Meditations on Independence and Bondage for July 4th Weekend

Reflections as we approach July 4th weekend: who is free, who is not free? Themes of spiritual freedom versus civic freedom … pondering Abraham’s obedience to Yahweh, willingness to sacrifice a child, the merciful intervention that freed him from such an act. What is asked of us? What is offered to us?

My father always said, Malala will be free as a bird. — Malala Yusufzai

BondageLaura Lee Bird
We have lived, been more forgotten,
Than ever you will be,
We have lived, like you, remembering,
That you too were not free —

That for all the brilliant rustling
Of pinions, and the sound
Of a lifted mystic singing
You could not leave the ground.

Until all cords were broken
You were not wholly one
With the earth-forgotten mortals
Whose being is the sun.


On Freedom

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very act of existence is an act of rebellion. — Albert Camus

The work of art is a scream of freedom. — Christo

Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free. ― Jalaluddin Rumi

I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land. — Harriet Tubman

Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice… No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out. — Thich Nhat Hahn

I always say I’m so disciplined in my writing because very strict discipline is the only way I’ve found any freedom as an artist. Like meditation or in my spiritual journey, or exercise – hiking … — Anne Lamott

Every human has four endowments – self-awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom … the power to choose, to respond, to change. — Stephen Covey

Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you. — Jean-Paul Sartre

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. — Victor Frankl

The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days. — Nelson Mandela

It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere. — Voltaire

To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment. — Eckhart Tolle

Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and the sustainable human development. — Kofi Annan

Without freedom of thought, there can be no such things as wisdom. And no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech. — Benjamin Franklin

All the great things are simple and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope. — Winston Churchill


MaggidMarge Piercy

The courage to let go of the door, the handle.
The courage to shed the familiar walls whose very
stains and leaks are comfortable as the little moles
of the upper arm; stains that recall a feast,
a child’s naughtiness, a loud blattering storm
that slapped the roof hard, pouring through.

The courage to abandon the graves dug into the hill,
the small bones of children and the brittle bones
of the old whose marrow hunger had stolen;
the courage to desert the tree planted and only
begun to bear; the riverside where promises were
shaped; the street where their empty pots were broken.

The courage to leave the place whose language you learned
as early as your own, whose customs however dan-
gerous or demeaning, bind you like a halter
you have learned to pull inside, to move your load;
the land fertile with the blood spilled on it;
the roads mapped and annotated for survival.

The courage to walk out of the pain that is known
into the pain that cannot be imagined,
mapless, walking into the wilderness, going
barefoot with a canteen into the desert;
stuffed in the stinking hold of a rotting ship
sailing off the map into dragons’ mouths,

Cathay, India, Siberia, goldeneh medina
leaving bodies by the way like abandoned treasure.
So they walked out of Egypt. So they bribed their way
out of Russia under loads of straw; so they steamed
out of the bloody smoking charnelhouse of Europe
on overloaded freighters forbidden all ports—

out of pain into death or freedom or a different
painful dignity, into squalor and politics.
We Jews are all born of wanderers, with shoes
under our pillows and a memory of blood that is ours
raining down. We honor only those Jews who changed
tonight, those who chose the desert over bondage,

who walked into the strange and became strangers
and gave birth to children who could look down
on them standing on their shoulders for having
been slaves. We honor those who let go of every-
thing but freedom, who ran, who revolted, who fought,
who became other by saving themselves.

Meditations on the story of Abraham, Ishmael & Hagar, Sarah & Isaac.

Meditations on summer solstice, mother & child abandoned in desert, miraculous rise of wellspring, hope in dry places: themes from the story of Abraham, Ishmael & Hagar, Sarah & Isaac as patriarchs and matriarchs of two faiths and two families, sundered.

Abraham’s Farewell to Ishmael — George Segal

Wind, Water, Stone — Octavio Paz
Translated by Eliot Weinberger

Water hollows stone,
wind scatters water,
stone stops the wind.
Water, wind, stone.

Wind carves stone,
stone’s a cup of water,
water escapes and is wind.
Stone, wind, water.

Wind sings in its whirling,
water murmurs going by,
unmoving stone keeps still.
Wind, water, stone.

Each is another and no other:
crossing and vanishing
through their empty names:
water, stone, wind.


