Judging at the Ox Pull

The presidential debates, climate change, George Floyd—the news is full of human power gone beyond sane limits.  Yet we see even more displays of power restrained and used responsibly. Gandhi was right when he said that violence is not the dominant human instinct—nonviolence is far stronger in us. If that were not the case, he said, cities could not exist.

We can still choose the path of lovingkindness that represents our truest, best homo sapiens self.  This poem reflects on that choice.

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

This sonnet relates to another on this site, Waking the Power, and also Gandhi’s Path of Higher Power: From Zero to One” on The Golden Room website.

Bill McKibben wrote a sobering but ultimately hopeful book entitled Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?  The great hope he finds is that humans can destroy, “but also we can decide not to destroy.”

He writes in his epilogue, “Yes, we can wreck the Earth as we’ve known it, killing vast numbers of ourselves and wiping out entire swaths of other life—in fact, as we’ve seen, we’re doing that right now. But we can also not do that.”

McKibben sees two technologies as most important in changing the course of human civilization away from self-destruction.  The first is the solar panel.

The second is nonviolence, which most people do not think of as a technology because they do not understand it fully.  It is a technology that enables us “to stand up to the powerful and the reckless.”

Many people know of the dramatic incidents of civil disobedience led by Mahatma Gandhi in India.  Fewer realize that most of his campaign was made up of constructive programs designed to create a strong, independent Indian society—improvements to farming, local business, education and health care.

Even fewer people realize that there was a third part of his “technology” of nonviolence: Gandhi firmly believed that anyone could do what he did, but he was equally adamant that no one could do it without being grounded, guided and empowered by the spirit.

Gandhi is a model for everyone in the inner source he turned to in order to guide and empower his life, but not everyone shares his calling to lead a social revolution.  Some of us, thank goodness, feel called to work with oxen or to be teachers or healers or countless other vocations.

How can we find that source within us?  Eknath Easwaran explains how Gandhi found it in his invaluable book, Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World.  Gandhi confessed to having been a coward as a boy.  A wise elder taught him to say the mantra “Rama” (a Hindu name of god) whenever he was afraid.

He tried it, and he found it helped, so he kept using it even when he was not afraid.  He credited all his power, wisdom and love to that practice combined with daily meditation.

The results were amazing.  Easwaran tells the story of an evening prayer meeting when a deadly cobra came into the outdoor space where hundreds were sitting on the ground.  Panic began to rise and people could have been trampled in the stampede, but with a motion of his hand Gandhi signaled for people to remain where they were.

Maybe drawn by the motion, the cobra came toward Gandhi.  It slithered up onto his bare thighs.  Gandhi remained calm the entire time, no doubt saying “Rama, Rama, Rama” to himself.  The calm seemed to affect the cobra as well as the crowd of people.  It slithered across his lap and off into the brush.  (Gandhi the Man, p. 115)

The story is emblematic of Gandhi’s encounters with individuals and empires.  His presence was transformational.

The consequences of human abuse of power are creating suffering on a massive scale, whether from killer climate events or economic inequity or racism.  We are undergoing convulsions of fear in our society, leading to even greater violence.

We do not need to give in to that base instinct.  We have a deeper impulse in us.  We call that nonviolent, generous-hearted, highest law of human nature by the simple word, “love.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky gave us the teachings of his character, the spiritual master, Father Zosima, in The Brothers Karamozov.  Zosima said:

“One may stand perplexed before some thought, especially seeing men’s sin, asking oneself: ‘Shall I take it by force, or by humble love?’  Always resolve to take it by humble love.  If you so resolve once and for all, you will be able to overcome the whole world.  A loving humility is a terrible power, the most powerful of all, nothing compares with it.” (Pevear and Volokhonsky translation)

I have been deeply moved by the power of that love in the judging ring at the Tunbridge World’s Fair.  You can see sometimes a small eight year old girl guiding two gigantic oxen around the circle in perfect harmony with merely a word and a light tap, her love of them and their love of her evident in every move.

The poem below takes place in another area of the Fair—not the quiet, open, airy and light ring but the loud, dark, crowded, walled-in runway of the pull contests.  Even there, the power of humble love can be seen doing its transformative work.

Judging at the Ox Pull

The idling tractor’s new hydraulic winch
hauled back the stone boat easily each try
even when loaded so to move an inch
the massive oxen foamed with wild rolled eye.
Some drovers screamed and whipped their ox so hard
they laid a lash mark down the fair-groomed hide,
and though the goading left the charged air scarred
the crowd would laugh to see so little pride.
But other teamsters kept themselves restrained—
a quiet word, a tap or pat or prod,
and even losing, dignity remained
as something worth more, something won for God.
The diesel fumes and screams and whips all show
the limits past which power should not go.

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

Gandhi’s Path of Higher Power: From Zero to One

This post includes two four-minute clips from the classic 1992 Richard Attenborough film, Gandhi.  The first sets the context for the Salt March that was a turning point in the Indian struggle for independence.  The clip at the end of this post shows more of the March itself.

“There comes a time when an individual becomes irresistible and his action becomes all-pervasive in its effect.  This comes when he reduces himself to zero.”  (Mahatma Gandhi, quoted in Eknath Easwaran’s book Gandhi the Man p114)

The Indian National Congress issued its declaration of independence on January 26, 1930 and raised a new national flag.  The masses of the Indian people were ready for an uprising.  It was a conflagration waiting for a match.

Yet the British Empire did not flinch.  The Indian National Congress made demands and pursued negotiations, but it was clear that the British were not ready to give up or even compromise significantly.

The pressure for change among the people was gaining in intensity.  Everyone knew that either a massive nonviolent action would take place or violent revolution would break out.  All eyes turned expectantly to the ashram and humble rooms of Mahatma Gandhi, but no word came forth.  Days stretched into weeks, and Gandhi made no indication of what would come.  The media accused him of playing his cards close to his chest, of purposefully building suspense to get the world’s attention.

But Gandhi was telling them the truth when he said he did not know what action he would take.  He was praying and waiting.  He was meditating, listening, asking for God’s guidance, and he would not do anything until he felt a clear calling from the Spirit.

In the end it came to him in a dream: Continue reading

Waking the Power

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

This poem and reflection follow the poem and reflection How to Walk on Water.

Astronauts look back at the earth from the moon and see how tiny it is in relation to space, like a lifeboat on an endless ocean.  Today the lives on that boat are in great danger.  We have created a violent storm that threatens to sink us.  Our thoughts and desires have created the storm, expressed in the way of living our societies have promoted.

