Wintered Wisdom

Photo by Joe Grant © 2020

Like gatekeepers on the watch
whether at eventide, midnight dark and break of day,
ever vigilant stay!

Mark 13: 34-35

Seeker,
Before your much-needed shot in the arm,
what have you learned from this season of dark discontent?

Warily we waken
to winter’s deeper reason
as cautiously we welcome a chilly challenging season.

As north leans away
from our daystar’s angled rays,
we roll into a shadowland of shorter, starker days.

What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness everywhere!

William Shakespeare

Midwinter assured
our ancestors,
a terribly trying time:

a struggle for fuel and food
warmth and shelter,
to safeguard them till sunlight’s return.

Now watchful, we observe
companion creatures
endure seasonal hardships.

And the awakened among us
witness brutal weather ravage our kin,
denied adequate hearth and home.

But winter shoulders special graces
to draw us close
to the fire of each other

with storytelling,
sweet treats and new kindling,
to coax the light’s return.

Still it remains
a time of waiting and wondering;
ever watchful for:

danger and distress,
disease and disaster,
despair and delight.

Rather than decry
this shadowed season
in these terribly troubled times,

wintering urges us
to imitate
our creature-kin:

to prepare for it,
learn its lessons,
make space for its darker graces.

Wintry wisdom,
schools us to honor
and enter the dark together.

Those black sharp and flat
notes in our lives
are necessary keys to change and harmonies.

For in meandering course,
every life must traverse
many veiled valleys:

a dark night of the senses,
soul and spirit,
a long twilight of the earth.

Other shadowed vales appear:
Isolation and injustice,
climate calamity, deprivation, indignity.

Black indeed is the backdrop
upon which Creation
sparkles and glows.

Darkness everywhere lingers.
Even bright of day
births shadows.

For much of our brief span
we are blind to the breadth of beauty
and depth of tragedy.

Though we cannot see it,
a riot is silently running
just beneath our feet.

Even as winter looks
like desolation,
the wakeful perceive creation

in frenzied preparation
for another eruption
to meet resurgent radiation.

And while we decorate
this sacred cycle
in the gaudy garb of liturgy,

such solemnities,
and their heady abstractions,
insulate us from the shivering shock of raw reality.

Faith, hope, and love above all
do not let us flee life’s harsh splendor
by retreating into ideation.

What if for one day each being acknowledged the fear
and let it go? Suspended beliefs
opened their arms, drew strength
through earth, grass, rock, sand.

Melissa Shaw-Smith

With chilly bareness,
earth coaches us
about dying, watery light, necessarily difficult days.

And turning toward the light
we open ourselves
to life signs amid desolation.

Advent dark proclaims
that wrapped in humble solidarity
and fragile vulnerability

Emmanuel approaches:
One come to bide with us,
who cannot abide to be without us;

at one with all
our loves and losses,
aches and limitations.

So I say to one what I say to all: Keep awake!

Mark 13:37

joe

Visit my website: inthestormstill.com
A NEW BOOK BY JOE GRANT

Humble-Hearted

Photo by Joe Grant © 2020

Wherever is your treasure, there too will be your heart.

Matthew 6:21

Seeker,
When has life required courage; living from your core?

There is so much we’ll never know,
far less we understand,
till wisdom in unknowing extends her guiding hand.

Thus, the universal scope
of our ignorance,
does not dim the tiny spark of comprehension.

A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit I shall put within you.

Ezekiel 36:26

One thing we know—
no matter how oblivious we appear—
there is a reliable rhythm to everything:

a flow and cycle of receive and release,
a give and take in constant exchange.
Whatever we put out, in the end, comes back.

Whether out of sync or sorts,
heaving and harried, drowsy and distracted,
distressed or disconnected,

we can recalibrate
the measure of each moment
to the pulse of life.

No mystic secret needed,
nor discipline austere,
just a heart-felt intention to be in unison.

We need only place a hand
upon that center of ache and desire,
to sense the throbbing tempo at our core.

When in secret I was shaped, my frame was not hidden from You.

Psalm 139:15

Weeks after conception
a tiny pump
begins to pulse and push.

Uninterrupted, this regularity
matches the meter of each breath,
till inevitably life leaves us.

To feel life-force coursing through us,
evokes awe—
with its tiny twinge of fear.

How many beats has your precious heart registered?
How many skipped? How many remain?
So fragile a force that that safeguards your life.

All complex creatures have hearts
and each human has a core,
a chamber of secret longings, and so much more.

Listen carefully to the master’s instructions,
and attend to them with the ear of your heart.

Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict

Consider trillions of beating hearts
in this synchronous second,
all working tirelessly to stay alive, somehow all connected.

The hearts of creatures,
tiny and tremendous,
made in the likeness.

