Sunday, December 30, 2012

Poor Kids

Now that the feast days are over, and the drunken revelry is about to begin, pause if you will and consider the poor.

For those who think that the poor are lazy people who refuse to work, prefering instead to lie about and live off of the work of others, consider the children of the poor.

They do not chose poverty, but it is likely to follow them through life.

This is hard to watch but I encourage everyone to spend 50 minutes watching this Frontline program. Then give all you can to your local food bank.

Give 10% of what you make to help poor kids.

Give to churches whose help to the poor is tangible and real. They need your help more than we need a new sanctuary, or improvements to the church camp.

Think at work how you can help change the institutional discrimination which keeps poor people oppressed, because we are all part of this system.

Love to all at the end of this year.



Sunday, December 23, 2012


A guest posting from my friend, Father Paul Gennett.  See more at his church's website here.

“O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing
 nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put
 to flight …” Verse 6, Hymn #56, The Hymnal 1982

I spent more time in our sanctuary this week. Just sitting in silence,
praying the names of the twenty children and six adults killed at
Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. Yet
again I wonder how, in this time of hope and holiness this season
desires to bring to our world, the darkness of the human soul and
death shrouds our hearts. And then, God gave me light for my heavy

Each time while sitting in prayer, I noticed the light of the day
playfully pouring through the southeast windows. One day, the blinding
brightness embracing our processional cross. Another day, more subdued
shades of light flickered and danced across the wooden pews. Another
day, the most brilliant array of colors through the stained glass
window in the front. I just sat in silence as the light shifted and
moved in its daily course, being open to the light of God’s healing
and hope restored in this soul.

We come to the shortest day of light in the year, the winter solstice
on December 21. Then we begin again, moving slowly yet inexorably
toward the sun’s bright rays and growing warmth in our days again. The
flow of Advent to Christmas is much the same for me. I hear the darker
words of the prophets of doom and judgment upon “the quick and the
dead,” being held in that tension of St. Paul’s call to “Rejoice! I
say again, Rejoice!” and to mother Mary’s radiant light glowing from
her womb of God’s Spirit within her.

I have been blessed with an Advent meditation appearing in my e-mail
each day written by the Reverend Brian Taylor for the CREDO Institute.
I like what he writes on Day 13 about tension we hold living in this
in-between time, ever seeking to be the hope bearers and light
birthers to our world. He writes, “On a white wall, the sun comes
through a window at a low angle. The patch of light is separated by
the mullions on my window. Dancing gently in the light are shadows of
leaves on the tree outside. This sight always stops me and tugs at my
heart. Everything becomes very still, except for one thing: the gently
shifting shadows and light.

This is the gentle mood of this season, too. We are stopped, our
hearts are tugged, by shadow and light, with the earlier night, the
longer shadows, the softer light. In my part of the country on
Christmas Eve, we light luminarias—votive candles imbedded in sand, inside a glowing paper
bag, hundreds, if not thousands of them flickering in the dark night,
lighting the way for the Holy Family as they seek shelter.

One sees this same interplay of light and darkness in the famous icon
of Christ Pantocrator, from the monastery of St. Catherine at Mt.
Sinai. If you cover the right side of the image and look at the left
side alone, he seems innocent, open, clear, seemingly loving, and
completely present to the viewer. But if you cover the left side and
look at the right side alone, it is quite another matter. He seems
complex, dark, somewhat hidden, a tad frightening. But both are Christ—
light and shadow. He loves and heals, but he also judges and divides
with a sword. He says Blessed are they and Woe to them. If Christ
doesn’t scare and confound us a little bit, I suspect we’re leaving
something out.

We, too, are interplay of shadow and light in this season. We gather
with family and friends around a loving and abundant table, but
there’s someone we have never reconciled with. We examine our hearts
to prepare a place for the Christ child to be born, and discover it
hasn’t been tended in awhile; it’s got dust and stains that are a
little too obvious for comfort. We enter the joy of the holidays, but
a shadow crosses our soul as a loss is remembered, as a sense of
emptiness returns.”

 “O come, O come, Emmanuel …”

In peace always, your servant in Christ,


Sunday, December 2, 2012

To bask with you here in this warmth

To bask with you here in this warmth

in this bright light and heat

to bask in the Sutras

in the outlandish love of the Messiah

bask in the shadow of the bodhi tree

with you

here in this warmth and light.

Beyond the forest of words

beyond the shadow of our hopes and misgivings

here in the light of this love

This was originally given in a card a little more than 9 months before we were married 
on December 3, 2005. 
Thank you Cami, for these wonderful and joy-filled years.  
With ALL my love, Rob

Sunday, November 4, 2012

These Fragments

My friend,

You will catch most of these references, from your reading, and others might too, but I will put them down here as a way of gathering them together, like kindling for a fire.    Though it may seem these came to me hard and fast, they actually appeared one at a time over three or four days, rising like specters: silent mileposts in a gradually developing syllogism. I’ll just get going, you'll know what it means.

