Neighboring

Images and text by Joe Grant © 2022

And who is my neighbor?

Luke 10:29

Seeker,
How well do you know your neighbors, in countless form and living expression?

Saunter round your garden.
Loiter in the alley.
Stroll the street to the nearest strip of green.

As you go, practice the art of noticing,
attentive to sights, scents, sounds
that appeal to hungry senses.

Stop often, stoop low, regularly raise the gaze
and take in an all-round invitation to converse
with growing, crawling, chirping, scurrying neighbors.

In contemplative communion
unleash the personal sacralizing power
we could call “neighboring.”

By the name we have given ourselves, we are
of humus made, earthling keepers of a neighborhood
garden. Everywhere we care to look, around this
life-making planet, we uncover bonds and name
connections to neighbor in immeasurable emanation.

With Creation as cloister, neighbor-keeping
defines identity and calling, a pathway to ever deeper
identification and broader association with life-
shaping entanglements.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

Making subjects of objects,
getting to know our natural neighbors,
was how our ancestral family learned to thrive.

Now it seems, restoring reverence
for neighborhood balance
may be the way we relearn how to survive.

Given the depth of alienation,
and deadly repercussions
of social dislocation and spiritual misdirection,

could anything be more urgent
for the reclamation of humankind-ness
than a fulsome embrace of neighborhood, every part of it?

For how can we claim to love
what we care not
to notice, name, and know?

Our life is all grounded and rooted in love, and without love we may not live.

Julian of Norwich

And what kind of neighbor fails to meet,
greet and daily respond to interactions
with nearest next of kin?

How well do you know the shrubs and trees
that give voice to breeze
or dense green tangles that decorate ground?

Do you marvel at swirling insect swarms
animated by sunlight slices,
or meditate on miraculous web-weavers?

Are you versed in bird psalms,
and fluent in the silent language of flowers
that sets the neighborhood abuzz?

A flower is made up of many non-flower elements,
such as clouds, soil, and sunshine.
Without clouds and earth there could be no flower.
This is interbeing. The one is the result of the all.
What makes the all possible is the one.

Thich Nhat Hahn

For terminology illustrates value
and defines the quality of our relationship
to the living tapestry,

in our depth of endearment
as well as our
illusions of separation and supremacy.

“Scenery” and “environment”
cast natural life as a backdrop,
stage and setting for work or play.

But costly (neighbor) love is no sentimental excursion,
and authentic mysticism no transcendental escape.
Both require a plunge into the messy matter of reality.

Lead us from the unreal into the real …

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28

Be-wilderment becomes a prerequisite for wisdom
and wilderness remains our sanctuary
for soulful realignment.

It is our essential human nature
to seek connection,
to be neighborly.

Since silence
is the language of prayer
and listening the language of love,

quiet, attentive neighboring
may even reveal
our road to redemption.

All who in roomy Spirithood reside
regularly are restored
by a loving overflow
beyond retention
or restraint,
pressed
down,
shaken up,
and
freely
outpoured.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

joe

Available here

Scratchings is so much more than a collection of poetry and reflective verse. It is eye-opener, mindfulness-maker, veil-lifter, kinship-keeper. It is a portal into the sacred arising through the ordinary, an entryway into the soul-full-ness of every single thing. Joe’s in-sight and perception not only show us, they teach us: scratch the surface of any single thing and, indeed, you’ll find it lit from within; only “pay dues of attention” to any experience and you’ll find burning bushes at every turn. If you’re wanting a quick read, opt for a different book; if you want to linger with life and swim out into mystery, let Scratchings be your companion.

  • JoAnn Gates, Director of Knobs Haven Retreat Center, Loretto, Kentucky

Kindness Unbridled

Images and text by Joe Grant © 2022

In all things, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Matthew 7:12

Seeker,
Can you comprehend the depth of kindness you regularly receive and rely upon?

The world of our making
manufactures reasons for not taking care
by extolling and encouraging irresponsible segregations.

Spurious attempts at separation,
founded on fear,
disseminate dis-likeness that facilitates un-kindly-ness.

Deftly dissecting “me” from “you,”
dividing “us” from “them,”
and divorcing “them” from “Thee,”

provides plentiful permission
and ready dispensations from co-responsibility
in the global chain of lifegiving.

So subtle this mongering of menace
and marketing of deceit,
making “others” out of “us,”

that we expect to receive kindness
as personal entitlement;
mine to keep, not necessarily to share.

I read that Hindu sage Ramana Maharishi, when
asked how we should treat others, blithely replied,
“There are no others.”

Joe Grant, Scratchings

Oblivious to the disgrace of withholding care,
thankless taking denies us the joyful kinship of neighborhood;
antidote to alienation.

Sharing the elemental material of universe,
we claim essential connection
to neighborhood that is cosmic, galactic, solar and global,
as well as parochial and particular.