On Abandonment

Absence is a house so vast that inside you will pass through its walls and hang pictures on the air. ― Pablo Neruda

When he left us, he stole all the words. ― Alex George

And the paradox was that the moment she abandoned me, she began to be with me at all times, constantly abandoning me wherever I would go, whatever I would do and with whomever I was. And the pain was unbearable. Hence, I decided to abandon everyone and everything … — Franco Santoro

We were kids without fathers, so we found our fathers on wax and on the streets and in history, and in a way, that was a gift. We got to pick and choose the ancestors who would inspire the world we were going to make for ourselves. ― Jay-Z

For far too long we have been seduced into walking a path that did not lead us to ourselves … When we don’t listen to our intuition, we abandon our souls. And we abandon our souls because we are afraid if we don’t, others will abandon us. ― Terry Tempest Williams

Those, then, who want to find themselves at the starting point of a truly free philosophy, have to depart even from God. Here the motto is: whoever wants to preserve it will lose it, and whoever abandons it will find it. Only those have reached the ground in themselves and have become aware of the depths of life, who have at one time abandoned everything and have themselves been abandoned by everything, for whom everything has been lost, and who have found themselves alone, face-to-face with the infinite … ― Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling


On Wellsprings in the Desert

Chagall’s painting of Abraham, Ishmael and Hagar

Desert Josephine Miles

When with the skin you do acknowledge drought,
The dry in the voice, the lightness of feet, the fine
Flake of the heat at every level line;

When with the hand you learn to touch without
Surprise the spine for the leaf, the prickled petal,
The stone scorched in the shine, and the wood brittle;

Then where the pipe drips and the fronds sprout
And the foot-square forest of clover blooms in sand,
You will lean and watch, but never touch with your hand.

The Well RisingWilliam Stafford

The well rising without sound,
the spring on a hillside,
the plowshare brimming through deep ground
everywhere in the field—

The sharp swallows in their swerve
flaring and hesitating
hunting for the final curve
coming closer and closer—

The swallow heart from wingbeat to wingbeat
counseling decision, decision:
thunderous examples. I place my feet
with care in such a world.


On Solstice

Summer SolsticeStacie Cassarino
I wanted to see where beauty comes from
without you in the world, hauling my heart
across sixty acres of northeast meadow,
my pockets filling with flowers.
Then I remembered,
it’s you I miss in the brightness
and body of every living name:
rattlebox, yarrow, wild vetch.
You are the green wonder of June,
root and quasar, the thirst for salt.
When I finally understand that people fail
at love, what is left but cinquefoil, thistle,
the paper wings of the dragonfly
aeroplaning the soul with a sudden blue hilarity?
If I get the story right, desire is continuous,
equatorial. There is still so much
I want to know: what you believe
can never be removed from us,
what you dreamed on Walnut Street
in the unanswerable dark of your childhood,
learning pleasure on your own.
Tell me our story: are we impetuous,
are we kind to each other, do we surrender
to what the mind cannot think past?
Where is the evidence I will learn
to be good at loving?
The black dog orbits the horseshoe pond
for treefrogs in their plangent emergencies.
There are violet hills,
there is the covenant of duskbirds.
The moon comes over the mountain
like a big peach, and I want to tell you
what I couldn’t say the night we rushed
North, how I love the seriousness of your fingers
and the way you go into yourself,
calling my half-name like a secret.
I stand between taproot and treespire.
Here is the compass rose
to help me live through this.
Here are twelve ways of knowing
what blooms even in the blindness
of such longing. Yellow oxeye,
viper’s bugloss with its set of pink arms
pleading do not forget me.
We hunger for eloquence.
We measure the isopleths.
I am visiting my life with reckless plenitude.
The air is fragrant with tiny strawberries.
Fireflies turn on their electric wills:
an effulgence. Let me come back
whole, let me remember how to touch you
before it is too late.

Meditations on serving angels in the guise of strangers, and the role of patriarchs in our lives.

The Gift — Li-Young Lee

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.