Whether in gated communities and ghettos,
forests, fields and factories,
we all share a tenuous connection to aliveness:

a heart where every wound,
wonder, worry and woe,
is oxygenated, nourished and healed.

Such awesome awareness,
this incalculable, incessant beating
across a pearlescent pebble, spinning in the dark.

Put a gentle palm upon the chest,
and sense the Sacred
at the heart of it all.

In its quiet rhythms,
behold infinite-intimacy
with every beating being.

Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.
It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel

The pathway to heartfelt
understanding (standing under)
is humility.

And wonder ripens into awe
when hearts are humbled
by such smallness in the face of the infinite.

Give me a pure heart—that I may see Thee,
A humble heart—that I may hear Thee,
A heart of love – that I may serve Thee,
A heart of faith—that I may abide in Thee.

Dag Hammarskjöld

joe

Find me on Facebook and Instagram@InTheStormStill
Visit my website: inthestormstill.com
A new book by Joe Grant

Radical Resistance

Photo by Joe Grant © 2020

Be attentive.
See that your hearts are not sluggish, inebriated or weighed down by the worries of the world, so you are not caught unaware and ill-prepared for the day that approaches.

Luke 21: 34-35

Seeker,
Can you stand in quiet assurance before menace or manipulation and still reject violence of word or deed?

There is much
that mitigates against quiet wakefulness
in the rush and rumble of difficult days;

in aching hearts,
troubled minds,
and the slosh and swell of anger and anxiety.

Even as we minimize background bustle
and soften foreground chatter,
often we concede

the middle ground of mindfulness
to the rancor of unspoken argument,
preoccupied with daily distresses.

And still silence
often eludes us
in these tumultuous times.

Each day bears a fresh payload of problems.
All times, in their own way, are troubled.
Some seasons are uniquely tempestuous.

Clarity
In silent stillness
the swirling sediment sinks
till clearness creeps in.

Joe Grant

We have entered an extraordinary time of darkness.
A shadowland of struggle looms,
eager to engulf and disorient us in gloom.

Here, silence makes a first impression as isolation,
darkness as creeping alienation,
stillness as capitulation.

Without steady stillness,
clearness of mind, heart, spirit
cannot coalesce and enlighten cloudiness.

Blessed are the clear-hearted,
they will see the Holy One
(in everything).

Matthew 5: 8

In quiet time,
calm and shadow present another aspect;
invite a different kind of engagement.

Silence
is so much more
than absence of noise.

Surrounding soundlessness is the unheard ambience—
front, center, background—
that is both container and conveyor for action and agitation.

Silence can be a fullness rather than a void…
To be still is a spiritual endeavor.

Terry Hershey

As we cannot see the wood for the trees,
we fail to note the quiet
between, before, and following sound.

In the beginning, it is written,
Spirit hovered over the dark—
breath to stir the still waters of the deep.

Silent stillness speak volumes.
More than a restorative,
it is a revolutionary resource for resistance.

Dark and quiet can integrate and
inoculate us from alienation by drawing us closer,
requiring us to lean in and listen to one another.

Resistance demands
divesting from certain
patterns of thought and action.

Quiet resistance
involves the required reflection
of space-making sabbath.

And sabbath is radically subversive;
agitating angst or apathy with peace,
calmly disturbing distress.

Be still and know that I AM God.

Psalm 46:10

Where diabolical forces are in play
and daily deceptions abound,
sowing distain for deeper truth,

may we resist the clamor of violent thought and action,
defy the desire to dehumanize,
decry the temptation to demonize.

May we also reject the futility
of reflexive retribution so we might rest,
rooted and grounded in love beyond understanding.

While leaves quiver, limbs shake
and the strongest trunks must bend and sway,
roots alone remain; silent and still unshakeable.

Be still and know that I AM.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be!

joe

Visit my website: inthestormstill.com
A BOOK BY JOE GRANT

Reckoning and Reconciliation

Photo by Joe Grant © 2020

The heart of this nation has grown calloused,
their ears are hard of hearing and they have shut their eyes;
so they might not look with their eyes, listen with their ears,
understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.

Matthew 13:15

[Beneath the menacing pulse of helicopters,
troop carrier convoys command empty downtown streets,
and armored police columns cordon crosswalks

while armed militias posture before protestors.
Now, my adopted hometown heaves
under the raw realization

that justice,
who long ago lost her blindfold,
sees only in black and white.

Under curfew, behind barred doors,
in flickering candlelight we wait, watch, worry,
as we listen to sirens and pray for peace even without justice.

Like so many families in other darkened cities, distant countries,
far-off times and places, we wonder:
How did it come to this and where do we go from here?
Louisville, Kentucky; September 24, 2020]

Seeker,
What role does your faith play when some lives and deaths
seem to matter less than others?

