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Hermitage Update, May 2000

May I? – A Resurrection Root Inquiry

There is simply the rose.
- (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

 Man - despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication,
and his many accomplishments - owes his existence to
a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.
-   (Author Unknown)

All my life I've been reluctant to rise in the world.
Peacefully and without restraint have I left myself to Providence.
There're some rice in my bag and a bundle of brushwood by the fireside.
Who on earth asks me my experience of spiritual awakening?
How should I know worldly fame and desire?
During the peaceful night, in my thatched cottage,
I lay down my legs loosely, hearing drops of rain falling.
- (Ryokan, 1758-1831)

I remember a childhood game called “May I?” We played it on the streets of Brooklyn. This game was not the card game of the same name, which was played on kitchen and dining room table years later. As I recall it, one person at some distance from the group would pronounce an invitation to each participant in turn by his or her name. “Pat, or Bill, or Janet, you may take three baby steps or three giant steps, or three twirls,” or some other measurement of movement toward the person issuing the invitation. But there was a catch -- there was one response that had to be made before proceeding – the person had to ask, “May I?” Failure to do so, (and there were many), resulted in going back to the starting line.

Still a third exchange was required. The caller, after summoning and receiving your corresponding question, then issued their final “yes you may” or “no you may not!”

Thinking about it now it seems a curious exercise, to be called, to request confirmation, then to be told, possibly… no!

The goal of the game was to get close enough to the caller to extend your hand and touch them, thus beginning a retreating race back to the starting line during which the caller tried to tag the runner. Untagged crossing the starting line meant that person got to be caller. Tagged meant things stayed as they were, and the game began again.

The image returns to me this May.  At Meetingbrook we are back at the starting line. How come? Did the one called fail to counter “May I?” Was there a negating of the invitation? Did something get reached and touched, only to scurry in unsuccessful return, failing to elude the tag by the caller? Or is there something about the memory of the game that has frozen movement in this very warm May beginning?

Daffodil, wisteria, lupine colors the uncut green and dandelion yellow. White throated sparrow, phoebe, and goldfinch dart the yard with red squirrel and chipmunk.   

On the door of shop and hermitage these last 10 days a sign tempered by the word TODAY:


Saskia is away traveling,
I am away with silence. 

The question of Meetingbrook
Is on the table. Pray grace! 

What will be? How resurrect?
Eat, drink, and enjoy feasting each!



Saskia travels for three weeks with her mother and relatives in Europe -- a reminiscing return to family ancestral home near Carpathian Mountains, visiting cousins, godson, and memories. I stay in solitude and silence, closing shop. For 10 days those wandering by have just a daily reading of that sign; those phoning just the answering machine message that “we’re closed a few days.” Some email asking what does it mean “The question of Meetingbrook / Is on the table?”

Ken Wilber, in his book Grace and Grit – Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber, writes about his wife’s and his coming to the same stance about her likely death from cancer:

   “Treya, more than ever, began to live in the present, not in the future, giving her allegiance to what is, not what might be.

   “Friends and family often wondered, is she being unrealistic – shouldn’t she be worrying? fretting? unhappy? But the fact is, by living in the present, by refusing to live in the future, she began exactly to live consciously with death. Think about it: death, if anything, is the condition of having no future. By living in the present, as if she had no future, she was not ignoring death, she was living it. And I was trying to do the same. I thought of that beautiful quote from Emerson:

These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time for them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

   “And that is exactly what Treya was doing. If and when death came, she would deal with it then, not now. There’s a great Zen koan on this. A student comes to a Zen Master and asks, ‘What happens to us after death?’  And the Zen Master says, ‘I don’t know.’ The student is aghast. ‘You don’t know!? You’re a Zen Master!’ ‘Yes, but not a dead one.’”   (Pp 315-316)

 Outside the screened window a red squirrel chatters annoyed to be thwarted from the bird feeder by my sudden calling out to it. Complaining a while it will try again. My game with it cannot be sustained. I move the feeder. It will be found, now by the barn door. I suspect that while the inclination is to feed some, all want to be fed. We wish to stay alive. We feed on that wish.

I am coming to think our returning to the starting line has nothing to do with money. I shy from professional fund raising. Nor have we yet put wooden buckets in the shop for donations to pay the rent – we’re the only retail store, some believe, that could legitimately do so.  And so we find ourselves back at the beginning – do we stay in-town with the shop? What exactly is the hermitage to be? And where? And just what is engaged service?

What are the options? Consolidate the two locations into one, shop and hermitage? Acknowledge that the shop has given shape to the hermitage and must disappear? Move to a more agreeable composition of the hermitage call to both hospitality and solitude? Leave the retail business with its rent and all its public demands and concentrate on our other outside work for income? Stay with the spirit of (AA’s) Tradition Seven and be self-supporting, or not at all?

While writing this, a lovely purple finch dances and sings its way along the wire outside the window -- inching forward in a delicate shifting procession to the feeder.

 So too with us. Our dance -- turning with song and chant on our way to the place that nourishes, where others are nourished -- is followed by the one who calls. It is that garden ground we seek. That topsoil, and the fact that it rains, calls. Along with this time is the mystery of resurrection. Each is a call requesting we drop all clinging to what we once might have seen, believed, fed on. Something has changed. What seemed whole has become broken, and the broken reappears in a splintered wholeness we do not recognize.

Some possible responses: We are grateful to be here, to go elsewhere, or go nowhere. With the risen reality of Christ (and our rising awareness), we are astonished to be invited into the new creation that follows the emptying out of all that is other than life and love itself. Like the words of Randall Jarrell introducing the Selected Poems of William Carlos Williams—“Say it! No ideas but in things.” – we are enjoined to release ourselves to that which appears and calls for our attention! We are awed by transformed, transfigured, and transparent existence. And in gratitude we remain rooted in the inquiry promises of contemplation, conversation, and correspondence -- in simplicity, silence, and service. We profoundly trust God's own time, God's own movement, and God’s own mystery.

We wait -- this is where we are. If there be anything of God in the creation of Meetingbrook, we are happy to realize that presence. If God is not there, we are not there. Our radical trust is that God is there, and God is here, and we are here, and we will be (with the grace and grit of God’s call) wherever there is to be. God in Exodus said, “I will be there, as who I am, will I be there” -- and in Matthew, Jesus’ "I am with you always, even until the consummation of the world." Time will end and the world will be complete when this Reality of Life, Presence, and Love is fully realized, embodied, and practiced.

 Our prayer is that we might move with the light of Christ wherever God moves. With the Spirit within we deeply suspect that no darkness can contain that light. We long to have the conviction of the reality yet to be seen. God help us! This Sacred Reality breathes us!

 Hundreds of flowers are out in the peaceful garden.
Their scents come into this room.
Seeing each other, we have no words to say.
The night is in the middle of a spring night.

                                                                                                                      - (Ryokan)

The Rewaking

Sooner or later
we must come to the end
of striving

to re-establish
the image the image of
the rose

but not yet
you say extending the
time indefinitely

your love until a whole

the violet to the very

and so by
your love the very sun
itself is revived

(William Carlos Williams, 1883-1963)



May I? May we?

(Quick now, touch and go, return to the beginning, be tagged or not, call and be called, be still and move.)   There is simply the rose!

 Blessings of Easter! Christ is Risen!



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