Boxes

Life is just this:

The first box is well-wrapped.

It is all lace and ribbon.

A work of art,

The medium equal parts scotch tape and imagination.

 

You look at the thing.

It is half as large as you, this great box.

So carefully wrapped.

You are almost ashamed to rend the sharp corners that have been battened down.

 

But with just a moments hesitation

You tear into it,

With equal parts delight and reget and you open the box.

 

There is only a thin layer or packing peanuts.  In them rests another box, just this much smaller.

This box has been wrapped with the sort of green wrapping paper easily found during the holidays.  

You pull it out and wonder.  You rip without hesitation. Discrard the red ribbon added, perhaps as an afterthought.

 

Only two boxes in,

You intuit what is next.

It is a little larger than a shoebox.  

Wrapped as it is in newspaper.  

You chuckle the disapointment away.

 

Life is just like this.

It is not what it seemed to be at the beginning.

 

This is what life is.

Knee deep in wrapping paper and fading glory.

Reduced to wondering on the troika:

How many boxes within boxes within boxes?

 

A shoebox, next of course,

Wrapped in a murdered brownpaper bag,  repurposed.

 

They, of course, are all laughing.

The ones who pretended to bring in this great kind gift.

Yours is a sad plastered on mockery of their glee

What else can you do, but open,

The shoebox,

Like a little coffin.

 

It is stuffed with bubble wrap.

You pop it once and twice between my thumb and index finger.

Pop! like a baby backfire

Pop!  Like a neutered murdered weapon.

 

There is the littlest box.  Nestled in the bubble wrap.

It must be the littlest box.

It held earings, once, perhaps.

From a now-defunct department store.  

It is not even wrapped.

 

This is life.

You open the littlest box.

It is empty.

It is like the monolith.

You

Can see eternity

In there.

 

Let Your Light Bring Me…

The excellent Book of Creation by J Philip Newell ends each chapter with a meditation.  After the chapter on the Celtic Christian understanding of light, he guides the reader in a sort-of breath prayer on psalm 43: “Send out your light; let it bring me to your dwelling.”

There are two things I would like to share with you about this lovely experience.

This moment of connection with people in a world before electricity.  I think this connection was born out of a couple experiences in camping, where I was unprepared.  There is a special kind of miserable that comes out of having not enough light or not enough heat.

If you have never struggled at creating these you don’t know how much they change everything.  As I meditated, I had this sense of being a weary traveler on a dark road, worried about thieves, worried about getting lost, worried about the creatures lurking in the darkness.

What would it be like, I wondered, to round a bend and see windows lit with a lantern, beacons telling you that you are going to make it?  As I thought about those words, I felt like an eager traveler, a pilgrim even, approaching his destination.

This sense of homecoming was made sweeter by the second thing.

“Know that in prayer we are opening ourselves to the One who dwells at the heart of life.  The light that we are seeking issues up from within…  Allow yourself to experience being led to the heart of light within you.”  He wrote.

This was not a journey upward and outward.  Like all great quests, it was downward and inward.  Intellectually, I get that, now.  But I was surprised at how freeing and novel it felt.

I am worthy of being a staging ground of the divine.  In my somewhat recent past, I would have been open to the idea that God might take up residence within…  But there was always this sense that God was slumming a little bit.

Like that song/ cliche, about ‘Jesus take the wheel’…  Generally speaking, He is cruising around in a brand new Rolls Royce.  He might be willing to teleport into my crappy little Honda, for a few minutes.  He is such a nice guy he won’t even talk about all the fast food wrappers on the floor or the fact that I can’t afford to fix the air conditioner.  But somewhere inside, I would have felt a little embarrassed that He would show up here.

Intellectually, I always knew we were made in God’s image.  But a lot more air time goes to the fall.  Living out the idea that there could be this permanent beacon within me…  That’s pretty cool.

 

 

 

 

Where I left it

I carry this hope.

That I might do this thing.

Or say those words.

Or look upon my brother or sister, with this expression of kindness….

 

I carry this hope:

That God watches the whole thing

With a smile of recognition.

 

“That’s where I put that.” He says, suddenly remembering.

“It’s just right where I left it.”

 

Don’t Trust

All of the best things

Have an inevitability to them.

 

In retrospect,

That was how it had to end.

The logic of thing…

Defined as it is…

From the biggest picture.

 

A dinner, with those accompaniments

Could only ever have been capped off by that surprising tart.

 

That story!

I never would have seen that coming…

But that is the only climax such an oncoming ever could have merited.