Humanity has caused this danger and humanity can prevent it, but not without a higher power of wisdom and creativity than we currently possess.  As Albert Einstein said, speaking of one aspect of the entire storm: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe…. A new type of thinking is essential if [humanity] is to survive and move toward higher levels.” (New York Times – May 25 1946, p.13 – ‘Atomic Education Urged by Einstein’)

The wisdom of the 12 Steps lays out a practical, tested way to transform human thinking and behavior. The first step we need is to acknowledge that our wisdom, our strength of will and our current level of thinking is inadequate to save us from the insanity that threatens to destroy our life—and this is true whether that insanity be addiction to alcohol or shopping or nuclear weapons or fossil fuels.

The assumption that we can fix ourselves can sink us.  People who are suicidal need higher power to attain a new way of seeing, understanding and functioning in their life.  They need the higher power of wise guides and psychological tools and spiritual practices to help them transform their consciousness and behavior.  It takes a higher power to save suicidal societies as well as individuals.

We need to change the way we live to keep life on earth afloat, we need to change governments, businesses and homes, and we need to change fast, but no material change will be possible without humanity changing its heart, mind and spirit sufficiently to transform our dominant culture.

The success of the 12 Steps depends on believing that a higher power can restore us to sanity and we by ourselves cannot, and then turning our will and our life over to the care of that higher power, however we define it.  The 11th Step is to increase our conscious connection to the higher power through meditation and prayer, seeking its guidance and the power to follow it.

Secular and spiritual mindfulness and meditation practices transform the brain in ways that neuroscience is able to document.  Thomas Keating co-founded the Christian forms of heartfulness and Centering Prayer, and he observed over decades that the real transformation they created was visible not as much in the inner experience as in the way people lived.

The fruits of mindfulness and meditation are the very changes we need in order to save life on earth: an evolution toward universal compassion and unconditional love based on a new perception of the oneness of all beings and all the earth.

This is what Gandhi saw released when people ‘reduced themselves to zero,’ as he did through his own contemplative practice.  It is the power that enabled him to change the thinking and behavior of the greatest culture the planet had yet seen, the British Empire.

Human consciousness has evolved in miraculous ways in the past, and we seem to be on the verge of the next leap.  The wisdom and power we need are in the boat with us even now, they are latent in every heart and mind, asleep in the stern while we are flailing desperately to avert disaster by our old way of thinking and working.  This poem is about waking the power we need. Continue reading

How to Walk on Water

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

Several years ago a New Yorker article explored how the brain comes up with new insights that seem miraculous—epiphanies that solve problems instantly that all our study and anxious thinking have never figured out.

We need such miracles right now.  We need them to find a way to work together as one people to solve one of the biggest threats to survival humanity has ever faced and one of the biggest threats to democracy our nation has ever faced.

It would feel like a miracle if we could address the climate crisis or pandemic or surge in global refugees or increasingly violent racial, economic and environmental injustices.  It would feel like a miracle if we could overcome our polarization.

Our generation needs to work miracles, and fast, so we need to be smart about it.  We need to understand how people have worked miracles in the past.

The New Yorker article talked about a contemplative master who had spent years practicing mindfulness and meditation.  He was part of a large scientific study where people were given a set of word problems to solve.  At first he was terrible at it as he strained to think.  Then he used his well-developed contemplative skill to let go of his thoughts and quiet his brain and open to his spiritual dimension, and suddenly he started solving problem after problem, better than anyone else in the study had been able to do.

The article reveals this as a pattern.  People hit an impasse and realize their way of thinking is not working.  They stop, let go and open, and whether immediately or at a random moment, insight comes in a flash.  It happens to Nobel Prize wining scientists in the shower or sitting on a bus, it happened to the wildfire-fighter Wag Dodge when a howling fifty foot wall of flame was seconds away from overtaking him.

Science confirms what spiritual masters of all traditions and cultures have known for thousands of years.  We have a source of knowing within us that is beyond our ordinary way of thinking, and we open to it and access it by changing our mode of being.  Meditation and mindfulness, contemplative prayer and heartfulness—these are practices designed to transform our mode of being and open us to higher wisdom and power.

We need miracles, so we need miracle workers.  We need people who will lead humanity to work collective miracles, so we need people who are skilled in the practices that transform consciousness and bring new insights.  We need you to do this, if you will, please.

We need to learn:

How to Walk on Water

After he sent the crowds he fed away,
and after his disciples left by boat,
he went up on the mountainside to pray.
He went to rest in God.  He went to float
calm inner seas and let the Spirit’s breath
and current turn his prow and guide his craft,
knowing the fore would always point to death,
knowing his fear would always point to aft.
His prayer was just a silent letting go,
trusting that what he emptied, God would fill.
Whether or not God did, he did not know
until he felt the Spirit’s forceful will
drive him back down from contemplation’s rock
with courage matching waves, and faith to walk.