When curiosity and desire for conquest
carried our European ancestors to these shores
their cultural cargo included death dealing disease, weaponry,
and a divine dispensation to control natives and colonize nature.

With the cross came the crown.

Papal declarations permitted the exploitation of human communities
and consigned them to carve out gold and silver from the earth
to gild crucifixes and candlesticks in far flung cathedrals.

With the crown came chains.

Named and claimed for the distant monarchs of Christendom,
verdant wilderness was tamed and turned to cultivation.
New plantation populations were needed
to raise cotton, sugar, tobacco; and raise profits.

With chains came commercial opportunity.

As African families were abducted, shackled, shipped, sold into slavery,
more moral manipulations permitted prelates, preachers and presidents
to impose divinely ordained hierarchy and hegemony;
a travesty to cleave God’s family; making some subservient and others supreme.

With commercial exploitation came crucifixion.

Our faith story in these lands
remains insinuated in the filaments of this trifurcated root:
genocide, nature desecration and slavery.
Still, ‘Cristo Negro’ cries out breathless from the cross
and we remain shackled to a shameful legacy of privilege and supremacy.

With emancipation comes reckoning

How do faithful people account for participation in racial sin;
make amends, affect repair?

The Examen – listening, looking, learning—
predicates penance.
Confession precedes forgiveness.
Truth-telling comes before reconciliation.
Reconciliation demands restitution.
Restoration requires reparation.

But blessed are your eyes,
for they see,
and your ears, for they hear.
Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see,
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear,
but did not hear it.

Matthew 13:16-17

May we recover courage and shake off the shackles
of crown, commerce and cultural crucifixion,
to freely enter together the undiscovered country where we
black, brown, indigenous and immigrant people are all cherished.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression, and war.

John Lewis

joe

Find me on Facebook and Instagram@InTheStormStill
Visit my website: inthestormstill.com
A NEW BOOK BY JOE GRANT


Cost-Benefit Paralysis

Photo by Joe Grant © 2020

Love the Holy One wholeheartedly, soulfully, strongly, mindfully;
and your neighbor as dearly as yourself.

Luke 10:27

Seeker,
How do you weigh the cost of living with the price of loving?

Pandemic unmasks,
with the stark reflection of a cracked mirror,
our shared visage, in fragmented distortion.

‘O look, look in the mirror
‘O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

W. H. Auden

As we succumb to the grave demands
and debilitations of protracted isolation,
we weigh the consequences of activities with inaction.

A dangerous calculus, dangled before us,
presents the gruesome false equivalence
between wealth and worth; profit and people.

The vacuum of moral leadership,
abandons us to less-caring calculations
about whom and how many must die for the freedom to sell and buy.

But there is another approach
that invites nations and neighbors to safeguard vulnerability
by sharing from the commons of human and material resource.

‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart
.

W.H. Auden

Trying times test our humanity as well as our faith.
While we ponder where and when it all might end,
it helps to keep our eyes fixed

on the ubiquitous wounded One;
catalyst of contradiction,
who is both masked and intubated; healer and helped.

This Christ who abides within and in between,
spans the chasm between market and ministry
with compassionate self-giving.

Christ the protester,
wielding a sign.
Christ the policeman, standing in line.

Christ well-remembered,
Christ we’ve forgotten.
Christ you are blessed, and how you are broken!

Christ of compassion,
the ever-forgiver,
peacemaker, cheek-turner, merciful river.

Christ so close,
Christ so dear,
how dare we not see you, when you are so near?

Excerpted from Still In the Storm by Joe Grant

Thus, the fierce love of Maker is expressed
as passionate concern
for the most maligned and mistreated; without exception.

For only the compass of compassion
can reorient us
and chart a course to fuller, wider living.

Discounting, distracting and misdirecting,
either in piety or politics,
devalues dignity in search of justification.

Seeking to be justified by Jesus, the lawyer asked,
‘And who is my neighbor?’

Luke 10:29

Since crisis also presents opportunity, always we must ask:
What is the cost of loving? Who benefits?
Who ends up paying the price for so much suffering?

And carefully we listen
for courageous, radical inclusion,
as we steer clear of amoral profiteering and prophet-less preaching.

The real tragedy would be if we come through the pandemic without changing for the better.
It would be as if all those deaths, all that suffering … would mean nothing.

Ben Okri

Beyond social analysis and moral paralysis,
may we surrender to the humble power of kenosis—
self-outpouring that restores “benefit” from a privilege to making good.

Especially in dark times, even behind closed doors,
we do not scheme
about going back-wards.

We kindle flickering hope
and dream a softer, slower, simpler, gentler,
more generous world into being.

joe

Find me on Facebook and Instagram@InTheStormStill
Visit my website: inthestormstill.com
Latest book by Joe Grant