Stephanie Visits the Monastery—
The baby died, Chris and Stephanie go separate ways… for a while, years. Stephanie starts dating widely. Often, when she is having sex with anyone, she is thinking of Chris. Afterwards, she usually felt submerged in sadness.
Musing, fantasizing, remembering several scenarios about family, sex, insight into Chris, their child, relationships in general, meditation, art. Then the monastery, the cloister inside one’s head.
The woods are, dark,
shadows, and cold moss, wet to the touch
of a hand breaking a fall,
and the bark is rough, scraping the skin.
The moonlit meadow, quiet to the silver-grey sound of the calling dove. Love, what is the end of it? Bracken covers the slopes to another level of trees. Dark leaves pricking beneath the feet. Why the quiet? The grass is indifferent to the time of night and hangs the same as in the day, firmly rooted among companion grasses. Even flowers don’t miss the loss of color and are never lost. What fields hold their friendship?
Dear God this is pointless… what is the point?
And the climbing vines, indifferent to the burden that they create, wrap around everything, themselves. Rodents use them to climb a tree. A breeze rustles dry leaves and green. A web, laboriously constructed, mysteriously construed to capture. A swipe of the hand wipes away the design. To form a larger design?
How dusty is the summer wood.
Moonlight falls on crushed bay laurel lighting the way for that particular aroma. Unnecessarily, of course. But it is the case.
Where is the way?
Berries unseen stain the passer-by and thorns rip cloth and skin. The light describes the knots of every branch and hollow, every plant and tree.
The source of love lies where?
…the drive in sex is the need of males to enter into females. And of females to be entered into. ? Both having qualities of both. But this is not just a physical need. It is a primal need to somehow escape the isolation in ourselves
find freedom in another.
(Oh yes, and to reproduce!)
Green, grey green, green every leaf of green and other color and petals. So carefully made to attract, to accept. Doomed (blessed) to the eternal reincarnation of attraction. Or until the end anyway. Sings the gargoyle…
The flow of color is waiting for the turning of the grey, from dark to light, to the light of morning. There
is the cooing seldom heard of the gentle, and female dove. In the trees that hold the cooing is the lisping whispering dialogue of trees. Lisping whispering dialogue of trees and grass.
Dialogue of trees and grass,
Beneath the grey beneath the grey and light light grey of moonlit night comes the morning light and the cooing of the dove gentle and seldom heard female dove. Puck, quicker than light, carries flowered venom and arrows
that wound. Is he about, still to infect the wrong lovers with the wrong love?
The gentle female dove sits on top of her cage preening her feathers and maybe lice, indifferent to lovers.
Her time will come.
Each soft blade of the sharp-edge grass and the bramble rambling along the wooded hill fills with wonder a lover lost from her love. For dark is the wood and dark, dark is the…
Well, it is cool here and not so bad really. Morning will come anyway and day gentle or not
“Jonathan, laid low in death… delightful you were to me, your love for me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women.”
Morning will come anyway,
Oh, not the turn of a clock morning this global, always starting in circles morning, but the dawn-burst, day-hint blue in our souls that signals down the storm to a whisper gently bouncing across perception, mummering,
forgive the hurt
forgive the source of the hurt and the pity
then come you in your glory to the light of this resurrection.
We wander past several doors, then we come to one with sheets of paper stapled to it. I took one and read-
Hyacinths sweetly rise between green leaves. Unexpected rain fills that rose in receptacle outside the window,
Secluded, you and I rest. The room is cool to our moist warmth.
Cyclamen blooms flutter above their clumsy leaves. We are tiny blades breaking harsh clay.
You, the patience of winter, the silence of spring. I, broken bits of rock that are the soil.
Raindrops tap at our window and we answer.
After reading the poem I open the door. There is a young couple in bed. To the left of the bed was a white, flowering cycla- men plant near a window. Pictures of lion cubs were pinned on the wall. The man and woman were talking.
