Friday, September 30, 2011

Suffering and sorrow

It's come to my attention some readers may be taking my recent posts on suffering and sorrow in the wrong way.

One mustn't under any circumstances confuse these ideas with ordinary emotional states. The action of higher energies has a transformational nature that creates a very different relationship in the organism with these ideas.

I use the words "suffering" and "sorrow" because they are the closest approximations we can reach using the language we know. In reality, to suffer in the Gurdjieffian sense of the word means something quite different than what our ordinary associations tell us; and to feel sorrow also means something quite different.

Sorrow

Sorrow and joy are, as I've mentioned in the past, joined together perfectly. This simultaneous and reciprocal relationship are anything but apparent from our current perspective; to experience this truth directly is what is referred to as religious ecstasy.

Sorrow, furthermore, is not sorrowful at all. Sorrow is a product of Love, not some difficult or self-centered emotional experience one must endure. In fact, it stems directly from Love, and could not exist if Love did not come first before it. When we feel sorrow, in the sense of the sorrow of His Endlessness, it is not an ordinary emotion, it is a higher emotion. It is a privilege, and something to be deeply grateful for, not something to feel miserable and bad about.

It is furthermore not a personal sorrow in any sense of the word–it does not have a subject and an object as we usually understand them.

If one feels real sorrow, a higher sorrow, one hungers for it in the same way that one hungers for God, if one has ever been so touched.

One does not hunger for it out of some misplaced sense of masochism, or because one wants to be miserable, or due to self pity, but because the whole body instinctively senses that it is the right position to be in, and that it is an absolutely natural product, consequence, and servant of Love.

Sorrow is, in other words, not only a three centered experience, but an experience that begins in the action of a higher center. It is an organic action, a whole thing that is not subject to reduction or division. One might call it a thread that reaches directly from our mortality towards the divine.

Suffering

A great deal is said in the work about what Gurdjieff called "intentional suffering." Despite presumptions, which abound, even the best of us have a poor understanding of what he actually meant by this, and the term itself is wide open to all kinds of perverse and incorrect interpretations. Speaking as I do through my own set of limitations, I'm only able to report my own definite impressions of this question. Every reader has to form their own judgment on the matter.

As I understand it, to suffer in Gurdjieff's sense of the word has absolutely nothing to do with feeling bad emotionally. Of course, when we speak of ordinary life, if someone endures horrible trials, we say that they have suffered. But this is a temporal and a horizontal suffering, not a suffering related to the suffering of the soul.

The soul suffers only in proportion to its own experience of itself, and its inadequacy in meeting the tasks that God has assigned to it. This has something to do with Jeanne de Salzmann's repeated insistence on making an effort to see our lack.

Any kind of personal remorse or self-pity in regard to this question is entirely beside the point. To suffer means to fully take in the world and what we are, without judging ourselves, but in truthful seeing of ourselves.

Higher emotions do not assume the personal aspect that ordinary emotion does. Anyone who spends any length of time in legitimate self observation ought, without too much difficulty, to be able to see "how one is" in an ordinary emotional state, unless they are just a plain old dunderhead. Thus, all this talk about how difficult self-observation is is nonsense. Ordinary self-observation is, as Ouspensky and his fellow seekers discovered, pretty straightforward. It's a collecting of facts on this level.

There's a great danger of getting stuck in this technical aspect of the work and swirling around in it for years, thinking that the routine observation of how I am is going to teach me something new. This may well trap me in an interesting but ultimately fruitless psychological analysis of my state, rather than a transformational intuition.

Higher emotions are unmistakable and have very little to do with ordinary emotions, our own ego-based perceptions of ourselves, or the little miseries we endure. This is why they are called higher emotions. Although we are born into and live within a personalized universe (in many senses, of our own making) phenomena that emanate from higher levels have an unambiguously depersonalized nature that can't be mistaken for what we are in our ordinary state. One could go on at some length about how this relates to all the ideas of abandonment of the ego and so on, but perhaps that's not so useful.

What is left to understand is that there is a clear distinction between all of what is ordinary and everything that comes from God. All of us, as far as I can see, are habitually prone to mistaking the ordinary for the extraordinary, confusing them, mixing them in every possible way, and above all believing we know much more than we actually do about these matters.

These are grave errors, but we all commit them–I am no exception–and I suppose this is a fact we just have to live with as we stumble onwards in our individual works.