Based on Matthew 14:22-33

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

The Role of Contemplative Practice in World Transformation

The amazing thing about this color is that it is always there, we just can’t see it when the leaves are busy with their summer work.  As Psalm 46 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” 
We each have our true color: the unique tint of the Spirit of life as it flows through the lens of our particular heart and mind.  Human society would be as beautifully transformed as a fall Vermont landscape if more of us could let that brilliant color show through. 
The Golden Room is the location of our true self and the Spirit within us, and the stillness and self-emptying of contemplative practice is the ideal way to reach that inner room and release its light. Then the Spirit becomes the guiding and empowering source of all our greening work in the world. 
Recently the Heartfulness Contemplative Training Circle in our church talked about what role Centering Prayer and contemplative practice play in the urgent practical crises we face, like influencing an election that will determine the fate of our democracy and the earth, or like uniting a culture that is polarized so that we can solve problems of social, economic and environmental injustice.
We need our best, most inspired and powerful work in a crisis of such magnitude.  All the religious traditions I know teach that work done from a place of spiritual grounding and connection is far more effective and more likely to lead to an unforeseen creative path forward. 
More importantly, as I often quote Gus Speth saying, “the transitions required can be achieved only in the context of what I will call the rise of a new consciousness…. a spiritual awakening —a transformation of the human heart.”
Gus also said, “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
The practical purpose of contemplative prayer is inherently God’s purpose, not ours, but we can observe what God’s purpose seems to be.  The arc of the spiritual universe bends toward the transformation of the human heart, leading to the transformation of the world into God’s realm of loving compassion, justice and peace on earth.  These transformations bring health, harmony and oneness.  They make possible the fulfillment of the Golden Rule and love of neighbor as our self as ethical laws governing every aspect of our lives, from small communities to the largest corporations.
Ken Wilber, Cynthia Bourgeault, Richard Rohr and countless others point out that contemplative practice is the path we need in order to make the transition as quickly as possible to a level of consciousness that sees from that place of oneness.
I have been rereading Hieromonk Damascene’s Christ the Eternal Tao, which is an Eastern Orthodox book about that path of transformation, and I have also been rereading Cynthia Bourgeault’s The Heart of Centering Prayer.
Here is a quote that comes at the end of Part I where Bourgeault has been giving a superb refresher course on Centering Prayer.  She is talking about “attention of the heart,” a phrase that comes from the Eastern Orthodox tradition and is also a major theme of Christ the Eternal Tao:
“Once you get the hang of it, attention of the heart allows you to be fully present to God, but at the same time fully present to the situation at hand, giving and taking from the spontaneity of your own authentic, surrendered presence.
“Again, this kind of presence is a capacity that has been developing in you as you gradually learn in Centering Prayer to withdraw your attention from its default subject/object positioning and rest in that diffuse, objectless awareness. As this capacity grows in you, it gradually takes shape as a felt center of gravity within you, the place where the pendulum of your being naturally comes to rest.  It’s not so much a place you pay attention to as a place you pay attention from….
“As I see it, the purpose of Centering Prayer is to deepen your relationship with God (and at the same time your own deepest self) in that bandwidth of formless, objectless awareness that is the foundation of nondual consciousness.  There you discover that you, God and the world ‘out there’ are not separate entities, but flow together seamlessly in an unbreakable dynamism of self-giving love, which is the true nature of reality and the ground of everything…. Centering Prayer [is] both a foundation and an access route to the stabilization of nondual consciousness.”
The change of consciousness that is the prerequisite to solve our most dire crises today is nondual, not as an intellectual and theoretical belief in oneness, but as Bourgeaut defines nonduality: “You see oneness because you see from oneness.”
We cannot know what creative solutions we will find from a new level of consciousness until we get there and see from its perspective.  Gandhi as a young barrister could never have imagined what Gandhi as a mature Mahatma would come to understand and do after years of both contemplative spiritual practice and fully engaged social action.  That barrister could never have overturned the most powerful empire the world had ever seen, as the Mahatma did.
This is the kind of Spirit-led creative action we need now.  It is our hope for survival.  Every minute that you spend in Centering Prayer or meditation or other contemplative practices is opening you to the possibility of just the guidance and power you need in order to use your gifts most effectively to transform the world.
OK…now forget all that, because the way to receive that spiritual help is to self-empty, to come to contemplative practice with no agenda other than to make yourself fully available to God’s loving presence and transforming action.  We need to let go of our will and our idea of what ideally will happen, and let the Spirit work in its own way in its own good time, which may be nothing like what we could imagine.  In fact, it may look like nothing is happening.  We need to trust and keep practicing in order to keep the connection to the Spirit flowing.
So sit yourself down and simply let go of one thought at a time, over and over and over for twenty minutes, the humble, seemingly insignificant path of self-emptying prayer that leads toward God’s transformation of your heart and the transformation of the world.
For an overview of some Christian contemplative practices including Centering Prayer click here:
and click here to find many wonderful videos from many of the leading teachers.

Our Task

If you haven’t seen this beautiful short film, please give yourself a treat and spend a half hour immersed in its quiet drama and wisdom.  You will be glad you did.  It puts the rest of this post in proper perspective.  The earth is tiny, it is our one and only home, and we will survive only if humanity realizes this and acts as one people, at one with our planet, making it a safe, healthy home equally for all.  If we can undergo that transformation of our heart and consciousness, as these three astronauts did, we will transform the world.

 

Our Task by Thomas Cary Kinder

Dedicated to Gus Speth, who formulated the wisdom on which this post is based in his essay in The Coming Transformation: Values to Sustain Human and Natural Communities. The concept and structure of sections i. through vi. are his, the words are mine.

Prelude: We Responded

Let future descendants of the human race say
that when our generation saw the unfolding ruin
of the stable earth that had made life possible
and the rising threat to the free,
just, equal, democratic societies
that humanity had evolved over hundreds of years,
we responded by laying down our lives to save
all that goodness, and to become better.

i. We Shared Our Awareness of the Threat

We were crisis-driven, and aware that to change course
we needed to change hearts and minds.
We were aware that our established ways had failed
and the spiritual wisdom of the right way to live
had become not an ancient distant dream
but an urgent practical necessity.
We saw that the past visions of an ideal future
had to be fulfilled in our present moment
or life on earth would not survive.
We used our voices, nonviolent action
and all forms of art
to raise awareness of the threats
and to unite ourselves
in shared compassion and concern.

ii. We Chose Wise Leaders

The leaders we followed sought not self-aggrandizement
or partisan advancement, but humble wisdom,
aware that no one person or side could solve this alone,
that we needed to work together across divides,
and that we needed more than human power,
we needed a higher power, the spirit of life,
the way of nature within and around us, to help us evolve.
Collective wisdom showed each practical step of the path;
courageous leaders led us boldly down it.

iii. We Gained New Vision and a New Story

We realized humanity could not make needed changes
without a changed consciousness that could see our oneness,
an enlightened way of perceiving ourselves and all life and earth,
a deeper understanding of what the meaning of life is
and what humanity could become.  We needed to discover
how we could fulfill as a society the ideal love of neighbor
that spiritual and philosophical leaders had taught
for three thousand years. We needed a new story
of the journey of the universe rooted in ancient traditions,
letting their shared dreams guide and inspire us,
and tapping into advanced social, physical and life sciences,
opening doors of pragmatic possibilities unimagined until now.

iv. We Formed a United Movement toward a Shared Goal

We saw ourselves as one people on a journey
out of exile across a wilderness to a new Promised Land.
We saw that we were working toward the same goal,
whether our first concern was one ecosystem or another,
one cause of justice or another, one tribe or another,
we were one people, one movement,
and we needed one another.
We could get there only as one.

v. We Communicated Compellingly

We used all the skill and technology that we had.
We communicated the new positive vision and story,
the urgent calls for action, tirelessly, creatively, by word of mouth,
by example, by broadcast and book, by worldwide web.
We shouted it from rooftops, from street corners,
from every pulpit and lectern. Children found their voice.
They led when adults remained dumb.

vi. We Created Working Models, Living into the Vision

We lifted up existing models.  We created new models.
We began living as if already in the Promised Land,
as if already one, as if already nonviolent, harmonious,
just, equal, compassionate, loving, kind.
We began building a golden civilization
brick by brick by the golden rule
and we did not stop until the ancient dream at last
stood gleaming on a restored and rejoicing earth.

