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.

Uplook

Text and images by Joe Grant © 2022

And there will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars,
and upon earth distress among nations
perplexed by the roaring, roiling surge of the seas.

Luke 21:25

Seeker,
Where do you go to glimpse timeless brilliance?

I cherish the unclouded memory
of an Amazonian night,
when I lay on the boat roof

before a bejeweled blanket
that pulsed with the powdery glow of Milky Way
and shimmering Southern Cross.

Sitting up to scan the broad obscurity
of the oily river, I was star-struck
by celestial scintillations reflected below.

For the first time in my firefly existence,
as we navigated spangled infinity,
I realized that we live in a limitless sky.

With the advent of artificial light, nighttime
has been demystified and the preoccupations as well as
those lessons presented only by winter’s long-lingering
shadow are now chased back and warmed away.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

Decades of inner city living
beneath buzzing glare
that blinds eternity’s skylight,

my floodlit senses
are nightly numbed,
by dancing arcs of artificial illumination.

How I have longed to resume
that quiet conversation
with the wilderness above,

to sense the subtle resonance of the spheres,
welcome timeless twinkling photons,
and savor the magnetic delights of the Northern Lights.

In necessary darkness we perceive
inconspicuous constellations,
trillions of tiny loving kindnesses,
whispered blessings, quiet, impassioned petitions,
conspiring about a better world
forever in the re-making.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

Like every voyager before us
we rely on the sky
to find our bearings,

to witness the echoes of fiery origins
and explosive new beginnings
through swirling stellar illumination.

Without this cosmic canvas,
like misguided moths we are blunted
by our own flickering luminosity,

cut off from nocturnal reconnections
to our elemental essence
as bright, brief reflections of ancient radiance.

your body contains at least a liter of sunlight
and stardust radiating from every smile.

Hakim Bellamy

How can we hope
to perceive our place
in the sacred sweep of unfathomable space

if we never stand beneath
the pitch black span of sky
and reclaim our night vision.

May you make a break for the quiet dark,
dim your headlights
and open wide the shutters of your heart.

Up Look
Life will get you down.
So, tilt your head, raise your gaze,
let your spirit soar.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

joe

Visit my website: inthestormstill.com
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