May our prayers be heard.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Higher Standard

It is time to come down off the pedestal and stand on the earth.

Every kind of judgment, every petty attitude, every deed that is done without enough Love in it–every deed that is done without any Love at all in it, which is probably just about every deed, I think–all of this is worthless. Nothing acquires value except through Love.

Love can't be a hypothesis in life. It can't be a premise or an idea, a theory or a goal. It must be a practice which is immediate, a practice which lives in the now. And every act of self observation must begin with the question:

...Love?

Do I act with Love? Do I feel Love organically, in the marrow of my bones, where the Lord put it, right now? Or I am I estranged from that understanding? Am I busy deciding how inadequate other people are? Ah, yes, that sounds like me all right... is that where my work has led me? To a place where I think I am superior because I think I “work?”

Yes, it has come to this, hasn't it?

There is a ground floor. The higher standard consists of taking the lower position–the position of humility, of understanding my lack. Of seeing how I should be the last person in line for everything, about how it is important to offer to others first, and take for myself later. Of howevery idea of my superiority–even the legitimate ones–must be thrown out in favor of an outer considering of others.

Forgiveness ought to be unconditional. People don't see this. Always, there is one condition after another, one judgment or rationalization after another.

Of course this is too high a standard for us–but it shouldn't have to be. Love, Grace, and Glory penetrate every bit of matter–they are in the shit, as well as the flowers that grow out of it. We are not so far away from all of this: we are made of it–and yet, we turn our heads, we snipe at each other; instead of attending to ourselves, we are always attending to someone else.

Do you see that? I see it. I have to suffer myself in this way every day, a tension and a friction between the unconditional Love that forms the fabric of existence, and my own inability to inhabit it with the deep respect it is due.

There is no condition or circumstance exempted from this kind of examination. Every action that does not begin with Love has already failed to connect with the source of what is real, and can beget only imaginary results. But Love is painful–Love requires relationship–Love begins with seeing my lack, with seeing how I am, and that is a difficult thing. I don't like difficulty much, I would rather forget about Love and other people and what is needed to support them.

But what if?

What if the entire purpose we have here in relationship to one another is strictly to offer support, and the weight of the soul is determined by how well we perform that task?

The sorrow that permeates the temporary nature of our existence, the sorrow that lies deep in the heart of the manifestation of energy, the sorrow that Mr. Gurdjieff advised us we needed to help partake of–this endless, penetrating, and inestimable sorrow of the Lord–it breathes silently within the fabric of matter itself... and within us.

Yet we have become so insensate that we do not know it is there.

Gurdjieff alluded over and over again to the central place of emotion, the pivotal force of Love, in his work, and I am sure he knew in every cell of his body this sorrow I speak of.

It changes everything.

I see, in this sorrow, that I am indeed held to a higher standard–not a standard created by the mind, a set of moral dogmas or rules written down on stone tablets, but a standard that grows in the heart, rests in the bones, and pumps through the body and blood of my life. When I forget myself, this is the first thing that I forget.

What is self-observation? Year after year of a technical list of events and facts... of intellectual observations about how I think I am?

That is not enough. It can never be enough.

Every deed, every single deed, must be examined; and the part that must see it is the part that Loves.

If there is ever to be any awareness, it must begin here, because without it, there is no awareness, and there is no life in the spirit.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ascetics and Puritans

We have the mistaken belief that purity arises somehow from a life of deprivation.

The ascetic believes that he must purify his inner state through deprivation; the paring away of attachments to the senses, the elimination of the mind, extinguishing of thought, etc.

The Puritan believes that she must purify her outer state through deprivation, the refusal of lusts and passions, food, the swearing off of materialism, and so on.

Either way, there is a presumption that separation from the world is what is necessary. The world is impure; life is impure, our thoughts are impure, our bodies are impure, and so on. One way or another, through an inner or an outer action, there must be a rite of purification; only a burning fire, and immolation of everything that is, can leave the residual gold we seek so earnestly. Eh?

This paring away, this lopping off of leaves, twigs, and branches, is a mistaken approach. What is impure is, in fact, my selectiveness: my opinions, my partiality, my tendency to shy away from everything. In point of fact, it is my avoidance of relationship with myself that creates an impure state. (Here I come back once again to the esoteric meaning of the first conscious shock, overcoming the fear of the self.)