Hospitality

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. – Ghandi

People will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou

In the cherry blossom’s shade there’s no such thing as a stranger. ― Kobayashi Issa

Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. ― Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

There is great value in being able to say “yes” when people ask if there is anything they can do. By letting people pick herbs or slice bread instead of bringing a salad, you make your kitchen a universe in which you can give completely and ask for help. The more environments with that atmospheric makeup we can find or create, the better. ― Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace

But entertaining isn’t a sport or a competition. It’s an act of love, if you let it be. You can twist it and turn it into anything you want—a way to show off your house, a way to compete with your friends, a way to earn love and approval. Or you can decide that every time you open your door, it’s an act of love, not performance or competition or striving. You can decide that every time people gather around your table, your goal is nourishment, not neurotic proving. You can decide. ― Shauna Niequist, Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes


On Patriarchs

The monarch oak, the patriarch of the trees,
Shoots rising up, and spreads by slow degrees.
Three centuries he grows, and three he stays.
Supreme in state, and in three more decays. — John Dryden

It is a wise father that knows his own child. — William Shakespeare

My father used to say it’s never too late to do what you want to do. And he said, ‘You never know what you can accomplish until you try.’ — Michael Jordan

I imagine God to be like my father. My father was always the voice of certainty in my life. Certainty in wisdom, certainty in the path, certainty always in God. For me God is certainty in everything. Certainty that everything is good and everything is God. — Yehuda Berg

Son, brother, father, lover, friend. There is room in the heart for all of the affections, as there is room in the heaven for all of the stars. — Victor Hugo

I imagined that the right name might be Father, and I imagined all that that name would imply: the love, the compassion, the taking offense, the disappointment, the anger, the bearing of wounds, the weeping of tears, the forgiveness … — Wendell Berry

It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father. — Pope John XXIII

Were man to live coeaval with the sun, the patriarch-pupil would be learning still. — Edward Young

Meditations on Three-ness: Trinity Sunday

TRINITY — Michael Bugeja

1. God
You have distinct dimensions. They are we:
Encyclopedias and alphabets
Of the Big Bang, exobiology,
Inhabitants on multitudes of planets.

Our light cannot escape your gravity.
The soul is linked to yours, a diode
Through which we must return as energy
Until we flare like red suns, and explode:

We try to reconstruct you with an ode
Or explicate your essence line by line.
We canonize commandments like a code
Etched within the DNA. If we’re divine,

Composing simple poems, making rhymes,
Then what are others in this paradigm?

II. Son

Then what are others in this paradigm
If not superior? We’re grains of sand.
You have a billion planets to command
With technologies that attained their prime
Before we left the alluvial slime
For land and land for trees and trees for land
Again. These chosen beings went beyond
The boundaries and laws of space and time
To greater meccas. What miracles do
They require? How many stars, their Magi?
Who, their Pilot? When, their Armageddon?
Were we made in God’s image and they too?
Do you save sinners on Alpha Centauri,
All the nebular rosaries of heaven?

III. Spirit

All the nebular roasries of heaven
Are bounded by the lace of your cosmic string.
The unifying force, interwoven
In the clockwork of space-time, is a spring:

One moment we live here and the next, there.
The universe has edges off of which
No one will fall. Because you’re everywhere,
Its seam appears the same from every stitch:

The father sparks the singularity.
We breed like godseed in the firmament.
The Son forgives so that eternity,
Your sole domain, becomes self-evident:

Together you complete the trinity.
You have distinct dimensions: they are we.


I didn’t need to understand the … unity of the Trinity; I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees. ― Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. — Buddha

By three methods we may learn wisdom: first by reflection, which is noblest; second by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. — Confucius

Love is made up of three unconditional properties in equal measure:
1. Acceptance
2. Understanding
3. Appreciation
Remove any one of the three and the triangle falls apart. Which, by the way, is something highly inadvisable. Think about it — do you really want to live in a world of only two dimensions? So, for the love of a triangle, please keep love whole. ― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. — Lao Tzu

The miracle is not that there is a God. The miracle is that there is a world. — Karl Barth

Reason, Observation and Experience — the Holy Trinity of Science … If by any possibility the existence of a power superior to, and independent of, nature shall be demonstrated, there will then be time enough to kneel. Until then, let us stand erect. ― Robert G. Ingersoll, On the Gods and Other Essays

You, oh eternal Trinity, are a deep Sea, into which the deeper I enter the more I find, and the more I find the more I seek. — Catherine of Siena

I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking. — George MacDonald

We become as big or as small as the objects of our love. When the horizon out of which I am living is God, there is room to breathe. When it is less than God, the world can become suffocating. — Fr. Iain Matthew

He is at once infinite solitude (one nature) and perfect society (three persons). —Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

… outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. — Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays, 21st century


The Dark Night — St. John of the Cross
On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised–oh, happy chance!–
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.

In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my
heart.

This light guided me
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me–
A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.