Postlude: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for…”

Let future generations look back from that renewed world
and say that we were the ones
who made the change, who made it possible,
who threw off the shackles of selfishness, of ego,
of competitive pride and greed,
and who took the leap into the realm of love
that humanity was born to create.
Let them say that the crises of 2020
were the final labor pains of a new world,
the final push.

That urgent push is our task.

The Sound of Truth

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

We feel inspired by stories of people who overcome obstacles to free their voice.  Think of Helen Keller or Frederick Douglass.  Think of Greta Thunberg rising out of a mute depression to launch her climate protest.  Think of all the new voices emerging in the Black Lives Matter protests across America speaking for those who can no longer breathe.

These stories are heroic and uplifting, but there are the other stories, often preludes to those triumphs, that are tragic.

Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring warned of a day when song birds would be extinct because of human production and use of toxic chemicals.  The environmental movement and crucial regulations slowed the die-off she saw taking place, but sixty years later we are hearing fewer songbirds by a third and even fifty percent in some regions due mainly to pollution, habitat destruction and climate change.  Long standing environmental safeguards are rapidly being undermined.  We are accelerating toward that awful total silence.

Systemic injustice against other people imposes another tragic stifling.  Racism has deprived people of equal education and forced them into poverty and turned a cold heart away from their cries.

Voter suppression is one of the most unethical, outrageous, horrific acts of silencing.  It is hard to believe that politicians are getting away with this blatantly discriminatory abuse of power, but they are, and in many states.

Some of us have a difficult time speaking our truth for psychological reasons—in fact public speaking is right up there with death as one of our greatest fears.  Yet if we have the privileges of being heard when we speak and being able to vote without obstruction, we have a moral duty to use our voice and our vote on behalf of those who have been silenced.

Reparations usually refers to paying back the billions of dollars stolen from the African American and Native American peoples, but giving silenced citizens equal and easy access to vote is also a form of reparation.

You can find short descriptions of eight organizations that are working against voter suppression here.  There are other organizations as well, including excellent local and state groups.  Please act right now to support one or more of them, and please use your voice and vote.

Humanity and our democracy both are at a turning point with survival at stake, and the only way we are going to find our way forward is if we each listen to our deepest, heart’s core, to the spirit of life within us, and speak it. We need to listen especially to those who have been silenced.  Their cries of pain are the feedback we most need to heed.

Only when all have been given equal voice can we hear the sound of our complete collective truth and discern the direction that the spirit is calling humanity to take.

Thank you for doing your part.

The Sound of Truth

Rose breasted grosbeak whistles out its trill
and shines a scarlet sign against blue sky
high in the leafing beech.  It stands me still
despite onslaught of eager dog, mayfly
and never stopping thoughts.  A song so true
clearly expressed—repeats with variation:
is that not what we all are called to do,
to sing our part, one choir of all creation?
How long will you stay furtive, quelled by fear
or dulled by doubt from full rose breasted voice?
Someone is walking by who needs to hear,
who needs your truth right now.  Lament, rejoice,
share news of fuzzy sweet green buds you found.
My day was saved by one such honest sound.

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

If you had only 60 days to save the world…

Less than 60 days now…

I invite you to look deeply into this photograph.  I’ll reflect on it below.

The spirit of life is in every cell of this morning glory with its drive to survive and thrive.  The spirit of life is in the roots and leaves and it is especially in the golden heart of the flower where the seeds of the future take shape.  Solutions to life-threatening problems evolve in that golden room such as innovations the plant must undertake to deal with a changing climate or persistent virus. 

The innovations humanity needs to undergo are not genetic, but they, too, need to come from our heart’s core.  That is the place within us each where the spirit of life inspires the collective evolution of human consciousness to meet our life-threatening problems.  We need to look deeply into that golden room, listen to the still small voice of the spirit and act on what it guides and empowers us each to do.  That is our greatest source of hope for this time.

Thousands of registered Life Planners around the world begin each life plan by asking three questions in the EVOKE process that my brother, George Kinder, developed:

  1. I want you to imagine that you are financially secure, that you have enough money [and time] to take care of your needs, now and in the future. The question is…how would you live your life? Would you change anything? Let yourself go. Don’t hold back on your dreams.  Describe a life that is complete, that is richly yours.
  2. This time you visit your doctor who tells you that you have only 5 – 10 years left to live. The good part is that you won’t ever feel sick. The bad news is that you will have no notice of the moment of your death. What will you do in the time you have remaining to live?   Will you change your life and how will you do it?
  3. This time your doctor shocks you with the news that you have only one day left to live. Notice what feelings arise as you confront your very real mortality. Ask yourself:  What did I miss? Who did I not get to be? What did I not get to do?

Today Americans need to reframe that second question.  Instead of having five years to live, we have less than 60 days to save our democracy and save the world.  We have until Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020.  Many people on both sides are framing this election as a matter of life and death, and I believe they are right.

So the urgent Life Planning question now is, if you have only until November 3rd to save our democracy and the world, what will you do in the time you have remaining?  Will you change your life, and how will you do it?

Take a few minutes or an hour to think about that, and then if you feel inspired, please share with us your intention for these days by clicking on the Comment button below and writing in the “Leave a Reply” box that will appear.

Then consider the third question, once again reframed for our situation.  The shock is not that you have one day to live, the shock is that you wake up on November 4th and learn that the side lost that you believe could have saved our democracy and world.  Take a minute of mindfulness to note carefully the painful feelings that arise.  Then ask yourself: What more do I wish I had given?  What more do I wish I had done?

The original 3 Questions have both spiritual depth and practical power.  George Kinder is a Buddhist teacher, a student of psychology and literature and the first winner of the Financial Planning Association’s Heart of Financial Planning Award.  He has been named “One of the top Icons & Innovators in the financial planning industry,” and “The first of 15 transformational advisors whose vision most changed the industry,” and he has been inducted into the Financial Planning Magazine Hall of Fame.

Accolades have come to him for one reason: these three questions and the actions we take based on our answers have the power to change our lives, and have done so for tens of thousands of people.  They lead us to our deepest heart’s core to find what the spirit of life is calling us to do and be.  They release our creative and entrepreneurial gifts.  They motivate us to help life around us improve and evolve in ways that lead to greater life and love—exactly what you would expect when the spirit of life is freely flowing through us.  The results of these questions have changed the world.  Now, perhaps, they can save it.

I hope and pray that you will listen to your heart’s core and that you will make the changes necessary to give all the time, energy and resources you can in this time of greatest need.  Please use the days left before November 3rd to save our democracy and world.

If you have questions about how to fulfill what you feel called to do, feel free to use the comment feature below and ask for what you need. Thank you!