 

There is just enough of

you,

In me

God.

 

Just enough that after the fact

I say “Of course!  That is what it had to be!”

And sometimes I laugh at just how fitting it all is.

 

Don’t trust the people

Who think they see it coming, though.

There never was going to be,

Quite that much of you

In us.

 

The Faith-ing Project

One of the things I have learned over the last couple years is that spiritual practices like meditation can be life-changing.  This lead to the creation of  The Contemplace.

The latest evolution in my spiritual journey and my online musings is the Faith-ing Project.  My vision is a place that can offer readers a new spiritual practice every day for a year.  I have been writing, organizing, and compiling for months.  I am just about ready to go!

The Faith-ing Project does not yet have a home or website.  But it does have a need.  And that need might just be you.  Are you:

  • Interested in spiritual practices?
  • Able to give these practices about 15 minutes a day?
  • Willing to offer feedback, criticism, and push back?

If this sound like you, please email otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com   ask me your questions, or just let me know you are interested.

I am putting together a team of testers who will receive an email with each days practice.  In exchange for trying the practices out and sharing your experiences,  I will give testers free access to content that will eventually become paid on the site, and I will post thank yous, and links to content you might wish to direct others to.

Thanks for reading!

Jeff

God’s first encounter with Moses is like a case study in what he was like; both us and beyond-us, both near and distant, both alien and human.  According to the book of Exodus, God said,

“And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I

have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.

 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh

to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and

bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

It seems to me that God was trying to help Moses see the close and human side.  He told the man that  he stands in solidarity with his people.  It seem like this wasn’t enough for Moses; he resists.  And he resists in a way I find particularly interesting.  He says, “Who am I?”

This is interesting because, up to a certain point, we have established that God knows who this is.  The whole thing begins with the burning bush saying Moses’ name.  What happens next, it seems to me, indicates that a related question Moses needed to ask was, “Who are you?”

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the

sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you

have brought the people out of Egypt, you[b] will

worship God on this mountain.”

 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites

and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’

and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

I have been there.  Maybe you have to.  Dealing with somebody intimidating, powerful, somebody it is hard to speak your mind to.  So we take this approach where we just say, “Hey, I am good with the whole thing.  But just in case somebody else isn’t, what are we supposed to say?”

 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.[c] This is what you are to say

to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,[d] the God

of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God

of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
    the name you shall call me
    from generation to generation.

People so much smarter than me have said so many interesting things about the meaning and nature of the name that God gives here.  Richard Rohr talks about how the insights of a rabbi lead him to understand that the name, which we take to mean something like “I am who I am” sounds and feels like a breath.

Breath, which is where life begins.  Breath, that center piece of meditation.  Breath, that process that begins with birth and ends with death.  Just as God is both with us and beyond us, just as he as empathic and an alien, burning-not burning bush, God has a name which is much like our names, and also so very different than our names.

There is a tradition of declaring God’s name unsayable.  And yet, to the extent that God’s name is a breath itself, we say it more than we say any name at all.  Declaring His name unsayable is a way to point at God’s transcendence.  It is a declaration that we can not limit, contain, and fully understand God.  And yet, that act of breathing, is an act of waging peace, an act of taking control of ourselves.

 

The Great Naming

A hand reached into the fertile Earth.  Scooped it up, and lifted it into the heavens.

When it reached those divine lips it became something more.  

There was that first kiss then.  That breath. A whispering of your name.

But I didn’t have ears to hear it yet.  They had not been formed.

And so I will live this whole life, and I will never say who it is that you really are, God.

And yet, I will breathe your name.  Again and again. For this whole life that I live.

 

And someday.  I will stand fully in your presence.

There will be a new name for me on a white rock.

And you can say your name to me again.

I will open my mouth.  I will kiss you again.

And I will say the name that has always been yours.

 

From Five Psalms by Mark Jarman

First forgive the silence
       That answers prayer,
Then forgive the prayer
       That stains the silence.
Excuse the absence
       That feels like presence,
Then excuse the feeling
       That insists on presence.
Pardon the delay
       Of revelation,
Then ask pardon for revealing
       Your impatience.
Forgive God
       For being only a word,
Then ask God to forgive
       The betrayal of language.
-Mark Jarman

I Just Want One More Hug

When my kids were younger,  all 3 of them went through a stage that was equal parts endearing and frustrating.   It was a time of not wanting to go to bed.   A period of inventing countless,  increasingly absurd excuses.