Yes it was really great. Yes, it was good, you are very good. MMMMMMM I don’t think… You are just so… Thanks… We, have to talk… about… That felt so good, thank you. We shouldn’t do this anymore. What! What are you talking about- Why not? It’s hard for me to tell you… Tell what! Maybe we shouldn’t see each other for a while. Why, for God’s sake?
I’m not in love with you. I thought we could… I thought that it would grow. You were interested and I was curious about you. Now you are making love and I am not in love with you. We can’t go any further. I am becoming less involved rather than more so. The lovemaking is great, you are a very good lover but… I am just becoming less involved rather than more so, as I had hoped.
Why didn’t you say this before. I didn’t know before. Of course, you didn’t know!
Here I closed the door. I never called him again, though I promised that I would. I should have called or something.
I climbed a tree not thinking roots,
died in the fall without belief in spring
was back for summer in time to sing summer songs of brown arms and bright shirts.
I have seen the year through, watched each season pass a needle’s eye
looked piece by piece for reasons larger than… and lost the thread
if not the tear.
Deep? I cannot speak of deep. In the vast eternal, vast to the touch. I cannot say the word too elusive for confinement
tiny as cannot be seen.
No quantity, no measure.
It’s here, it fills me, surrounds me, pulls me up.
Then a glance, a turning glance, its gone. It is real, unseen, it is lost, never lost, it insists to be known,
It professes friendship then runs somewhere.
What turning, what turning of the heart will allow uninter- rupted vision. It completes, it leaves me hungry…
Love? God? It must be God to be so attractive
I climbed high not quite ready for the higher bird nests of spring and loved the warm moonlight hunting of time past midsummer’s night. I
fell into leaf closets ran after leaves scuttling across the front porch,
(my baby running after dry leaves)
all the way to the last leaf blown into someone else’s yard
until sparkling patterns of Christmas hangings hung,
shiny bulbs shone sometimes clacking and rolling on the tile floor from living room to kitchen and under where the bees are busy again making honey.
I fell again into the dry dust of summer and silence waiting for harvest…
I remember about dying. People I knew. Some of them I miss beyond telling. So, I won’t. There was one dog though, that we kept. I was too close to it. I was, but I have a feeling about death… It was a wolf of a dog. My father and brother cried when this dog died. I covered him with a cloth. It was late afternoon, and still hot. The dog was down the hill from the house. I went down about 5:00 P.M. to see if the medicine had had any effect. He was unconscious but breathing hard in short hard grunts. It was very hot and there were flies, big metallic green and black. He had moved himself to the cool beneath the honeysuckle vines away from the house. I returned to my work, then, came back an hour later. I could see from the stairs that he wasn’t breathing anymore. I walked over, nudged his shoulder with my hand. He was already getting hard. I went to the house to put on my shoes and get a shovel. Then walked down the hill to get the big wheelbarrow. I parked it next to him. Just a little too close, because when I tried to lift him, holding him by his two front legs and the opposite back one I wasn’t able to swing his one hundred pounds up, quite high enough without hitting him against the rim of the wheelbarrow.
There was no loss of dignity in this. The whole process seemed natu- ral. The second lifting succeeded in placing him with his tail just over the front end. I wheeled him down the hill as I had so many other loads in the wheelbarrow. I missed the ruts and braked for the steep parts.
There is a place clear of brush about fifteen feet from where the road curves at the bottom of the hill with scrub oak all around and where it is very green in the spring. I decided to dig there. Now, the weeds and the earth are dry. The ground is hard with a layer of rock and gravel just under the surface. I looked at the dog for size, then began digging. After the first foot, the earth was soft except for many rocks. My parents came home then. They looked small next to their car on top of the hill.
“What are you doing?” one asked.
I didn’t want to reveal my emotions. They were tender, however resigned. I had been expectant of this death. My feelings were such that I did not want to destroy their clarity or privacy by talking about them.
“I’m digging a hole for the dog.”
Mom picked some flowers from the garden and walked down the hill, picking wild flowers as she came. The husband watched from above.