This weekend, our first without you, was strange and usual, if that makes sense. The family gathered, as we have a thousand times before, with a fanfare of texts and phone calls and reunitings and lunches. Lots of lunches. 

There was a storm developing, a hurricane in the Caribbean, headed out to sea and then back toward the East Coast. Back here in the old world they like to get dramatic about these things, (there are “so many, I had not thought death had undone so many but it was just a three-day blow. You remember Papa Hemingway’s story right?

The big trees swayed far over in the wind as he watched. It was the first of the autumn storms.

and this one:

"All of a sudden everything was over," Nick said. "I don't know why it was. I couldn't help it. Just like when the three-day blows come now and rip all the leaves off the trees."

He was no Flannery O’Conner, no Faulkner. I wish those two were here now, right? 

I woke up early on Saturday and went out for coffee. You used to make coffee in the apartment, with the french press, but I went out then too. I like to be alone and read first thing. Sometimes things come to me. 

So I was watching the early morning crowd come in to the coffee shop. Swarthy middle-eastern men gathered at tables, some outside smoking. Young couples, a bit rumpled and bleary-eyed, and singles too, getting the paper and a coffee and scurrying back home to the puppy or the cats.  

I read the news, and the weather, and Facebook and the mail, then something made me go to Leaves of Grass on the tablet. And I re-read “Out of the Cradle Endless Rocking.”  

The thing that made my weep there in the coffee shop was that I could put this link up on the blog all I wanted, and you know I will, but you would be the most likely to read the poem; and then you would say, “Rob, that’s fine, but put one of your own up there, would you?”

When I read “Out of the Cradle” as a younger man, it seemed so sad. The little boy there on the beach, hearing the song of the he-bird, calling in vain for its mate. And hearing the song of the sea lapping at his feet, a song he can never unhear.

Which I do not forget,
But fuse the song of my dusky demon and brother,
That he sang to me in the moonlight on Paumanok’s gray beach,
With the thousand responsive songs, at random,
My own songs, awaked from that hour;
And with them the key, the word up from the waves, 
The word of the sweetest song, and all songs,
That strong and delicious word which, creeping to my feet,
The sea whisper’d me.

But now when I read it there is so much hope there!  Partly that is because of your sweet attitude near the end, and your love for us in our sorrow. So much hope in the thousand songs lifting from his heart, from the multitude rising, the phantoms. To tell you the truth It reminds me of:

“‘In my journey to Ixtlan I find only phantom travelers,’ he said softly.” 

~  C. Castaneda

And it reminds me of all of these other fragments rising up before me this weekend.

Like later on, we went to church. On Saturday. You may not have approved. Think of Huck watching his own funeral.

There were snippets of scripture all weekend.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

You are the salt of the earth.

and this one:

He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars
    and calls them each by name.

Then later, at the old ancestral home, now remade but indomitable.

Around the young new tree at sunset, beside the stump of the old tree nearby, under a gibbous moon the young girls started singing. (It was the other end of the same moon which had bathed us in its light in Nantucket, at a different gathering). Nothing at first, just a small tune. (You might have been reminded of Little Dorritt at the gates of the prison, waiting for her father, these small few voices.) Then they felt encouraged and sang a chorus of Amazing Grace. I told your sister later that’s when I knew you were there. Your sons and daughters scattered your ashes and we all went back inside to the light and the party.

At church the next day we heard old blind Bartimaeus say Lord, that I might receive my sight. Twice during the weekend I saw a street sign that said “BLIND PEDESTRIAN”.


Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

Later we visited your sister and brother-in-law. He said that he did not know if he is dying or just getting accustomed to being helpless as people of his age become. He told us that his new journey now has to do with getting used to the idea that he will never know what he thought he would know before he died, that he will always have to rely totally on faith. He described how his (and our) tendency is to reach back, reach for what we think we know for sure. And how his new task (his last one) is to leave off that reaching back, and know that he will never know, and go forward on faith alone.

Of course your sister was just all sweetness and light, with waves of sadness now and then.

I was talking to your daughter-in-law this last lunch on Sunday. We were talking about the developmental tasks for her seven year old. And we were thinking about sitting at that table with people of four generations. And each age has its own developmental tasks around loss. People my age, the young grandfathers, know of loss from death from previous losses, and I am thinking now about how I will behave when it is my turn. Great grandfathers sitting there know their time is now, like Gordon, and he is behaving in a way, perhaps, that he had decided upon when he was my age.  Younger people, the parents, have had some losses and are helping the little ones understand their feelings. And the young couples may have felt loss as children, but now see it and feel it as adults for the first time.