As neighborhood expands beyond locality into
belonging, as far as eye and heart and creative spirit
can carry, we find abundant opportunity to bear the
blessed burden of neighborly safe keeping, kin to each
and every kind of neighbor.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

So, as we gaze at a blessed-broken world,
weighing contribution with gain, investment over return,
or wondering about responsibility,

who is not tempted to seek absolution by redirecting culpability
and laying claim to righteousness without justice,
or restoration devoid of the requirement of loving kindness?

How easily moral campaigns,
religious fervor and political protests
degenerate into self-righteous rejections, denunciations, and denials?

Have you not already been told what is good
and what is required, this and only this:
act with justice, love with kindness,
and walk in humility with the Holy.

Micah 6:8

Any wakeful soul can perceive,
perpetually proclaimed in the harsh beauty of being,
that earth is kindness without bounds,

sacramental self-giving
in which no drop, or seed, or life is really wasted,
but lovingly received, reclaimed, and reformed.

And we need not traverse transcendental realms
nor explore the cosmic expanse
to contemplate the mysterious force of unbridled kindness.

A community practicing understanding and loving kindness
may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the Earth.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Neither moral rectitude nor cleverness
can release the humble healing power of compassion,
simply received and broadcast in joyfully being kind.

How might your life be transformed
by the graceful exchange of the kindly overflow
that saturates each moment of being?

How might this world be restored
by imitating free-gifted-ness, mirrored in nature,
that clears the way for compassionate care?

Worthiness

Extravagant love
yields creative abundance,
nothing left to waste.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

May you live holy human-kindness,
and claim your place in ever-giving neighborhood,
a conduit and catalyst for kindness unbridled.

joe

Available here

Scratchings invites one to explore a world of meaning delving deep beyond the surface to something truly human, truly spirit, truly personal. Challenged to ask the hard, difficult questions, the ones that come when you are deep in silence, or tending a garden, I found that Scratchings takes you on a path not necessarily where you will find the answers but to a profound engagement in the on-going and evolving search for truth. Your own. Touching a yesterday that opens gently into a tomorrow. A safe place to remember. A wonderful place to Dream.

  • Sr. Sue Scharfenberger, osu, Lima, Peru.

Noticing Nature

Text and images by Joe Grant © 2022

In seeing they fail to perceive and in hearing fail to listen,
nor do they truly understand.

Matthew 13:13

Seeker,
How much do you notice when you let life come into focus?

Beneath clamoring commerce,
despite the bombed-out sacrilege of war,
spring continues to sing.

And through every concrete crack
relentless reclamation
bravely outbreaks.

Abandoned lots, littered alleys,
rusted railyards, blasted buildings,
all emerald spackled with tenacious tendrils.

Seasonal softening
coaxes birds to turn twists of trash
into baskets for little shelled miracles,

as once again,
drains and ditches
are dappled with delicate wildflower blossoms.

So, out of wastage and neglect,
Nature brings
spectacular newness to life.

With gratuitous displays of gentle resilience
in resplendent beauty, Creation calls out,
willing, waiting, wanting to be noticed.

Always surprising, vibrant, and verdant,
irrepressible spring softens winter sharpness.
So long we languished,
in urgent anticipation
of this stunning revolutionary season.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

Yet, how many work-a-days
blur passed
with scarcely a sideways rearview glance?

Thus, the seasonal details and brilliant illustrations
of hard, healing wisdom are lost
to unseeing, unhearing, uncaring appetites.

Is this not the exuberant way of wisdom, where
losses fuel and fertilize disparate awakenings? And
here perhaps lies a distinction between fecundity
and productivity. In broad dispersal, not every effort
need come to fruition, not every idea conceived lead
to invention, not every initiative achieve realization,
for not all hatchlings are destined to fledge, nor every
seed take root.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

A first blush of wakefulness
naturally stops at the stain, balks at the blemish,
punctured by sorrow, arrested by travesty.

But persevering in the practice of noticing
presents other soul-penetrating perspectives
in all-surrounding scent, sight, and sound.

Only from the mire
of failure, death, and defeat
is hope resurrected.

The hardest part of giving
is not giving up, but giving in
to relentless resurgence.

And yes,
to believe again,
with a necessary change in hindsight,
that nothing is ever really lost,
for the worst and worn-out and wasted
still are needed
to fertilize the freshly seeded.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

Out of spare soil
and cold starkness,
tender possibilities erupt

and springtide becomes
our most reliable parable,
a living illumination of enduring love.

How surprising,
uncontrollable and inconceivable
this slowly expanding explosion.

How could we miss its message,
overlook its wonders
or fail to receive its earth-shattering revelation?

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

e.e. cummings

May your days be interrupted
detoured and delightfully disrupted
by the largesse of lifegiving abundance.

May you be stopped and stunned
heartsore at malignance,
breathless before magnificence.

Yet, from the smallest sparkling smidgen of
radiation, a life-making planet redeems gracious self-giving
with miraculous expressions of life in myriad form.