“When did he die?” she asked.
“About six.” “How did you get him into the wheelbarrow?” “Just picked him up.” She stood on the road next to the wheelbarrow holding the flowers in front of her. I was sweating from the digging. I was not used to this kind of work, but I wanted to do this.
“Better hurry up, the flies are terrible.” She was right. Dad came down and over to the grave. “At least he’s out of pain now,” he said. “Nebo had it worst. Blitz here, was only sick for two days.” “He was old enough though. How old?” “About fourteen.” “It’s just as well. He’s out of pain now.” I kept digging, throwing the dirt above the hole just up the slight hill and at both ends. The dirt covered yellow, dusty grass and knocked down the green mustards.
“Do you want me to dig for a while?” “No, that’s alright, you’ll get your good clothes dirty.” I had to straddle the hole now and bend very low to reach the bottom. “Get down inside and use your knee for leverage.” “The hole’s too small.” I shoveled several more spadefuls, then stepped down into the grave and tried to shovel that way but it was too cramped. “Let me shovel for a while.” “You’ll get dirty. The hole’s too small and the shovel too short to do it this way.” I stepped out. He was walking away. “I’m going to change my clothes. I’ll be back.” I didn’t pay attention to him going up the hill. The digging got easier. But, I still had to stop every few minutes to rest. My shoulders and face were blotched red from the unusual exertion. “He’d better hurry up before it gets dark,” I thought. The sun had already set. The evening was warm after the hot day. It was now clear and pleasant. Quail were calling from the cherry trees.
When I wheeled the barrow up to the grave, I looked away so that I would not see the dog hit the bottom after he fell. It was just a fraction of a second. He landed perfectly. Dad returned and started to fill in the soil while I went to the pump to wash the wheelbarrow. I came back and stood next to Mom. When Dad was done she put the flowers on the loose, dry dirt. We all walked up the hill together. Quail were whispering in the wild cherry trees.
“I should have brought the car back down. We could have rode up.” “It’s a beautiful evening to walk. I’d rather walk up.” I said. “Look out for rattlesnakes. They like to come out in the evening like this.” It is all so clear to me. I had to bury the animal. I will have to perform that service for many…
The bell is ringing I must awake
Lectio is over I must awake
The time is nearly vespers
the time is to prepare for night
to await the coming
and await the coming
await the coming of the light.
My grandmother lost 3 of her 9 babies as infants. Good bye sweet little baby, baby good bye.
When I finally got permission to visit Chris at the monastery for a few days, The Guestmaster put me in a cell on the edge of a canyon full of trees, redwoods, sycamores and oaks, brush, flowers, and poison oak. All sorts of wild creatures live in this canyon. I hear their calls and see them sometimes. I must live among them to know the silence that per- meates even their raucous cries.
The grass around my cell contains tiny, salmon-colored flowers—perfect blossoms that close up in the evening. Today, I spent a warm, peaceful afternoon weeding in the vegetable garden.
Deep canyon, dry in the California dry way of the north, luxuriant of redwoods, oaks and bay laurel trees spreading above the fern-covered rabbit tracks, deer runs and snakes. There are few tracks for human kind down to or up from the bouldered stream. The canyon does not invite. But it will accept a visit. Maybe it’s not even necessary to go there. Maybe all I should do is sit on my hill and watch the canyon, getting to know the animals that come up. Sit, waiting, waiting. Stephanie, waiting, even in the working is the waiting. For what? For what! Oh, I know, I know well enough. Still, the waiting. it’s not so long since… ohhh.
Peace. Stillness. Having been there once makes the waiting and the faith both easier and less patient. Even now it’s here. I am waiting for the turning, for the turning and the healing, not so far away, not away at all. Even the Liffy is backed up and wait- ing! Well, “all will be well” Oh yes, well. But when? Now. The cows are coming in for milking, now…. Tell me again.
“Wake, awake, for night is flying”
In each full-turning of each full day there are leaf fall many many opportunities…
Then come you in your light, and glory in the light of this resurrection.
