All posts by GretchenJoanna

About GretchenJoanna

Orthodox Christian, widowed in 2015; mother, grandmother. Love to read, garden, cook, write letters and a hundred other home-making activities.

Boundaries and Ages

A few weeks ago I tagged these two poems from the Japanese, to read again. Just now I notice that the poets were contemporaries of each other, and that in both poems there is the needed attention to the poet’s experience, but also reference to political or historic settings. Even though I probably miss many poetic allusions and metaphors because of my unfamiliarity with the realm of Japanese literature, I find these more interesting and thought-provoking than the more minimalist haiku.

The writers who create and give us their creations are also fascinating to me. It’s nice to be able to read a bit of biography, but you know that they are telling the most important things in their poetry. Both here are considered haiku poets. Takami was arrested for Marxist writings and communist activities while at university, but later recanted, and years later became director of the Japanese Literature Patriotic Association. In addition to his poetry he published various memoirs including 3000 pages of wartime diaries.

The minor planet Kusatao was named for Kusatao Nakamura in 1994.

 

AT THE BOUNDARY of LIFE and DEATH

At the boundary of life and death
what exists I wonder?
For instance, concerning the boundary of county and country,
during the war, on the border of Thailand and Burma,
although I saw it when I crossed through the jungle,
nothing unusual was found in that place.
There was nothing like a boundary line drawn.
Also at sea when passing directly over the equator
nothing special like a beacon mark was visible.
No, at that place was the wonderful dark blue sea.
On the Thailand-Burma border was a wonderful sky.
On the life-death boundary too might there not be something hung like a wonderful rainbow,
even though my surroundings
and also my self
were a devastated jungle?

-Jun Takami (1907-1965)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sailing in autumn,
being inside
one huge and deep blue disk.

In the baby carriage,
onto the joggled apple
continuing to hold.

Falling snow!
The Meiji period, far
away it has gone.

Greenness everywhere
and inside it my own child’s
teeth starting to grow out.

-Kusatao Nakamura (1901-1983)

 

(The ocean painting is detail from a print by Hiroshige, “The Whirlpools of Awa.”)

In the depths of your being.

During Lent our women’s book club at church is reading Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios. Merely reading the words of this 20th-century saint as he tells about his life is “wounding” me with his own love, which of course flows from God Himself through that human life that received much grace.

Yesterday was sunny and the biting winds had calmed. When I went out to cut some asparagus and then to look more closely at the plum blossoms, the orange chair invited me to sit down; immediately the ergonomics of the Adirondack design and the enclosed spot between the rosemary and the fava beans began to apply a balm to my body and soul, and before my face started to burn I went back to the house to get my book and sun hat.

This is what the view was like, from my cozy corner:

Did you notice that black chair by the rosemary above? I actually got too hot after a while and moved to that one. Then I was closer to the tray bird feeder and I took this picture; it was almost as hard for me to see the birds as they are to see in this shot, everything was so sunny bright.

I alternated between being lost in the saint’s tale of his youth in Greece, and being conscious of the deliciousness of my situation and how it seemed to be the perfect lenten activity and food for the soul that had been given to me. Truly, if it were not Lent I no doubt would be busy about more “useful” work. But here I was, enjoying the first days of springtime, watching the bees — the first sighted this year — working the rosemary.

And then, what was that –?  on my hat, making a rustling noise and scratching feeling through the weave. I raised my hand, and a bird flew off into the redwood tree. I could see his profile up there, smaller than a dove but larger than a finch… and then he was right back down to the feeder, and he was a sparrow. Did he land on me because he didn’t recognize me as a human, or because he did recognize me as the lady who fills the feeders?

In the front garden the pale yellow California poppies have sprouted all over the place, and one bloom opened. This picture of plum flowers shows my bedroom window up above.

As my bones warmed from the solar heat, my heart soaked up joy from Father Porphyrios. There is so much I want to share with you about him, but for now I’ll just offer this quote from the second part of the book, which collects some of his teachings. Then I need to get out of this cold corner of my house and into the sunshine again.

“Man seeks joy and happiness in heaven. He seeks what is eternal far from everyone and everything. He seeks to find joy in God. God is a mystery. He is silence. He is infinite. He is everything. Everyone possesses this inclination of the soul for heaven. All people seek something heavenly. All beings turn towards Him, albeit unconsciously.

