Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ikkyu Sojun 5th C.

Under the blossoms,
a dilemma it is
when even the way home
is forgotten
a beautiful scenery.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Broken Plates Mending

The taverna reminded me of a rabbi
Offering multiple interpretations
Over the meaning of glass
Under the heel of the groom,
Met with joy for the sound
Of something fragile breaking.

Clear spirits are all around the world,
Every culture sharing in common
A moonshine, schnapps or grappa.
But only some celebrate the smashing
Whose purpose in destruction is as
Thoroughly fun as thoroughly veiled.

Now meaning swirled aside the Aegean,
Shards piling high near the dancer's floor.
A note of caution for the sandaled,
Recalling point one of the rabbi's remark:
Life is hard and sometimes hurtful
And many things go bump in the night.

Sounds of crashing also establish
A higher doctrine of truth and love.
Behind and within chance and change
is something  unmoving yet not unmoved;
A platonic lecture to drinking buddies:
Only love by beauty immortal makes.

But shattered plates amidst the laughing,
whoop another lesson or two,  for
Against the ancient hellenic theories
Today we relearn a different mistake:
That truth is lost, corrupt and stolen and
Nothing is beautiful that does not die.

Which is why we never worship
With plastic petals adorning altars
or gaze on icons of inkjet saints,
But with Lilies that brown unlasting,
We remember goodly sacrifice:
It is no offer that costs us nothing.

Solemn thoughts melt in the moment
Of dancing and twirling arms on arms
Of stranger and partner finding rhythm
Of new saints swaying to equal song:
Joy breaks through, past will or want,
And mending is there in broken plates.

Note:  Despite an uncertain economy, the Greeks have been universally fun and caring, certainly in the many tavernas we've had the good fortune to visit.  Have been reading again Plato's Symposium and considering old conversations about different stuff.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wherever You Go, There You Aren't

Intergalactic travel is no fantasy or fiction,
Or distant potential of the human race.
It is the reality of the mind on any given day,
At any moment before the altars of life,
Before the people we love or know nothing,
Within nightmares happening in the day,
Or blessed hopes wrapping the nightfall.
We drift or rocket to anywhere but here.

Opening minded ears for engines roar,
Better still the counting down to lift,
Prompts a slower departure or, if attended,
A cancellation of the stellar launch;
A place within the space we inhabit,
A holiness for the peace which passeth,
A before-us of replenishing beauty.

It is not natural to our species nor would it:
Our stature is designed for movement,
And our inclinations are far flung.
The moment is a composition of later and latter;
Hubblescapes of yesterday and tomorrow,
A great draft drawing us from middle now.

The advancement of our kind is acclaimed
By the elevation of this impulse toward other
Than what is and why not join that choir
Other than the consequence to a greater whole
suffering under a lapse of attending.

The metering out of humanity into parcels
Here, now,  there, then, done and not yet
Are more of the same: either, nor, neither, or,
Which solves less than it grieves.

The call may be simply just to make note
As we obey the obvious condition of ourselves
To be at once capacious and  contained.

We do more than walk a line between those poles,
But a merengue on a spiral staircase.

Present, dreaming, drifting, returning, attending, spin.

Note:  There is a certain surreal nature to sabbatical, as in thinking one could just get away and stop thinking about life as it is among those I love, family and friends.  Being present to three thousand year old ruins at that same time as offering prayers for the struggling thousands of miles away.  How do we balance today and yesterday and tomorrow?

St. Vitus

Classic, Roman, Renaissance, Baroque,
Rococo, Gothic, and art nouveau;
The gods of style threw up St. Vitus Cathedral
In a  misdemeanor of  minor consequence.
She stands proud high above great Praha
And offers hope to those who like it all.

Notions of graceful proportion,
Be they waist, bust, turret or temple,
Meander by generation,
Not progressing one upon the other
In some orderly manner and purpose
Proof of no intelligent design.

But this is the straw man's quest:
Order must be the means of grace.
Fools of faith are those who argue
upon this slender ground of the atheist.
God is not Pursuer of the Constant
I Am is motion, motive and meaning.

Beyond the other atrocities of history
Another judgement has been made upon
The fascist's, Maoist's, and communist's pogroms:
Their buildings stunk as badly as their soul.
The final argument for all protesting atheists:
Your buildings are awful and ghastly and dull.

There is more threat on the landscape of history:
Ayn Rand is still hero to the  nutty  patrol.
Her virtue of selfishness baldy exalted
Means more than vapid politician;
When the godless get blueprints,
Shallow is erected,  self the better goal.

Note: Imposing on  Prague's skyline, St. Vitus was built over centuries.  The lack of unity shows.  Visiting its imposing presence and expansive adjacent castle, we heard the  stories of communist rule.  The buildings of Hitler and Stalin are largely gone but a few ugly reminders punctuate the cities of Europe.  For reasons that escape the Christian mind, atheist Ayn Rand, and her fictional protagonist, architect John Galt, find resurgent popularity among some crazier parts of the body politic.  A virulent anti-communist herself, Rand's virtue of the Self is, ironically, the mirrored ugliness of the very system she hated.  But like bad buildings, bad ideas, I hope, meet the dozer of God's reign.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

We are reflecting on what's happened these past four weeks, having just completed the first part of our pilgrimage. The sabbatical was to begin June 24 with an initial entry time devoted to visiting museums in NYC and elsewhere in preparation for the journey. Given the intensity of the past two months with more than a few pastoral challenges this period was spent in less leisurely pursuits. We did manage three fabulous weddings and a trip to Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ . We will go back there often in the months to come. It is quite stunning and refreshing and whole families should go. Next time either family visits, it will be on the agenda. Just terrific. The acres of property are arranged for the over 200 substantial sculptures. Water features, paths, landscaping are all meaningfully arranged. So we had that moment, but we were still pretty wound up by the time the ride came to JFK.