What is required is not deprivation; the narrowness of how I am in relationship to life is at the root of the problem. What is required is a new kind of allowing–a kind of suffering. To suffer, after all, does mean to allow, although we usually let our associations tell us that it means to feel pain of one kind or another.

Yet it is impossible that the Lord has an active wish for us to intentionally feel pain in order to complete ourselves spiritually, isn't it? He has no need for a cult of masochists. Yes, flagellants believe such things; one can wear hair shirts, or whip oneself. But this does not seem to be a right path: it has no respect for the body or its actual requirements. The early church fathers certainly believed in mortification of the flesh and denial of the body, yet we can see that Mr. Gurdjieff practiced nothing of the sort.

What, then, to make of it?

There is a point on the path where one begins to discover that to allow, to take life in with a generosity that actually refuses to deny anything, is in fact an enormous kind of suffering. The impressions that are trying to find their way into us, to penetrate us to the very marrow of our bones, are on such a scale and of such an enormity that we are absolutely unable to tolerate them. To serve for even a moment in a true state of openness is to drink so much sorrow and so much joy (they are no different from one another) at one time that one's cup does run over–one sees how great the task we are called to is, and how utterly unable we are to meet it in any capacity we ought – even though we have both the equipment and the ability.

I stand on the threshold of a draught that encompasses all of reality; yet even the slightest taste of it overwhelms me. I cannot do something as simple as meet my daughter's eye, face-to-face, for more than a moment, because the vastness of the space created by the simple fact of our existence together is so great I fall into it like a single atom plunging itself into an incomprehensible sea.

I'm afraid to see that; I am afraid to be in relationship with my life, with others, with myself, because to do so calls me down to the ground floor of my own humanity over and over again, moment after moment, in a way that creates an anguish and a joy unfathomable, and not digestible in any ordinary state I know.

Yet I must continue to put myself in front of this place where, as Jeanne de Salzmann would say, I see my lack.

I see, perpetually standing on this threshold of glory, how unable I am to stand in the face of this magnificent experience we call life and accept it without the deprivation; to allow it to enter me.

If I look closely enough, I see that my fear actually engenders an attitude of deprivation; sleep itself is self-deprivation.

I am afraid to live, even though the opportunity is in front of me at every moment. It is much more convenient, much easier, to deny myself life and turn away from it. And it is even more terrifying to see how much I want to run away from what is.

It is as though a man stood in front of the gates of heaven with the keys to the Kingdom already in his hand, and said, "No–I will not enter."

If nothing else brings me to the moment where I call out to the Lord for mercy, this much surely will.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Life flows in

Life can flow inward naturally, without impediments, but it usually doesn't.

To be open means to allow life to enter; a finer energy, which already permeates everything and is eternally present. The body has the potential to become open, and if it opens, the exquisite precision of what is becomes apparent.

But this can't happen for as long as everything is tethered to both the mind and all of the beliefs about things that go with it.

Awareness can exist in conjunction with and alongside all of the ordinary manifestations that normally keep me from sensing vibration with any precision or accuracy. In order for it to do so, it must have a life of its own: not the life “I” assign to it, not the constructed life, the assumed life, the believed, imaginary, or shaped life.

It has to have a living and untouched quality that allows it to be its own self, not the constructed self of daily life. If it lives, if it truly has its own life, then I am subordinate to it. This does not mean that I am not; the ego is not so easily destroyed, nor need it be. It is, after all, a useful engine that needs to be applied appropriately for encounters with life.

One could say that a purity is required, but even this is not accurate. It is a purity, but it is not the purity of the ascetic or the purity of the Puritan. It is an unadulterated quality that permits only of itself. It is fundamentally organic–a relationship within the organism that extends itself to include impressions in a new way.

How to express it?

To be open is to receive without interference. To be in life, but to stop touching it constantly. Nothing matters so much; what is it that drives me with such conviction? Where did I ever get the idea that my opinions make any sense? A desperation lies underneath every action; only by surrendering the desperation itself, only by letting go of it, can the implications about where I am and what I am doing be made manifest.

Those implications are nowhere near as complicated as my intellect would have me believe.

Life flows in. We are vessels into which the world flows; our entire purpose is summed up in this one expression.

Only to the degree that we perform this task with Attention and Love can we call ourselves human beings.

"When you close the door of your dwelling and are left alone, know that there is with you an Angel, allotted by God to every man, whom the Hellenes call the spirit of the home. He never sleeps and being always with you, sees everything. He cannot be deceived, and darkness hides nothing from him. And be aware that, besides him, God is present everywhere. For there is no place or substance where God is not present. He is greater than all and holds all in his hand.”

