bacteria can do it.

******Seriously, we used to believe that cancer was caused solely by viruses, and that we could find a “cancer penicillin”. That was within the last sixty years. What will we learn in the next sixty?

An Impossible Grain

When time is ticking
and life is slipping —
flowing without restraint

Your heart is empty,
your soul is draining —
For what is there to wait?

The sun is shining,
the world is smiling —
for them it is a game

My feet are stumbling
my mouth is stuttering
as along I try to play.

A broken shard
is what you are
forever without a home

And so you slash
your heart against
your own impossible grain.