The first phase of travel was a sandwich. The initial purpose was to visit Lamberts Glass but that was bookended by Munich and Prague. Munich was a wild time meeting up with our son Austin, who was finishing two years working for Bus2Alps, his work based in Rome. He came up from Florence, and met us on our first full day. We spent time on bikes or visiting museums, baroque churches, and of course, bier gardens. He took in some surfing the Eisbach, while we watched, of course. The eisbach is a river in downtown munich having a permanent wave across one section. Surfers in wetsuits - eisbach means iceriver - test their skills for thirty seconds apiece by turns. Munich is a huge bike city and the chimes ringed by the bikers through the crowds is a lasting aural memory. The history of a city rebuilt from rubble is quite a story. The old buildings are exact replicas built in the 1940-80's. There are a few old authentic structures. Then there are these stark modern cubist things, the subject of one of my blog poems ( Austin and i were arguing about style. The communal nature of the city is refreshing for those of us used to NY. The rococo style of things is also unusual. Few examples of it exist in the states, some might add, happily. Acanthus leaves, those things at the top of Corinthian columns, grow like the plague over everything in the building. Fun, and as they frequently adorn glass caskets of formerly famous people now bejeweled skeletons, the plaster leaves and guilt clutter make for a sure impression. There are significant art collections in Munich and we experienced them all. Then there is the food and beer and leather shorts on men and great fun band music. Wagner was on at the state opera but it was sold out and I think our son would have balked.

DeutschBahn is a model for how to get around. Far better than by car. So off to Waldsassen in East Bavaria close to the Czech border. Lamberts glass ( is the factory making mouth blown sheet glass. The US importers the one who got the idea for this whole trip idea started 12 years ago. The owners welcomed us graciously and we stayed at the apartment above the factory. First night we were invited to join at the Zoigl -a unique east Bavarian thing where a pub is open only five days a month when the Zoigl beer is ready. Food was great too! The glass blowing in a 24 hour thing. Glass blowing start at 4 am through 10 followed by the reload of the furnaces and the careful tending and mixing of the boiling silica brew through to the next day. While there we met another artist in from Korea, Fr. Cho, who is really a force of nature. He has convinced us of our next trip. His glass work is frigging huge by any standard. Huge. We all took a class there in silcone lamination technique. Watch out! We were all trading ideas and Fr. Cho is expecting to collaborate in the years to come.

The Czech train from Cheb to Prague was something out of Harry Potter ( for HP fans there is a St. Norbet's Monastery and thier beer is the best ever, which on this trip is saying something). Our hotel in Prague was just feet away from the justly famous Charles Bridge. Still a quiet respite from a city overrun by us tourists. Austin gave us some marching orders as he had returned to Florence after four days with us in Munich. Gloulash, the castle, and a place called U Felcku. We found music was the biggest part. Concerts in fabulous churches ( see blog again). Perhaps the highlight was the National Theater, the prestine most prestigius example of Art Nouveau we have ever or ever will likely see. We couldn't believe it survived and in such fabulous condition. Impossible to really describe. Every detail. Every tile. Every chandelier, every stick of furniture, every stage, every seat. Like rococo but in that sleek clean manner of deco. We took in a jazz show there - opera singers and musicians playing Brahms and Mozart improv and scat ( blog ). And all there inside that building.

We are writing from Athens just after a 16 hour trains planes and automobile transfer. Good time to reflect before the Acropolis. You can imagine how many toasts we have made in three languages now to Eli Lilly, our supportive families, friends, parish and diocese. The blog poems or only a few of what is pouring from a deep place, and are notably rough drafts. The IPad has been great for drawing and sketching as well as posting.

Well too early to summarize or even partially make a response to all this. Just a note to say this things seems entirely in the flow - flowing together with intention and purpose without the fight and anxiety. I know things continue - our thoughts and prayers for those who know who you are, as well as for larger contexts - Aurora.
Then there is they way we get news here. Another poem from that.

So we will chat again in a couple of weeks.

Love to you all,

Phil and Jan

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Music in Prague

The home of Don Giovanni
Was a favorite for Mozart
Where his great opera premiered,
But his ghost takes holiday,
So the singers and artists
Make smaller events happen
In a baroque church chancel,
An art deco basement hall,
Or even a castle moat.

The crowds are not crowds at all,
But our appreciation
Gets them back for an encore:
A Jazz version of Brahms
With a mezzo soprano
Who sings scat like she's on fire
Dressed in a little black dress
With a quartet backing up
An improv out of heaven.

God only likes live music,
She does not own a player;
Resemblance is never real
And digital perfection
Is only a goal of Satan,
For the Lord sings and dances
And calls us to do the same
Not sitting on our asses
But list'ning live or sitting in.

Note: Prague is a marvelous old city.
The concerts we've enjoyed are wonderful
but lightly attended. Friend Doug once
observed that too few people go out to the
local scene. When we get back, forget
cable and Facebook. Live is better.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Four Thousand Colors

Heat and fire and silica, soda and lime
Combine like alchemy in Waldsassen.
They color with the sun here in Bavaria.

Decades of practiced hands and mouths
Turn molten glass into sheets of beauty.
Four thousand colors are born in their furnace.

Across day and night the kilns are tended,
Loaded and churned until the blend is achieved.
Everyone has their duty in this peculiar art.

Twirling out melt on hollow rods, they sling them
To others who blow out sheer cylinders of grace.
Industrial ballet in gauntlets and boots.

Each piece is a human project in glass
The extension of sweat, intention, skill and more sweat.
Unreproducible, irreplaceable, unique.

They color with the sun at Lambert's.