 

This Website’s Purpose Redefined for a New Time

Dear Readers,

The Welcome Page of this website now has a new statement of purpose.  You can read it here.  Please use the share buttons at the bottom of the page if you think people you know would be interested in this.  Thank you!

This Website’s Purpose

Summary:

“Who is there big enough to love the whole planet? We must find such people for the next society.”  E. B. White, “Intimations,” December 1941

This website has a passionate purpose: to help us become big enough to love the whole planet, not just in theory but in practice.  It seeks to help us become citizens who have the vision and the will to create the next society that is founded on a shared love of the whole world.

The passion behind this website is the same that you can hear in Greta Thunberg’s voice, or the Black Lives Matter protests.  We have reached a crisis point.  We have no more time, we cannot pass this on to any future generation.

There will be no future generations if our generation does not reply to E. B. White’s question, “Who is there big enough?” with the answer, “We are!”  But how can we become such people, and how can we change the world quickly enough?

I hope you will find inspiration, support and practical help for accomplishing that here.

The Call to Transform

E. B. White was by far not the only voice ever to call us to transform ourselves to a more enlightened consciousness that can see the true oneness of all life and to transform the world into a place of oneness and love of neighbor as self.

The wisest humans of every culture and spiritual tradition have called on humanity to make this transformation.  The voices began at least twenty-five hundred years ago at the dawning of the Axial Age and have continued with increasing urgency—Greek philosophers, the Hebrew prophets, Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu teachers, Christ and the contemplative Christian tradition, Sufis and indigenous wisdom-keepers.  In the 20th Century Albert Einstein, Dorothy Day, the Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were only a few of the many who cried out for our transformation.

Today Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousefzai, Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama, Joanna Macy and Mary Evelyn Tucker and thousands more are telling us it is now or never—we have reached the crisis point where human consciousness and society must undergo this transformation or face the real possibility of extinction.

Gus Speth sums this crucial wisdom up beautifully in his book The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability.  Speth co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council and World Resources Institute.  He Chaired President Carter’s Council on Environmental Quality.  He was Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.  Here is what he says:

“Many of our deepest thinkers and many of those most familiar with the scale of the challenges we face have concluded that the transitions required can be achieved only in the context of what I will call the rise of a new consciousness. For some it is a spiritual awakening —a transformation of the human heart. For others it is a more intellectual process of coming to see the world anew and deeply embracing the emerging ethic of the environment and the old ethic of what it means to love thy neighbor as thyself. But for all it involves major cultural change and a reorientation of what society values and prizes most highly.”  (To read similar words from others click here.)

We have very little time.  The next decade is our chance to limit the scale of the environmental crisis and create a sustainable, just and peaceful global society.  Much excellent, detailed work has been done to envision what a healthy civilization and planet would require.  Bringing about world transformation seems achievable, but as Gus Speth says, “only in the context of…a new consciousness.”

We may elect leaders who will work on world transformation, but for them to have the power to overcome opposition and make the changes we need will require a new dominant cultural consciousness.  Building that support and political will seems like the harder task.

This website will focus especially on how we can transform our individual consciousness, the foundation for cultural and world transformation.

The co-founder of Centering Prayer, Thomas Keating, says, “If one is truly transformed, one can walk down the street, drink a cup of tea or shake hands with somebody and be pouring divine life into the world…. The essential thing…is the transformation of one’s own consciousness.”  (Mystery of Christ p. 275)

“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself…. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation…”  Hua Hu Ching 75, attributed to Lao Tzu 

“If you want a golden civilization, you must start with what is golden inside of you. If you want a civilization that will thrive for a thousand years, you must start with what is timeless inside of you.”  George Kinder, A Golden Civilization and a Map of Mindfulness

How Can New Consciousness Evolve Now?

The Tree Sprouts New Branches, Human Consciousness Evolves, the World Is Transformed

One year there was solid bark, the next year a new branch had burst through where no one could have expected it.

I was clearing a field once and liked where a maple tree was growing, but it had been shaped by the old thicket and was bent over toward the light.  A neighbor knew trees better than I did and insisted I was foolish to think it would straighten up and flourish, but I was happy in my foolish hope and left it.

He was right, the old trunk did not change direction entirely, but it sprouted a new branch like the one above, and that branch grew straight up and soon became the new lead trunk.  The old, bent trunk diminished to be a side branch.

We face a crisis in human evolution that threatens to destroy the world that has carried us to where we are today.  We are in danger of turning our planet into a habitat in which humans cannot survive and, along the way there, turning our civilization into a crucible of survivalist fear and violence in which the human spirit cannot thrive.

We do not have at this time the collective will to change our ways and act for the long term well being of our habitat.  We do not take the necessary actions as a society even when we hear the urgent cry of scientists, see the first stages begin of the suffering to come and acknowledge the wisdom of the religious traditions calling us to care and act.

Our hope is that the human spirit can rapidly evolve to have that collective will.

We know it is possible because humanity has evolved through crisis points in the past.  Whole new branches of insight and understanding and new ways of living have sprung from the solid bark of old ways.

We have hope, and that hope resides in our hearing the calling within our hearts as we look at what is happening in the world, and then exploring where that calling leads.  The hope is for our individual transformation that will give us the wisdom and power to transform the world. Continue reading

They Shall Run and Not be Weary, They Shall Walk and Not Faint

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

 

This is the second poem I am posting in honor of Rep. John Lewis and the Rev. C. T. Vivian who both died in Atlanta on July 17, 2020. The other was “In the Shadow of Absence” and by clicking there you can read an introduction relating to this poem as well.  I talk there about Lewis, Vivian and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement .  I talk especially about Grace Paley whose death moved me to write that poem.

I wrote this sonnet after the death of the Rev. William Sloane Coffin. It is a cliché to call a prophet a lion.  The late Donald Hall would probably have called it a Dead Metaphor, but the metaphor was alive and well as long as Bill was, and from what I have read and seen on film it lived in John Lewis and C. T. Vivian.  If you want to see a living lion, watch this short video of the Rev. Vivian confronting Sheriff Bull Clark in Selma, Alabama:

Or you can see a living lion here in the Rev. William Sloane Coffin even after he had a stroke:

This poem, “They Shall Run and Not be Weary, They Shall Walk and Not Faint,” connects Coffin (and Lewis and Vivian and all lions) to the Hebrew prophets.  The title is a quote from the prophet Isaiah.  The poem uses a Hebrew word, ruach, which has three meanings, the same as the Greek word pneuma.  It means breath, wind and spirit.  Here are two passages that show how it is used in the Hebrew scriptures:

“The Ruach of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”
(Genesis 1:2)

“Behold, my Servant whom I uphold…I have put my Ruach upon him.”
(Isaiah 42:1)

There is no question that Lewis and Vivian, and Paley and Coffin, were extraordinary people, but what made them extraordinary was the ruach that filled them and flowed through them, and they would insist that it can fill us each.