- Antony the Great, from "Early Fathers from the Philokalia," Kadloubovsky and Palmer, Faber & Faber 1954

May our prayers be heard.





Monday, September 19, 2011

The Life Unknown

Certain disturbing impressions have struck me deeply over the last week.

The strident, even desperate, tone of today's politics. The exhortations to consume and buy which roar over our television sets and radios. Gangs of pudgy, motorcycle riding near-the-end-of-middle-age men invading towns on weekends, seeking a lost youth which exists only in their imagination, and which can in any event never be found again.

I notice that nowadays, even many of those who write about spiritual matters often have a hidden but nonetheless palpable negativity; again, proclamations, exhortations. No matter who we are or where we find ourselves, we live in the age of proclamation. And everywhere, this negativity; even those who claim to work on themselves, angry and frustrated about this, that, and everything. A determination to interfere, to tell others they are doing it wrong.

When did we forget how to be quiet? Or did we ever really know in the first place? Righteousness, which already starts out suspect, goes bad.

Deep within us is something starving, something which can only be fed by proper impressions of the planet. All of the substitutes we invent are unable to slake this thirst; the soul was born into, and longs for, impressions of the natural world–plants, trees, animals. All of these elements are part of what we are, yet we have extinguished them and replaced them with the equivalent of corn syrup.

Well then; these are the impressions that fall, willy-nilly, into this organism trying to organize itself. Many of them seem useless; only those that go deep, into the marrow, can be used for anything practical.

And it is this question, above all, that comes up: what is practical? What can add to practice? What feeds the inner life?

Walking the famous dog Isabel towards the Hudson River today at lunch time, it struck me that I, like everyone else, am full of judgments.

The mind seizes everything.

It presumes to judge: in fact, judgment itself is a presumption, that is, an assumption that begins in advance of what is there. The mind encounters life and says, “Oh yes, of course. It's just like this.” Or, “it's just like that.” Or, " It ought to be such and such.”

There is only one thing that is true here, and that is that everything is just like it is.

There is such a thing as real Judgment. Real judgment-- as opposed to the egoistic determinations I slap like Band-Aids over everything I see– has already taken place before anything arrives in me, because what is, simply is.

Real Judgment takes place objectively, within the relationship between the events, circumstances, and objects outside of me. It begins as an objective process, and yet the instant it reaches me, the mind seizes it and turns it into a subjective one.

Ha.

Is it possible to just be a quiet piece of stone that a shadow falls on?

Can the mind be still?

Can the breath become so quiet that it's almost unnecessary?

If the world arrives within me, and there is no judgment to meet it, no assumption, no predetermination, then it expresses something more real. Instead of meeting a kind of thinking that is forever in the air and in orbit, it encounters gravity. The organism has the potential for gravity; if energy in it is rightly aligned, the gravity draws one down in a straight line through the center of the self, towards the surface of the planet, and everything that meets the senses aligns itself with that vertical direction.

This organic sense of being, this gravity, cannot be cultivated or forced; it can only be encountered and valued. We do not orchestrate such instruments, or the tunes they play: we are in the audience, invited to listen carefully, but not to act as critics. There is a need for this music to be received softly, gently–yes, we must go gently into its good light, which is not dying–no, not at all.

On the contrary, it is seeking birth, and life.

Our problem is that instead, we rage. We rage out of some obscure conviction that the light is dying. Yet the light never dies. Certainly, it darkens when it enters the narrow corridors of our mind; and maybe this is where the fear arises. But it cannot die.

Our fear of its extinction is just one more sign of how profoundly we misunderstand everything.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Difference and indifference


There are times when work seems to come more easily, when an inner state is more ordered and tangible; then there are the times when life itself seems to fracture – not necessarily in any outer way, but in an inner way – and one finds oneself in the midst of confusion in the many fragments that constitute one's Being.

I think this is lawful; Betty Brown used to say that we can't expect things to be available all the time, and that work waxes and wanes like the tides. We all want to be on a flood tide, rising towards fulfillment, but the reality is that we often find ourselves in a hundred states of separation, having to reassemble ourselves over and over again in the midst of our own inability and doubt.

The eternal presence of Grace is often the only touchstone that can guide us as we see this confusion; it brushes lightly against life at just the moments needed to remind us that the dreamlike chaos we inhabit does, after all, have a polarity around which it can organize itself.

