Monday, June 23, 2014

Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning

Sunday morning’s early light,
meadow lark on the rise
cotoneaster, feverfew,
wild thyme and bramble rose.

Step by step, each to each
to where the other goes:
hymnals and unison
seated in rows.
And I who walk behind them
to the valley down below
must trust in common wonders
and hope that it might be so.

Noonday shadows at their feet
mistle thrush in the hedge
hillsides and riversides,
saxifrage and sedge.

Pace by pace, side by side
each trusting in the way:
parables and stories
in the highest light of day.
And I who walk behind them
to the valley down below
must hope for common wonders
and trust that it might be so.

Shadows of the afternoon,
fieldfare and sage
measure out the silence
of another time, another age.

Tread by tread, step by step
each timing with the other:
sister blesses sister soul, 
brother blesses brother.
And I who walk behind them
to the valley down below
must pray for common wonders
and hope that it might be so.

Twilight shadows lengthen
with the evening’s lowering sun:
veiled shades and violet shades
as the long day is done.

Step by step, each to each
to where the other leads:
beatitudes and blessings,
miracles in the meads.
And those who walk behind me
to the valley down below
place trust in common wonders
and know that it will be so.

Painting Sunday Morning by Angelo Morbelli

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Spirit of the Samurai

From feudal Japan there comes a story of a young woman who, when the castle in which she had sought refuge had been overrun by the opposing clan, and knowing that her fate would be to be ravished by the victors, threw herself down the castle well. On reaching the well’s mouth, the clan leader discovered this poem fluttering weighted beneath a stone: 

"For fear lest clouds may dim her light,
Should she but graze this nether sphere, 
The young moon poised above the height 
Doth hastily betake to flight."

Using the moon as a metaphor for herself, the young woman had chosen for her own light not to be dimmed, to be sullied, by rough desires. Her action embodied the true samurai spirit more surely than the band of armoured samurai who had overrun the castle. For quite some time now, coping with the challenges in my personal life seem sometimes to be beyond my strength. When I feel that way, I usually go hunting for my power. Today is such a day, and I am finding my power among the examples of women who fought as samurai.

But as the story shows, being true to the samurai spirit does not necessarily mean to fight. The spirit shows that it is how we acquit ourselves, how we cope in a situation, that counts. When we find ourselves in a difficult situation to cope with emotionally, it is so easy to allow ourselves to fall victim to thoughts of desperation, of helplessness. We allow our inner castle to be overrun, and rather than standing firm, we succumb to feelings of powerlessness. The young woman showed that there is always a choice – although our own choice need not be as extreme as hers. But we can still choose. We can choose not to give way to despair. We can choose to go on trusting that time will change a situation, as, sooner or later, it always does. We can choose to keep our power for ourselves, for no one can take our power from us – although we can choose to give it away.

And neither do we need always to think of ‘winning’ in a situation. Perhaps the most famous work to be written, both in this period and from this place, is ‘Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai’, by Yamamoto Tsunetomo. The book contains the wise comment that if we think only of winning, then our victory will be more wretched than a defeat. Neither defeat nor victory, but a simple acceptance, can bring change, can offer a measure of solace. ‘Hagakure’ can be translated as ‘hidden among leaves’. The typically poetic title contains its own wisdom: that it is in what is hidden, rather than what we can obviously see, where we can find the essence of the true samurai spirit. And this hidden essence cannot be taken from us, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Shepherd and the Shell

She has come from the sea, and he, all uncomprehending, can only wonder. His flock continue to graze on the salty grass of the coastal dunes, but he, the normally-attentive shepherd, has already forgotten their existence. Unawares, he sinks to his knees, suddenly suspended in a world between the commonplace of the everyday and a larger reality in which anything can – and does – happen.

She strides confidently out of myth, crossing the impossible space between the waves’ edge and the intervening sand, wading across a shallow lagoon to confront him. Her golden hair, decorated with strands of marine plants, flutters in the sea breezes as it must have fluttered in the more measured rhythms of the currents beneath the waves. She is no more aware of her nakedness than he now is of his surroundings. Her presence is more real than his reality. His water flask also lies forgotten on the ground at his side, and his shepherd’s crook, the emblem of his task, is grasped in his now-unsteady hand.

In her pale hands she holds a shell, and her simple gesture indicates that this is her gift to him. No word is spoken, for none is needed. Were she to speak, her language would perhaps be incomprehensible to him, as his earthly dialect might be to her. So she does not speak. And he cannot, transfixed as he has become by her miraculous appearance in his world.

All that he can do is extend his wondering hand to receive this offered gift from the sea, barely aware of his own gesture of acceptance. She smiles down at him, seeming somewhere amused at the consternation which she has caused, but comprehending as well, compassionate in her invasion of his reality. For a moment, for a brief sliver of time, her fingers brush his own as he takes the shell from her, and he feels an impression of pale skin more silken than human skin could be, like the smooth pelt of a seal.

Now she smiles at him, gesturing with her hands, cupping them to her ear to indicate what she wishes him to do. He obeys, holding the shell to his own ear. Entranced, he hears it: the slow murmur of the deeps, the tug and sigh of currents, the restless, wandering voice of the eternal ocean. He closes his eyes, surrendering to the sound, listening, listening. He has no wish to open his eyes now, understanding what will happen when he does. But he must, and eventually, he does so. She has gone.

Painting: The Sea Maid by Arthur Hacker.