“I need a drink.   I have to go to the bathroom.   I forgot my stuffed animal.”  Children are deeply manipulative creatures.   Eventually they would happen upon reasons that were hard to resist.   “I need a hug.  I need a kiss.   Can I have a back rub?”

I broach this topic here because I am learning that there are parts of me that are like my children.   They don’t want to let go.   They don’t want to release their hold.

People call it the false self.   And the monkey mind.  It is the reason that meditation needs to be learned; because there is a part of us that resists.

It takes the form of needing to move,  wiggle and itch.   Or the thoughts and feelings that just won’t be released,  that keep coming back,  as annoying as the single fly that threatens to ruin the picnic.   Or the desire to shave a few minutes off the end of a meditation session to respond to a facebook notification.

My false self,  my monkey mind, it is no less clever than young kids.   I am a thinker.   And when I’m letting go,  my mind offers me these tantalizing rabbit trails,  fragments of thoughts,  compelling metaphors.   Much like kids,  my mind closes in on my weakness.

I totally understand the value of an approach I associate with  Zen Buddhism:  Ignore every itch.   Sit for the entire time.   Do not compromise anywhere.

I get it just as much as I get parents who draw a line in the sand.  No you may not have another drink,  a stuffed animal,  or even a hug.    Bed time is bed time.   End of story.

I could just never make that work.   Treating my kids that way just created this tornado of ugly emotions and suddenly everybody is wide awake  and feeling unloved. (or maybe that was just me.)

In the same way, when I take that militaristic stance to an intrusive thought,  I get pulled into dualistic experiencing of the world.   When I refuse to scratch an itch,  I grow to hate that itch…   In the words of eminent sage  and theologian Pauly Shore,  I harsh my mellow.

Perhaps my wonderful kids were a bit spoiled.   Maybe my meditation practice suffers.   I can live with those possibilities.

 

Chronus Widdershins

As the seconds on my meditation timer count down…

I live a whole uneventful life.

I grow old and die.

 

It is the periodic gongs which remind me…

Punctuating minutes that last months,

And seconds that last years.

Those bronze vibrations pierce the vale.

 

I go looking within.

After a journey– a trek

A battle– with myself

My shadow-doppleganger-nemesis

I die.

Walk away and let go.

 

And then there is a field.

The clouds cast shadows on the curving ground.

I see it from far away at first.

I wonder on the scarecrow?

No.  A man.  Standing.

 

Arms like tiny toothpicks reaching up.

I am speeding toward him now

He is Jesus.

He is me.

And this is a destination.

 

Homunculus Jesus.  

Me.

In the eye of the storm

Of my thoughts, and emotions and memories.

Further away.

They are a trinity feeding on each other.

Swirling about.

Tearing up the place.

 

But here is silence.

Here is the very deeps of me.

And the end.

 

Time breaks down in a black hole.

And Martin Buber told me

That prayer doesn’t exist in time.

Time exists in prayer.

 

I know that when you turn Chronus widdershins…

Each moment can stretch upwards now.

And second that ticks away…

Is pregnant with an etetnity of its very own!

 

And so there is a director’s cut.

And the director is God.

That extends itself inward.

Right when i approach Him

Me

At the moment i put my hand on his heart…

My own heart.

 

And i am already in my own heart

In a moment turned already sideways.

When things go terrifyingly well

When i am neck deep in nothingness

There is a sweet moment

That happens almost never

And it happens

Every

Single

Time.

 

Already in that heart space and time,

I journey to a place deeper still.

Into the heart of the me/not me

Who stands in my heart already.

 

Call it the heart of the heart.

The secret’s secret.

 

It is an open field.

Of course

A man stands there.

 

I am so small now.

I have have gone so deep within.

I am afraid that of where i must go now.

 

This deeper place still.

Strangeness abounds here.

How can this Great Witness

Continue this endless descent.

 

What if the troika

Never ended?

 

Once i fell into the depths of me.

It happens evety time.

I am

      Falling.

I am

       Still falling.

 

If there might be an eternity in every moment

That how long is 3 days spent dead and in hell?

 

That is what i scream

     As i fall.

 

I made smaller

And smaller still.

Each time i enter into

The heart within the heart within the heart withinthe heart!

 

And then…  i am nothing

I

Am nothing

 

I am

Nothing

 

I am!

 

I am a star

A consellation

A nebula.

 

I am the night sky.

Behold my vastness.

 

The smalkest doorway was a threshold to this

Grandeur!