The hope of the world that Bill talks about in the video above is that the same spirit will fill Jews and Muslims and Christians and people of all faiths and no faith—the hope of the world rests in humans who are filled with the spirit of love and compassion, justice and peace, the spirit of nonviolence that forms beloved community out of conflict and chaos.

The power that formed the earth and informed the prophets wants to work through us to save the earth and save democracy, equity and freedom, values and ideals based on the Golden Rule that ruach has been causing to evolve in humanity for millennia because they are necessary for life to flourish on earth.

Please rise to this moment.  Please be as much of a lion as you can in the place and with the life given you.  Trust in the spirit to carry you in your weariness.  Trust that if you let it flow through you, you will not faint or fall, you will fly.  Trust that we can do far more than we can even imagine with this power in us.  So say all the lions before us, and they prove it so.

They Shall Run and Not be Weary, They Shall Walk and Not Faint
(after hearing that the Rev. William Sloane Coffin had died)

Have you not known? Have you not heard? Adonai is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth….giving power to the faint, and strength to the powerless…. those who wait for Adonai shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40:28-31

What happens to old lions when they die?
This morning I looked up above the hill
behind my house and learned.  The lions fly.
I saw a golden eagle spread and fill
his wings with ruach—spirit, wind and breath.
I watched him circling up and up to soar
above the shadowed valley of his death,
echoing still with his last ringing roar.
Nothing is lost in God.  Have you not known?
Have you not heard?  God gives the weak great power
when strong ones fall exhausted to the bone.
Our old guard lion dies.  Let us not cower.
Those trusting God mount up on eagle wings.
Old spirit fills new prophets.  On it rings.

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

In the Shadow of Absence

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

 

I am posting this poem in honor of Rep. John Lewis and the Rev. C. T. Vivian who both died in Atlanta on July 17, 2020.  This is a sonnet in free verse form that I wrote when I heard that my neighbor, the author and activist, Grace Paley, had died.  I know people in Atlanta are feeling this kind of loss of someone near and dear to them, and throughout America and the world.

I was only thirteen when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.  I participated in the march of protest, grief and rage through my small town in Ohio, but at the time my impression of the Civil Rights Movement came through my friends and through snippets on national television news.  I could name only three or four Civil Rights Movement leaders.

I learned more in high school and college but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that John Lewis, C. T. Vivian and so many other inspiring heroes came alive to me when I watched Eyes on the Prize.  (You can stream all fourteen episodes and download a study guide for free by clicking here. I highly recommend it as important historical background to the movement for social, economic and environmental justice today, and as a deeply moving experience.)

The women of the movement whom I had not known particularly moved me, including Diane Nash, Myrlie Evers and Fanny Lou Hamer, among others.  Many more men stood out for me, as well besides Lewis and Vivian, like the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.  The intensity and intimacy of Eyes on the Prize made these all feel near and dear to me, the way I felt about Grace.

We have lost two at once now and feel that grief, but Lewis and Vivian died with hope in their hearts because at this very moment people as heroic and inspiring as they were are rising in a movement that is fighting not only for individual issues like defunding police or climate legislation but for what King called “a revolution of values,” a “restructuring of society” built on social, economic and environmental justice.  It is fighting for the survival of our democracy and democratic ideals, and for the survival of humanity and all living species.

This is the greatest social movement the world has ever seen and the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement and Peace Movement and all the liberation movements of the mid-Twentieth Century are the reason it exists.  We owe them much, so it is important to take the time now to honor them and grieve their loss and let their memory inspire us to carry on the struggle, giving our all as they gave theirs.

I was lucky enough to serve for many years as the pastor in the Vermont village where Grace Paley lived.  We worked on peace and justice campaigns together and we shared poetry (although she was disgusted by my choice of the sonnet form, which is why I disguised “In the Shadow of Absence” as free verse—for my excuse for writing sonnets click here).

I loved most our regular casual encounters at the Post Office or concerts or Town Meeting because even when she was struggling she was full of warmth and love and light.

One of my favorite stories about her was told at her memorial service in the Thetford Hill church.  Someone found her late in her life bending over and backing out of a public restroom.  It was a comic position, and knowing her sense of humor the person laughed and asked her what she was doing.  She said her feet had been all muddy and she was cleaning the floor as she came out so that an underpaid custodian would not have to do it.  It was a matter to her of both courtesy and justice.  She was generous-hearted, truly great hearted,  and I am among the masses that miss her. Continue reading

Adoring You

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

This poem follows “Perfect in Her Eyes,” and the introduction to that poem would be helpful to read in this context.  The two sonnets were written many years apart, but themes tend to recur.  In this case the connection between them is imagining how much joy the spirit of life must get out of all its very different manifestations.

It is important to let our share of that great joy rise to consciousness now when the survival of life on earth depends on our collective will to love and save it.

I wrote “Adoring You” almost twenty years ago when I was first trying the sonnet form.  The poem came out of two close encounters in nature—watching an otter play from fifty feet away and then watching a beaver that crossed my path twenty feet in front of me.  I was close enough to hear its teeth gnawing the wood and the chips falling on the ground.  I stood still as it took down a tree and struggled to haul it back to the river.  I saw the tree get hung up and the beaver do what the poem describes.

The older I get the more I marvel at the variety in nature and the vast differences in strategies for survival or for satisfaction of the basic drives that we all share.  The milkweed with its amazing flower, pod and seed, contrasted with the little milkweed beetles or monarch butterflies that depend on it for their own survival and satisfaction.

I love Northern Woodlands magazine—for years it has been the only publication I read cover to cover.  Some of my favorite articles are about the tiny lives of the woods and waters, like this one about caddisflies, or this one about the golden tortoise beetle larvae fecal shield.

The most fascinating creatures of all, of course, are humans.  My father fondly observed people’s foibles and follies, saying dryly, “There’s a little human nature in all of us.”  I know people who frolic through life like otters and others who plod like beavers, and many more who are sometimes one and sometimes the other.  Whoever you are and whatever your approach to life may be in any given hour, please take this poem to heart.  The spirit of life is…

Adoring You

An otter swims the beaver pond at night,
not going anywhere, not fishing, just
splashing and somersaulting, feeling light
and fast, fulfilling muscles’ joyous lust.
Meanwhile the beaver plods across the dam.
His tusks gnaw hard heartwood to carve their V.
He lugs out cut-down trees.  They snag and jam.
He pauses, turns.  He stands.  He jerks them free.
Can you imagine a god that loves both these—
the otter celebrating pond and power,
the beaver struggling to catch streams with trees?
I think God loves the good use of an hour,
adoring spirit’s flow through every child
who tames the world with work or swims it wild.