All this snatched
from glancing solar breezes,
so life might endlessly endure, less concerned
for harvest, resolutely focused
on bountiful
seeding.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

joe

Available here

Scratchings by Joe Grant provides a fascinating journey showing the extraordinary wisdom and beauty found in the most ordinary of events. While appreciating events such as the beauty of a leaf falling and the often-unnoticed activities in the backyard of his inner city neighborhood, the journey also takes us far and wide from his childhood in Scotland, to his mission experience in the Amazon rainforest, and even to the site of genocidal massacre in Rwanda. Each episode draws the reader in with exquisite language and creates a picture that engages the imagination. The word play, rhyming, cadence and alliteration are delightful and evocative.

In a powerful section of his book called Epiphany, Joe reflects on the in-breaking moments of graced awareness:

To the awakened,
every sunrise is a first
brilliant blush of brand-new creation
each frigid breath suspended,
a sacramental exhalation
in conspiration of
spirit holy.

He goes on to write, “sometimes a singular ray pierces perception to jolt us into wakefulness with a radiant revelation that all ground is hallowed.”

This beautiful book is for me a meditation on our amazing yet troubled world. Joe’s book helps me to see the sacred mysteries which are all around us.

  • The Rev. Karl Ruttan, Ph.D., Episcopal priest and spiritual director

Wide-eyed Wondering

Text and images by Joe Grant © 2022

Keep wakeful watch, praying that you do not enter the time of trial.

Mark 14:38

Seeker,
Does prayer lift you above or let you loose to explore the land of the living?

Decades ago,
when my eyes were
sharp and fresh,

I was blessed
to participate in an indigenous convocation
along the Xingu River in the Amazonian State of Pará.

Gathered in a remote rainforest encampment,
I wondered at the diversity displayed
by these drastically different forest folk.

Amid the hubbub of camp activity,
I noticed a pair of young men
excitedly pointing and chattering.

At their gentle encouragement
I hunkered with them,
trying to follow their raptured focus.

One youngster leaned over
and gingerly lifted a leathery leaf
to reveal a nest, small as an acorn cap.

Instantly three tiny gaping beaks emerged,
pink gullets readied for a nectar drip
from hovering hummingbird parents.

My astonishment at this natural wonder
was matched by awe and admiration
for these keen-eyed greenwood guardians.

Observation is
our portal
to fuller participation,

and walking with these
native communities
awakened in me wild childhood enchantments.

Eco-awakening is a truly profound moment
for the people blessed to have had this experience.
It rocks your world.
You now realize you had previously been a kind of refugee,
existentially and ecologically homeless,
disconnected from the very world from which you emerged at birth.

Bill Plotkin

No longer can nature be
mere display
for distant, detached appreciation.

Neither is life simply a backdrop,
raw material for hollowing out,
squaring circles and clear-cutting tangles.

For, in this grand cosmic affirmation,
whether awake or slumbering,
are we not already wrapped into endless cycles of giving?

The moment we step outside,
draw breath and walk into the wild
we are no longer observers, we are participants.

Joe Grant, Wandering and Welcome

I remember wondering,
as a pious child,
why we closed our eyes to pray,

lids shut tight,
no effort spared
to squeeze out a holy thought or saintly insight.

This broken world, I was taught,
was at best a pale distortion,
at worst a tempting testing ground.

Fallen angles all were we,
longing to be lifted up or,
through long-suffering, set free.

Wonder offers another way
of being consciously engaged
with the miracle of being.

Joe Grant, Still in the Storm

Saved from such spurious sanctimony
by irrepressible curiosity
and undisciplined distractibility,

I always cracked my good eye,
to sneak a peek at more intriguing
living revelations and interesting relations.

When prayerful presence shifted
into wild welcome,
resistance turned to receptivity,
and this motivational movement,
from discipline to desire,
transformed attention-dissipation
into mutual loving attraction,
drawing back a curtain
to hospitality,
holy, brightened wide-awake-ness.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

May you fearlessly focus
loving attention on the tragic,
marvelous mysteries of life,

and with wide-eyed wondering,
let light in and love out
with every gracious gaze.

The practice of mindfulness is very simple.
You stop, you breathe,
and you still your mind.
You come home to yourself
so that you can enjoy the here
and now in every moment.

Thich Nhat Hanh

joe

Available here

Joe Grant is a seer and a sayer, a prophet and a poet. He divines the divine in the everyday stuff of life and speaks the essential truth that every place can be a thin place, every time Kairos time. Scratchings is Joe at his alliterative best, offering us a beautiful sacramental vision in which Spirit weaves us into a great, timeless community with each other and with the more-than-human world. This quiet, gentle, but powerful book is absolutely necessary medicine for our troubled times.

  • Kyle Kramer, Executive Director of the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center,
    author of Making Room: Soul-Deep Satisfaction Through Simple Living
    (Franciscan Media, 2021)