In our lives, most of us, we are entrusted to feel the loss of loved ones as children, as young adults, as parents or parent-aged, as grandparents, and as contemporaries.

After we returned home, your wife gave me a heads up about the reading at her funeral. (She seems to be ready.)  It was a long one that ended with:

 When you believed, you were marked by him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,

When we got home from the trip, the rain had started and it blew and rained for three days, first from the northeast, then from the southwest. It was fun. We stayed home and read and ate and rested.  I went through my song book and stopped at this old one:

People get ready, there’s a train a coming
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board.

It was that kind of weekend. 

I finally understand what old Possum was talking about in The Waste Land. That is one of those things you have to re-read at different stages of your life, as you well know. It was about his breakdown, that is first. And about the breakdown of the age too (“the present decay of Eastern Europe” he called it). That came to me later. But it is also about building up too. About fortifying the ramparts before a battle. Packing sandbags while the storm is already breaking around you. These fragments are my sandbags against this flood of loss. Old Tom said it best:

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

And just so you know I heard you, here is one I wrote for my dad. You are my dad too.

with all my love,

Crossing the Susquehanna

Crossing the Susquehanna
looking to the east across the wide Chesapeake Bay
I think of you now
ashes settled beneath the waves
your quiet calm settled in my heart
below the storm and wind.

The white snow through gray-trunked trees
The snow blown up from the white fields
in great white clouds
drifted into clefts and hollows
below the storm and wind. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Carl Sandburg

I watched a terrific American Masters show about Carl Sandburg this weekend. Then I got a book of his poems from the library and stumbled across these two poems:

Two Nocturnes


The sea speaks a language polite people never repeat.
It is a colossal scavenger slang and has no respect.
Is it a terrible thing to be lonely?


The prairie tells us nothing unless the rain is willing.
It is a woman with thoughts of her own.
Is it a terrible thing to love too much?

and this one:


Among the mountains I wandered and saw blue haze and red crag and was amazed;
On the beach where the long push under the endless tide maneuvers, I stood silent;
Under the stars on the prairie watching the Dipper slant over the horizon’s grass, I was full of thoughts.
Great men, pageants of war and labor, soldiers and workers, mothers lifting their children - these all I touched, and felt the solemn thrill of them.
And then one day I got a true look at the Poor, millions of the Poor, patient and toiling; more patient than crags, tides, and stars; innumerable, patient as the darkness of night- and all broken, humble ruins of nations.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wayfaring Stranger

I was playing through the songs in my songbook tonight and came across "Wayfaring Stranger". It's an old traditional American song from somewhere up in the mountains. I pass it by usually and play other songs: it is in a minor key and feels sad to me. But I played it through several times, alone here in my room, and it seemed more hopeful tonight than plaintive. It is a song about the end of life, but it is about hope, and going over to a beautiful world of love on the other side.

Gordon Cosby told me once about a talk he had with a soldier in a foxhole before a battle in World War II. He told me the soldier, who'd had a premonition that he was going to die the next day, told him that he didn't believe in Jesus, but wondered what he could do to prepare in case he was killed. Gordon told the soldier that he should expect to experience love which is so great that it is unimaginable to us, but which would bear him away and that he would need to do what he could to ready himself to work with that. The man did die in the battle the next day.

There is something in my heart that knows there is a beautiful vast eternity awaiting us. This old song captures that knowledge, and reminds me of it tonight.

"Golden fields lie right before me
Where weary eyes no more will weep.
I'm going home to see my father
I'm going home no more to roam.
I'm only going over Jordon,
I'm only going over home."

Tonight my heart is with Charles, and with his family gathered around there as he goes home.

Listen to Wayfaring Stranger

I am a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world alone
There is no sickness, toil or danger
In that fair land to which I go 

I'm going home to see my mother 
I'm going home no more to roam
I am just going over Jordan

I am just going over home 
I know dark clouds will hover on me, 
I know my pathway is rough and steep 
Beauteous fields lie right before me 

Where weary eyes no more will weep

I'm going home to see my father
I'm going home no more to roam 
I am just going over Jordan 
I am just going over home

I’ll soon be free from every trial
This form will rest beneath the sun
I'll drop the cross of self-denial
Come back home with God
I'm going home to see my savior
I'm going home no more to roam
I am just going over Jordan
I am just going over home

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Psychology of hoarding

Ran across this interesting set of facts about hoarders and thought I would share it. I have watched shows about this disorder, and have wondered what works to help folks. See near the end about what works and doesn't.

The Psychology of Hoarding