Our body is an integral part of our spirit. What we do with one effects the other.
The fog has risen up the canyon through the trees and space empty but for just enough air- from the ocean 2000 feet below this hermitage. The breeze is blowing, thunder is breaking upon us from the mountains higher up.
One must also love the mediocre. Sometimes the mediocre can be deadly, so can genius. Either can be holy. There are realms within that need to be explored, both delightful and terrifying.
Ah, but this is a cruel—a carnal place. We can only hope in God.
I had a conversation with Chris. He is going through so much. Doubting himself. Questioning everything.
Chris: Homosexuality??? What is it? What is it? Why can’t I see?
Death. Sex. Is it homosexuality then? Is it that? What does it mean? But I investigated that. I spoke to that first counselor about it. He said that it was common. Then he told the senior council that I had been active in the Gay world. All I had said was that I was unsure of my sexuality. That I thought I might be… Strange man. That caused a lot of trouble at school. Professional breach. Enough! I know that I am something other. But what is it then? Take this blindness away. I can’t stay in a monastery. I don’t want to be married. I have rejected the usual heterosexual role. I have rejected the alternatives. I’ve given up art to be a monk. The superiors are dubious about that. Is my “artistic temperament” too strong to give up, or even make sec- ondary to monastic life? What the hell is an “artistic tempera- ment”? How could I give up art if it was so important to me? It was my identity. Now I am neither an artist nor a monk. I’m a fighter and an athlete. Not much use here. I don’t even have any identification sexually since I have rejected both the alternatives For now anyway. What’s left? If you have taken this much, Lord, then why not take the rest as well. Must I wait even for death.
Stephanie: Calm down, Chris. That is all a little melodramatic. You are obviously not physically effeminate. You are normal physically. I should know. What’s going on with you?
God, yes! I am struck into waking by my dreams. Others seem to be walking in their sleep, in comparison. Blown, whipped by a leaf-tearing wind. Washed by a current; untouchable, all- embracing invading stream, invading my furthermost retreat. Invisible presence, yet blinding. Moved, carried, carried to a most real land of total embrace. I fear the flood, welcome the deluge.
Fire has eaten the veil and purged the sanctuary. One moment will fall upon the next. Creeping, cascading into this black hole of time until time is lost and a moment will neither follow or lead but perhaps extend into every dimension
… losing perspective giving a total vision of love. I am struck into waking by my dreams, he whispered.
I think that it is this place. A holy place. It brings up all our issues. Maybe I’m having a breakdown. Maybe I should leave here. Leave them in peace.
Chris, I remember once in Utah, in the morning just before sunrise I walked on a frost covered field. There was a new moon, just a sliver stationed above the blue, mist shaded hills. A herd of elk were resting and grazing in the pasture below the hills. Then, they ran. No, they flowed over the uneven field. They leaped, flowed over the fence then they were gone. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. Yet, sometimes even that seems blunt compared with what I was experiencing as the contents of the tabernacle, the sanctuary, the Church.
Stephanie moves past her memory of that conversation with Chris.
Silence is the most consistently significant experience.
Red-leafed maples, have cried the death of this year’s green delivery.
Hills are mottled grey beneath the waiting of a cloud-shaded day.
It’s as if something had changed or was about to change…
within the silence and the dying
within the creation of fall and spring
like a worship of holy things, still in the singing of Godly things.
a stepping over, beyond earth and fall
to spring without the Fall
and that is all…
The drops of precious water cast up falling, always. Marriage of instinct to spirit, a glorified body. The since-time-began con- flict has purified each, prepared their reunion. The light is increasing, there is no way to say what I see. Empty space throbs with the presence, invitation, to a land of response and rivers, all flowing to the source. The physical is made whole. Is no longer transitional. Love fulfilled on earth rewarded with eternity, completion. His glance burns away blinding arrogance.
