Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: April 2020

Holy Geese

Revisitation

Our breath prayer in Circle of Hope this week has been “Holy Sprit/Open our hearts.” It reminded me of this poem and reflection from a few years back.  I’ve now recorded it and added it to my soundcloud.

From 2016:

I don’t think I can tell people enough that in Celtic iconography the Holy Spirit is often represented as a wild goose. To the Celts of ancient Ireland and Scotland, Ah Geadh-Glas (Wild Goose) was a more apt description of their experience of the Holy Spirit. How caged and docile is your experience with the Holy Spirit, how unlike a dove?

I’m sure if I studied the mourning doves that come to the feeder in my back yard I could find the appropriate mystery and wildness in them too, but geese have just spoken to me more in my life.

I started my early rising prayer life at Eastern University with the Canada Geese on the pond there. I trained the ducks to eat out of my hand, but the geese would have nothing to do with me. Only the nesting mothers would allow me near them and they scared me with their violent hisses. I’ve come back to the morning geese this fall because, again, I live by a pond (though this one calls itself a lake).

The geese are there waiting for me when I rise and then I wait for them to leave the water, which they do every morning in the fall.  Watching and waiting for them to go is the most wondrous part of them. It’s the thing about them that makes them best in my opinion to tell the Holy Spirit’s story. The geese talk about leaving for a while and the interval of conversation is not always the same. At first I thought it must be the angle of the sun–they usually leave soon after the sun crests whatever treeline it rises over, but as I paid attention I could tell that it wasn’t nearly so exact.

The fun of it is I can tell when they are leaving but I’m never sure of the moment they will go. They flick their heads and grunt at each other, seemingly consulting one another about the every day revelation that it is time to fly to the best grass nearby. Scientists have studied this phenomenon and measured it. One study reported that this period of consultation lasted anywhere from nine to twenty-two minutes.

The wild goose then is a perfect symbol for the Holy Spirit because they are common enough (At least in Ireland and Scotland and Haddon Township, NJ where I live ), but they are also unpredictable and elusive. They can even bite you. Following the Holy Spirit can feel like an actual wild goose chase, yes, but if we give up trying to catch Her and instead be contented in watching and listening when She happens to be there in the morning (and who knows for how long?), we will love Her and She will shape us. And in many, many mornings She will still be wild but we may just be tamed.

Here’s a poem I wrote for Her.

Ah Geadh-Glas

O Holy Sprit, Ah Geadh-Glas,
I am familiar with your leavings,
Though uncertain of your path.

I could tire of the finding–
Leave your joy here in the grass,
But I’ll marvel at your going,
Water-walking noisy splash!

And I’ll wonder at your flying.
Flocked with kin above me, pass!
Make me happy, wild and singing,
O Holy Spirit, Ah Geadh-Glas!

 

You can listen to me read it here

Poem and image by Ben White

Turning to Before and Behind — A Friday Sonnet

Proper Labyrinth Care

On my parents’ property in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, we built a labyrinth with demarcating stones in a clearing by the gravel road that encircles the lake called Hallowood above which the house sits. I use the possessive personal generously to include myself, for I only helped a little. It was definitely a group project, even if my mom and dad were the main contributors of sweat. There is no sweat contribution needed now, but the project is ongoing. The labyrinth needs to be walked. The labyrinth needs to be prayed. The labyrinth needs to be physically tended by grass-treading feet, stone-replacing hands and stick-removing eyes. The labyrinth will be swallowed by the woods if it is not walked, prayed and tended — all of which are simply done by doing.

The added attention the walking requires in early Spring amplified my prayer as I walked it yesterday. The moss had covered a rock or two. Something had displaced or shifted several of the line stones from their guidance. It was most likely the grandchildren of the labyrinth who walked the way with me, trouncing over the lines as if it didn’t matter (It doesn’t, really; it’s the walking that matters). But it seemed that Winter might have been the culprit somehow, or maybe even emerging Spring. I crouched to uncover hidden stones, and nudged as many drifting ones back into place as I could, placing my feet between their glistening faces on the carpet of moss that was sponging up the Spring snow shower in which I walked. I crouched less often to remove the many sticks that had fallen along the path. I only stooped for the most obnoxious trespassers because there were many and my plodding progress was required for this meditation.