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

Perfect in Her Eyes

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

I wrote in my introduction to the poem “Practical Theology,”

The Rev. William Sloane Coffin was the chaplain at Yale when he became famous for his courageous words and actions as a leader of the Civil Rights and Peace Movements.  Bill welcomed conversations with students who were turning away from the church.  He would ask them to tell him about the God they didn’t believe in anymore—usually an old white man on the throne who was hateful, wrathful and vengeful toward any who displeased him or failed to believe in him.  Then Bill would surprise them by telling them he didn’t believe in that God either.

The God that Bill believed in, and that I believe in, is a God whose love is like the most generous-hearted, charitable, unselfish human love, only even more universal and unconditional.  “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  (I John 4:16b)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

It is a huge diminishment to limit that love to an ideal father’s.  The scriptures compare it to a mother hen’s love and in this poem, “Perfect in Her Eyes,” it is a young girl’s love.

“God” does not need to mean a personal being, it can be understood as the force that created the universe and sparked into existence the first living cells and that flows through all life as a sacred way of love and life and light.  God is a stream of living water that is the source of all life, all inspired creativity and growth, all justice, equality and peace, all beloved, inclusive community, all compassion and mercy and forgiveness.

The Twelve Step tradition wisely recognizes that we can think of this higher power in any way that works for us.  The important thing is to come to believe that it exists, and to place our will and our life in its care.  We release the canoe of our being into the flow of its stream and find that it will not only carry us through life but also comfort our bumps and free us from our snags.

I talked about kenosis, metanoia and agape in my introduction to “Practical Theology.”

Continue reading

Practical Theology

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

It’s bad enough that the majority of people I know have given up on the church, but it feels much worse when they think that I am a defender of the church that they disdain.

The Rev. William Sloane Coffin was the chaplain at Yale when he became famous for his courageous words and actions as a leader of the Civil Rights and Peace Movements.  Bill welcomed conversations with students who were turning away from the church.  He would ask them to tell him about the God they didn’t believe in anymore—usually an old white man on the throne who was hateful, wrathful and vengeful toward any who displeased him or failed to believe in him.  Then Bill would surprise them by telling them he didn’t believe in that God either.

And neither do I.  Nor do I see the purpose of the church or the Christian spiritual path as being about believing in Christ.  The purpose is to be Christ, not believe in him.  The purpose is to cultivate in us the same Spirit-filled heart and mind that moved him to love and serve and sacrifice to create the realm of God on earth, meaning a society founded on the principles of universal oneness, of unconditional compassion, mercy and love, of the Golden Rule, applied to governments and the marketplace as much as to individuals.

The spiritual path or Way of Christ that I teach is about personal transformation and world transformation, in both cases evolving toward the ideal that Christ taught and represented.  This ideal is the same that every major positive religion and philosophy teaches.  You can see the social ideal laid out beautifully in the Global Ethic of the Parliament of the World’s Religions that representatives of dozens of spiritual traditions have endorsed.

What we need to believe is that transformation comes through the higher power and sacred Way that an authentic spiritual path guides us to follow.  The path’s first principle is that we need to surrender the will of our ego and allow the Spirit to lead it.  This is the hardest part of the path.  It requires a daily, moment by moment life-long practice.

I teach in the contemplative Christian tradition. I use three ancient Greek words to describe the path of personal transformation that leads to having the heart and mind of Christ and being one with God and all creation. Continue reading

Even Here God May Be Found and Served

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

People in my congregation are trying to discern how they can best serve in this crucial moment in history—how to choose among all the ways and places they could invest their gifts and time.  This post is one of a series reflecting on that question from different angles.   In an earlier related sonnet post, “To the Land.” I wrote:

This poem talks literally about part of my own path to new vision, but it is speaking metaphorically about all our different paths.  We do not all find our place of vision in nature, but we all have a land, a place deep within us, a sacred glade, a secret room—a place we reach through some inner journey, some form of quieting that enables us to hear the still, small voice, the silent stirring that is the spirit of life speaking to us the words we need.  The world urgently needs us to listen now, and to live by what we hear, and to share what we learn.  So whatever form this takes for you, I urge you to go [to that land.]

The poem “Even Here God May Be Found and Served” is a difficult one for me.  It feels confessional and defensive because someone I respected attacked me for choosing to live and serve in a rural, natural setting.

I know that I am not alone in this choice, that I am part of a long and, at times, honored tradition of writers and spiritual teachers—from the ancient Chinese wilderness poets like Han Shan to my fellow Ohio-Vermonter, David Budbill (1940-2016), or, in the Christian line, from St. Anthony to St. Francis to Thomas Merton.

Yet I felt like a failure when I finally gave up my years-long attempt to live and serve in urban settings and retreated to these wooded hills and pastoral village churches.  I feel uncomfortable with my comfort here when I look at areas that are more on the front line of the racial, economic and environmental injustice I am trying to reform.

A wise 90 year old parishioner heard me wrestling with this once and spoke sternly saying that I needed to live where I lived in order to be able to serve as I served.  I think she was right, but I am not sure I will ever be completely free of a nagging counter-argument.

It is hard to spend an hour in meditation or prayer when there is work I could be doing to help people directly.  Some days I cut out that contemplative time.  The result is always that I am not my best self, and the longer I spend away from my place of inner connecting and centering, the more compulsive and out of balance my work and life become.

I have found the same to be true of where I live: some plants need shade—transplant them to full sun and they wilt.

Others need sun and can’t tolerate shade: a Catholic priest was assigned to a rural parish.  He considered it a waste of his life.  He felt strongly called to engage in an urban, social justice, direct-service ministry.  He complained bitterly to God and to his colleagues.  People tried to comfort him saying, “Even here God may be found and served.”  They were right, but not for him.  His anger subsided into depression, and his parish suffered from his suffering. 

He had the same problem I did in reverse, but I doubt that he felt like a failure when he finally was placed in the setting where he was at home.  I doubt he felt he had to defend his heart’s clear calling and need.  Our culture has a bias of action over contemplation and urban over rural.

As I said in my introduction to “To the Land,” the world urgently needs us to listen right now.  It needs us to find the place where we are called to serve and pour ourselves into it.  The right place is different for us each.  We need to find our own because that is where our positive energy will be nourished and sustained.