Alone. Fascination with the working of self. Alone to seek inside. What or who? God. When? Now. What strange mountain light. What mysterious image of passing flight… “Lies in the field once plowed… Dreams stranger than…” I am most inter- ested in self as an always present realm for investigation. Not the superficial, egotistical self anymore, the facade that we make out of our talents, fears, and misunderstanding of ourselves, but the unique self that God has made for his love. I have looked inward to dwell in that internal and inviolable realm. This interior is one with the entire creation since they both share the same ground. The cohesive agent of all matter and non-matter, that force by which the universe is held in creation. That attention. To be this self is to be with God. From this base one can not only follow the first commandment to love God, but the second as well to love one’s neighbor as one’s self because that is exactly what they are.
We walk along the beach, there are no peaches or mermaids singing,
human voices only wake us, fine; to sleep, to sleep
dreaming can be a tricky business as well
But now, since I’m awake, perhaps there is a “breast high
shoal in which to dive,” or “angels to beget” and work to do, painting, poems, books or the cloister. That enclosed exterior manifestation of the interior life. Yes, there is still a chance…
A word, Lord give us a word, the good word. In thy kingdom remember us, o Lord, when you come into thy kingdom.
The choir is finally quiet.
Ancient oak and oat cover the hills, tiny green blades issue between massive waves of yellow and grey, fallen oats, silent trees, stable to my mobility—stable. The mysterious relationship between the specific situations and their general context continues to mystify and attract me. It is most religious.
Sin not sought, drives one by its very imperfection towards… Sin not flippantly sought, but fallen into, a tool to polish our humility, clarify our vision.
As each moment passes it joins the wash of history that is the same as the flood of our un-conscious and spiritual being. The flood comes into time as it flows through the recognition of our conscious mind. A religious experience is one that need not nec- essarily include either emotion or intellect and is such that it includes and transcends both. We view Being as one who views the vast ocean but only notices an oil slick. The ocean does not lose for our lack of vision. The only one who is gaining is the oil slick and it can’t appreciate the attention.
This is the place to deal with the religious issue. Life is the sacrament and creation is the voice of God. Somehow I intuit that the solution to the most deadly modern problem lies here among the stones and plants, animals and—us.
Oh, this ungainly groping for the hand of God. What light is this… We are still being born. Art is artificial form that points a truth. Monasticism is artificial form in which people try to live the truth. Religion is a structure through which the Spirit might breath: whitened bones brought to life, to fullness of human potential in the Spirit. Every particle of Creation and empty energized space is available to work our salvation. Not necessarily from a personal will, but because God’s living presence charges everything with his purpose. None of this alleviates the pain, the thrust, the need.
Hawk Glide Pause
Hover glide on the hunt
Hawk undisturbed by any secondary purpose or considerations earned more than my admiration.
Not ready for holiness pray,
I feel blessed to have had this time to walk through a wood in the Fall, with you. The day has moved in a ether of moist wood smells, the gentle clattering of leaves, the peace of light filtered through leaves green, leaves—blood-magenta red
and leaves glorious dead upon the damp ground.
Soon, the wealth of the New York Art Museums.
Then, the plains of Texas, the Gulf of Mexico, the cities of China…
The eagle wings gently into spreading night. T
he black Cormorant screams its black whistle above the afternoon cliffs.
Wave and wave of white-capped swells flood the sea.
Light sails the wind carried waves.
Having fasted and having prayed,
I am ready for the feast,
fresh and clean.
Learn the craft—This I vow
Learn the way—This I promise
Learn the art—This I swear
Of shape-shifting in fire
Of transformation in light
Of conversion in love
When the time comes, to change “There’s no place where it’s likely to go better” It’s now
‘Shanti… Shanti. Shanti’
My meetings with Chris during this visit to the Meditation Center were otherwise uneventful. I liked the Meditation Center very much where he was living. He was all into monastic practice and trying very hard for physical celibacy. So our meetings were, shall we say, limited. But good. We talked a lot, which we hadn’t done before. And not just about problems.
Strangely, we did not talk about the baby. We had before. Not that we didn’t need to again, but we just didn’t.