So there is a need for trust, and faith.

For me, every day is quite shocking, really. It is completely new and different; I must see over and over again how I am, how I don't actually know any people or even anything (I pretend I do), how each event requires me to take one step after another into a complete and, should I dare to admit it to myself, even frightening unknown.

And I see quite clearly how unfeeling and uncaring most of my reactions to others are. I put on a good show, mostly to myself, inside myself, but if I am willing to be honest – well, what an unpleasant character I am, really. I wonder why others tolerate me.

I avoid this kind of realization most of the time by remaining asleep to it.

Does nonattachment, non-identification, this lofty and supposedly removed (it isn't) state provide me with a refuge? (It doesn't.) We are meant to be immersed within life, not separated from it by the pedestals we park ourselves on. This means that inhabiting the fracture and the confusion, as well as my reaction to it, is both a reality and a requirement.

To be detached, to let go, doesn't mean to be indifferent or removed from the situation. It actually means to go towards the situation, to be within it in a different way.

I am able to rely on Grace as a presence; I am able to rely on sensation and even relaxation as tools... and most assuredly, the Lord does not withdraw his Love... even when we are unworthy.

I am unable, however, to make much damn sense of where I am, or what I am doing. Each event is unique and will never come again; I see that I am hardly present to that fact, even when I am aware of it. Perhaps I sense my own lack more acutely than ever as I see how utterly confused my inner state is--even as I manage to effectively project an outward air of intelligence and professionalism.

The machine knows how to handle itself; what is aware does not. It is, today, in a state of question that contains, paradoxically, both a stillness-- and the understanding that what is proceeding inside is more or less what happens when a bunch of different ingredients are thrown into a blender.

Perhaps the critical reminder here is how absolutely dependent I am on the intervention of higher forces if anything real is to take place in me.

I'm waiting... am I waiting for nothing?... something? I don't know.

But the effort to relax and let go, while remaining attentive, seems to be the only alternative, and the only possibility.

That, and to continually intone:

Lord, have Mercy.

May our prayers be heard.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The obliteration of desire


Last night my wife Neal and I watched the Japanese movie "Zen," a film about Dogen's life and his role in revolutionizing Buddhist practice in Japan.

This morning I woke up before 3 a.m. in order to catch a flight to El Salvador, and in the wee hours of the morning, the question I pondered was that of freedom from desire- one of the major themes in the movie.

Gurdjieff, as readers may know, indicated that a man's task, should he wish to meaningfully develop his inner life, was to struggle in such a way that his "non-desires prevailed over his desires." This distinctly Buddhist suggestion in a teaching which does not overtly display Buddhist influences (although their principles are subtly woven into its warp and weft) is worthy of examination.

What does the suggestion mean? And is it at all possible for a man or woman to initiate a situation where one antithetically desires one's non-desires?

Here we have the makings of a Zen Koan.

I'm not sure how many have had a life experience in which a major area of attachment or identification, a truly fundamental motive force in one's inner psychological landscape, has suddenly and completely ceased to exist; my instincts tell me, however, that such events are intimately related to both the question of desire, and its transcendence.

Long-time readers of this space may recall that I spent most of my younger life as a visual artist, before a transformational experience that, quite literally overnight, obliterated my interest in creating visual art- I absolutely lost all desire to pursue that activity. More recently, my interest in composing and playing music- another major life- interest- has also all but disappeared, although that has sloughed off more gradually. Nonetheless, it's evidently gone... leaving me to wonder what else will be shorn from this particular sheep over the rest of its life span. (It reminds me of Betty Brown's remark to me, made very late in her life, that the things we love the most are the first things that have to go.)

Examining the inner state of desire versus non-desire relative to these two former interests, there's a clear understanding of how they were desires- but are no longer desires. There has been a divorce: a letting go, an organic state of change that completely severed my attachment to these activities. There is a fundamental difference in my inner state; a part of me is gone, and in its place, a new form of freedom has appeared. A paradoxical freedom, perhaps; in gaining freedom from my identification with art and music, I have lost the self-affirmation that (apparently) arises with the authority of such creation.

Yet surrendering this authority of creation not only seems right and even necessary, it leaves room for a new appreciation of life which is more firmly rooted in the possibility of an authority of seeing.