There was power in the walking and the making. Maintaining the physical space added a concreteness to my prayer. This is the main feature of walking a labyrinth in the first place, but it was even better to make the way for future me and future loved ones to walk it, especially for the grandchildren of the labyrinth (my children) who mostly miss what I am doing when I take this journey to the center. One day, I pray they know the power that can be met person-to-person using this walking tool along with many others. Until that day, and for that future — and toward it — in me and them, — I’ll walk it every time I’m here.

I wrote a poem from this moment. I took the photo above in anticipation of what might be said in this sonnet.

Turning Before and Behind

for Ernest Hilbert, a Philly/South Jersey boy like me

Walking the labyrinth and tending the stones,
Tossing the sticks to the side in a crouch.
A bend here, careful mossy step there,
Turning corners with my real flesh and bones —
Making way for making ways to vouch
Safe for Thee my heart. For I’ve none to spare.
Wending in, then unwinding out around —
Deeper, further; wider, nearer; then and now,
Watching step and stone, caring not to miss
A moment or a misplaced line I’ve found,
And knowing as I do it’s walking how
We make the way upon our Way. It’s this:
This wending and tending. Winding to find
In the turning You’re before and behind.

 

As always, you can listen to me read it here

Tumbled Open Good Friday Prayer

It’s Good Friday. I wrote us a poem that’s also a prayer. Hope on a death day. Jesus was the first one, but now they are all that for those who are in Christ. One of Circle of Hope’s blogs celebrates death days of those who have gone before — Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body  . Today, April 10th, we remember Howard Thurman. Join me in this prayer, you can hear me read it below.

Tumbled Open Good Friday Prayer

Graves tumbled open the day that you died,
And darkness fell down where noon used to shine.
The temple shook and all were welcome inside.
Erased, cracked or broken you made every line,
Between death and life, between dark and light;
Between in-and-out, between right and might.

You reversed our reversals; gave us much more  —
So much more than we hoped for. What had you done?
How could we see that your death was a door?
And how can we follow where your victory’s won?
We could die even now, here as we breathe,
And then again, out beyond our own breath’s reprieve.

We will see what it’s like to live on forever,
We will know what we look like with you in our eyes;
We too will tumble and darkness will never
Bring sorrow and sadness, loud angry cries,
But not without now, not some not-here place,
No escape yet from sorrow, no exit but grace.

 

Poetry and images by Ben White

 

Swallows Show — A Saturday Sonnet

Looking out the window

Dear friends, since the Covid 19 quarantine began, I have spent a lot of time sitting at a little desk I put in my bedroom (now office). My lovely little room has windows which face the lake on which I live.  Newton Lake in spring and summer  is home to a colony of tree swallows which dart across the water in the morning and evening in dizzying patterns.  They make me feel big inside. They “make the water wide” I say in the poem below. Newton Lake is really rather small, and I feel small sometimes too — constricted on the inside; longing for wider spaces, deeper breaths. I find myself wanting more of something specific and external, and everything that is intrinsically me  all at the same time. Creating space inside ourselves for such colliding thoughts to hold their own flight patterns is crucial to the spiritual life. I hope this poem helps you feel that even slightly as much as the swallows help me to feel it.

Swallows Show

The swallows have returned to Newton Lake
To make the water wide from bank to bank
And give a show of living for your sake–
An iridescent praise, a flight of thanks,
A sweeping burst of joy made for your eyes,
For narrow squinting eyes. Now ask how do
They fly to make all those inches realize
Their depth, and the air its true thickness through
The circling swim of a dance just above
The shimmering below. Making wide, too,
Somewhere in you. Some inside dreaming of
A flight like these — so close, so quick, so you,
So far, so flung, so open with your doors,
There’s breath to breathe and sky to fly — there’s more.

 

As always, you can listen to me read it here