Wherever that is for you, you will find it absolutely true that… Continue reading

To the Land

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

We may live in a polarized society but one thing that unites most of us is the perception that many of our social systems have failed to provide the life of our ideals and dreams.  They have proven unsustainable and left the vast majority of people economically and environmentally insecure and caused many groups of people to suffer chronic injustice.  We need a new vision that can unite us and lead us forward.

The new vision we need is not a campaign slogan, it is not an -ism, it is a way of seeing humanity and our place on earth anew.  We need the vision of oneness and sustainable social goodness that the great saints, prophets and philosophers of all traditions have tried to help us attain.  We need the transformation of human consciousness that they underwent and showed is possible for us all.

Who is the “we” that needs this?  It is not just humanity, not just all living species who are endangered by human activity, it is life itself, the whole project of life on earth beginning with the first living cells billions of years ago and flowing on into the potential lives of billions of years to come.  If you believe in a creator God, or a universal force of love and life and light that sparks evolution, that spirit would be part of the “we,” too.

The good news is that this collective “we” of life wants to live, and all successful life-forms have programmed into themselves the ability to adapt and evolve.  Human consciousness has proven its ability to do so many times, for instance in the Axial Age when Greek philosophers, artists and writers, Hebrew prophets and the founders of the great Asian religions reflected a major world-wide advance, or in the 17th Century dawning of the Age of Enlightenment.

We have within us the potential to grow rapidly in order to survive and thrive, and we need to fulfill that potential now.  How can we do it?

This poem talks literally about part of my own path to new vision, but it is speaking metaphorically about all our different paths.  We do not all find our place of vision in nature, but we all have a land, a place deep within us, a sacred glade, a secret room—a place we reach through some inner journey, some form of quieting that enables us to hear the still, small voice, the silent stirring that is the spirit of life speaking to us the words we need.

The world urgently needs us to listen now, and to live by what we hear, and to share what we learn.  So whatever form this takes for you, I urge you to go Continue reading

As the Hart Panteth After the Water Brooks, So Panteth My Soul

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

This sonnet is dedicated to: my dear boyhood friend, Bob McPhee; my cousin and companion in countless hours in the fields and woods of his farm, Duncan Kinder; and my friend and colleague the Rev. Dr. Michael Caldwell. They each have been with me on the journeys the poem describes.

Many people have found great comfort out in gardens, parks, fields or woods during this pandemic.  Wild or semi-wild nature has always been a source of solace and spiritual connection for me, a place of playfulness and creative inspiration as well as work.  Now I long for it and need my daily immersions in it more than ever.

The title of the poem is taken from the first line of Psalm 42 in the beautiful King James Version.  I have laid the poem out as free verse, but it is a conventional, law-abiding sonnet if you track the feet and rhymes.  I hear it and feel it as free verse, with the rhythms below the surface like cricket sound or a stream flowing on the edge of consciousness.

As the Hart Panteth After the Water Brooks,
So Panteth My Soul
Psalm 42

A boy escapes
a hot Ohio field,
the gate, high arched white oaks;
cool ferns, the floor.
He feels shade change him,
heat and glare-hurts healed,
as if he had passed
through a magic door.
He hears the soothing sound
of falling stream.
It draws him in,
it draws forth his own songs.
Wonder and play unfold,
a waking dream,
yet true, and safe,
a place where he belongs.

A man escapes to woods
from fields of stress
and though he makes no dam
of stream-dug stone
nor warpaints face with bloodroot,
still no less
does he feel healed, safe, true,
this place his own.
Deer pant for cooling streams,
so sings the Psalm.
His heart is always
longing for this calm.

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

The Flesh Made Word

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

At the end of the excellent TED Talk below Ibram X. Kendi says what Lin Manuel Miranda says at the end of his emotional sonnet responding to the Orlando mass shooting (also below): love is what is going to change and save this world, love is what must rule the ethics and practical policies and politics of our world if we are to survive.

The “revolution of values” that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus said we need is a revolution of love, and the Dalai Lama’s “revolution of compassion” is the kind of love they meant.

This poem is about the way the revolution begins.  It starts in the heart with a particular love of neighbor as our own self, an intimate oneness, whether with a person or pet or place or community or form of God, and then it overflows into the world.

EB White wrote at the start of World War II, “Who is there big enough to love the whole planet?  We must find such people for the next society.”

We must make that next society now, but a compassionate oneness with every person, creature and corner of the planet can happen only if our love is grounded in the part of the world that is within and around us.  It begins in the flesh.

In the Gospel of John it says that the Word was made flesh. Through the alchemy of love our flesh is made a life-changing, world transforming word.

The Flesh Made Word

Come hold me close and let us both be still
while all the world around us falls apart.
Come kneel beside the spring we share and fill
with evening breeze the cup that is our heart.
Come let us form one small and holy thing,
a summer garden, winter fire, walled tight,
a home where, while it storms outside, we sing
and cook and touch, we meditate and write.
Come, let our falls and false walls heal and then
go—two made one—to take all we have found
within this blesséd Edenistic den
and let earth hear again, through us, the sound,
the voice of love’s creative, cosmic word
reversing death wherever it is heard.

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

Fiddling While We Burn

[The text of this sonnet is printed below.]

I wrote this sonnet years ago as many problems were increasing—poverty and economic inequity, racism and religious nationalism, militarism and environmental destruction—and too few people seemed aware of the threat to our society and world.

The poem asks, “How long before the people feel the heat?”

The good news is that millions of people are waking up to what is happening and are rising up to demand human civilization change.

We cannot let up.  The transformation needed is more than any government alone can solve, as Greta Thunberg and the Rev. William Barber and countless others are saying.  Greta says, “The climate and ecological crisis cannot be solved within today’s political and economic systems,” she said. “That isn’t an opinion. That’s a fact.”

Yes, it is absolutely crucial to elect new leaders this year at every level of government who will work for change, but the global arson that has been accumulating power and consuming the earth for decades requires a fire brigade that is hundreds of millions strong, dedicating their time, talents and resources to creating a sustainable and just civilization and restoring the earth.  We need to make up our minds that this will be our work beyond this election and as long as we live.  We need to make working together toward this new world a joyous, hopeful part of our daily lives.

It is not enough simply to feel the heat. We need to wage a revolution of values, we need to legislate public policies and regulations based on the principles of compassion, the Golden Rule, the love of neighbor and the recognition of our oneness—that everyone and every creature on earth is our neighbor.

So it is urgent that we stop “fiddling while we burn” and spread this revolution of values.  Thank you for doing your part!

Continue reading