The change has caused me to question both why I was so strongly identified with (attached to, as Buddhists would say) these two creative impulses, and what changed in me that caused that attachment to disappear. I didn't "do" anything directly to bring about such a change- and above all, no direct approach to that question was ever undertaken. My identification with art and music was so thorough that the very idea of ending my relationship with them was absurd. I never, in other words, "set out" to become free of these desires. On the contrary, I built my world, and my supposed validity, on them. I wanted the desires... Which is perhaps stating the obvious, but there you are. How often do we really examine that?

The experience causes me to suppose that man cannot, under the force of his own will, relinquish desire- and indeed this was a theme in the movie about Dogen's life. It's a case, rather, of "thy will be done-" all a man can do is engage in an ongoing effort to Be. Should those efforts lead in the right direction (by whatever means) non-desires have a chance of beginning to prevail-but not by the action of the doer; rather, and only, by the action of the done.

I feel sure no forced change can effect this; only Grace can have such action, and it is chiefly in cultivating the attraction of such Grace that our hope lies.

I stand confused, within attachment and identification. I believe, steadfastly, that the doing lies within the doer; yet without any doubt, in truth, the doer is always (and only) found within the done.

The state of desire, where the doer believes the doing is within him, is the state Gurdjieff called sleep; it is the world of illusion, an inversion of both the truth and the facts, a belief in one's own authority. Only when experience turns itself on its head and the doer finds (sees) himself within the done does reality begin to manifest itself.

We are not born to do; we are born to receive what is done.

Man cannot do; he can, however, discover himself within the done: and that is a different self than the one who presumes to do. Non-desire, when and if it prevails, constitutes the arrival of a pivotal moment of freedom, where attachment no longer dictates action.

This moment of non-attachment is quite different from indifference, however; and that is perhaps a subject for another essay.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Living your life


This weekend, a dear essence-friend--one of the group members who came from my original group--came to stay with us for a couple of days. It caused us to reminisce a good deal about Henry and Betty Brown, who led our group through the end of the 1990's, until Henry died and Betty retired from active duty.

The occasion caused me to remember how often Betty advised me not to let the work become my whole life. That is, not to immerse myself so deeply in the Gurdjieff Foundation and its activities that instead of performing a work in life, I ended up living a life in work.

We are surely meant to live this life, and we are meant to live it wholly. The act of living itself, in both its specifics and its generality, is our work. It is both a science and an art; it is both religious and secular. Unless we immerse ourselves completely within life, in all of its varieties, we simply go on trading one hiding place for another.

I'm inspired to an alternative understanding of Theseus and the Minotaur. The Minotaur lurks at the center of the maze; yet the Minotaur represents ordinary life: an animal, enormously powerful, human and bestial at the same time. In an apparent paradox, the exoteric is found at the center of the maze, where one would expect to encounter the esoteric aspect of life.

And one must travel to the center of this world, this perpetual confusion of darkness and misdirection, to discover one's coarseness and master it. All the while, keeping a thread in hand that connects one to what is real in one's self.

So I need to travel into the center of this life, exactly as it is lived–not as it is rearranged by some formal set of "work principles" that protect me from the ordinary, not as it is cataloged and dissected by lists or definitions, either–and rediscover it, while maintaining this precious connection within myself. I must inhabit my life as it stands–not as I might wish it to be, but as it is. Above all, I must inhabit the heart of the ordinary, which is where everything extraordinary actually dwells.

What I seek is never anywhere else–it is always here. Yet I don't really believe that, do I? Even dwelling in the midst of Grace and Presence, I play host to arguments against them. And then: a moment of real humility, in front of cornstalks set against September skies: clouds mustering a prayer for rain, late in the afternoon.

The soul must go alone to places where the Lord dwells, and there, give thanks.

I see that I am constantly thinking about things, but this isn't really helpful. Today, it is raining very hard–the remains of my namesake, tropical storm Lee, are all around. I take the famous dog Isabel out for a walk, even though I don't really feel like walking a long way in the rain–and then I demand of myself that I do the entire walk, up the hill, looking out over the Palisades towards the Hudson River.

In an extraordinary and unusual event, there is an enormous wash of soil-laden, red floodwater in the Tappan Zee: the river has a bronze tint, as though the water itself were from some golden age.

There is a moment where there is no thought.

The rain just comes down, and I am within it.

Everything can be accepted, and everything is abundant and filled with grace.

I am truly capable of very little.

And yet grace comes, and the Lord is ever present.

May our prayers be heard.