“Turn your mind towards Him continually. Learn to love prayer, familiar converse with the Lord. What counts above all is love, passionate love for the Lord, for Christ the Bridegroom. Become worthy of Christ’s love. In order not to live in darkness, turn on the switch of prayer so that divine light may flood your soul. Christ will appear in the depths of your being. There, in the deepest and most inward part, is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is within you [Luke 17:21].”

–St. Porphyrios

[I’m sorry to give you the same quote that I see I posted before, when there are so many other good ones! Well, they will come, God willing.]

Tears on our wedding robe.

There are many kinds of tears, and it is important to discriminate between them.

So writes Bishop Kallistos Ware in The Inner Kingdom, in a chapter on “The Orthodox Experience of Repentance.” He has much to say about tears, which requires seven paragraphs, and I include this one sentence as a means of introducing the fact that in the Orthodox understanding, tears are a great and even necessary gift. Being reminded, I read the chapter’s closing paragraphs with a new perspective:

John Climacus 1
St. John Climacus

Filled with grief yet at the same time filled with joy, repentance expresses the creative tension found at all times in the Christian life on this earth, and described with such vividness by St. Paul: “…always carrying in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body…dying, and behold we live…sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor 4:10; 6:9-10).

As a life of continual repentance, our Christian discipleship is a sharing at one and the same time in Gethsemane and the Transfiguration, in the Cross and the Resurrection. St John Climacus sums the matter up by saying, “If you put on blessed and grace-filled mourning as a wedding robe, you will know the spiritual laughter of the soul.”

From generation to generation.

Long before I found my home in the Orthodox Church, a friend introduced me to the Private Prayers of Lancelot Andrewes, which sustained my devotional life for a long time. Andrewes was one of the translators and editors of the King James Bible and died in 1626. Various arrangements of his prayers and sermons have been compiled; the edition I have uses the F.E. Brightman translation (from the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew of the original) of 1903, and includes an essay by T.S. Eliot, which I am reading again after a long time, having taken the book of prayers from my shelf to refresh my memory on several points.

Eliot compares the homilies of Andrewes with those of John Donne, and says that Andrewes is “the more medieval, because he is the more pure, and because his bond was with the Church, with tradition. His intellect was satisfied by theology and his sensibility by prayer and liturgy.”

When he writes of the emotional sensibilities of the preacher, it reminds me of the tone of our Orthodox worship:

“When Andrewes begins his sermon, from beginning to end you are sure that he is wholly in his subject, unaware of anything else, that his emotion grows as he penetrates more deeply into his subject, that he is finally ‘alone with the Alone,’ with the mystery which he is seeking to grasp more and more firmly….Andrewes’s emotion is purely contemplative; it is not personal, it is wholly evoked by the object of contemplation, to which it is adequate; his emotion wholly contained in and explained by its object.”

That dear man loved Christ! Here is the first of his Morning Prayers, typically rich in the words of Holy Scripture:

Following closely from that, the ancient prayer hymn of the church, known as “Gloria in excelsis Deo” or the “Great Doxology.” This was the one in Andrewes’s collection that most thrilled my heart and made it say, “Amen.” When prayed aloud it seems to carry the soul quickly to heaven while the body is most feeling its lowliness and affinity with the humble earth.

In the Orthodox Church we have begun the weekday Lenten Matins, and I managed to get there this morning and make that wonderful start to the day. One of the best parts of the service for me is our version of the “The Great Doxology,” which made me think about Christ-lover Andrewes, one of my first mentors in the kind of prayer that connects me to the church that has prayed through the ages.

Below is the text as we sing it in my parish, and here: The Great Doxology, is a video I found, if you would like to hear it sung, not too differently from what I’m used to. Of course, every parish and every choir does it uniquely, and I like the way we sing it the best.  🙂  This morning I was sitting on the other side of the cathedral from my usual, and enjoyed the perspective on the dome and the icon of Christ Pantocrator, with the words in the encircling border: “He hath looked out from His holy height. The Lord from heaven hath looked upon the earth, to hear the groaning of them that be in fetters.”

THE GREAT DOXOLOGY

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will among men.
We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee,
we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory.
O Lord, Heavenly King, God the Father Almighty;
O Lord, the Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Spirit.
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy on us;
Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer;
Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father,
and have mercy on us.

For Thou only art holy, Thou only art the Lord,
Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father, Amen.

Every day will I bless Thee, and I will praise Thy name forever,
yea, forever and ever.

Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
and praised and glorified is Thy name unto the ages. Amen.

Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in Thee.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes.
Blessed art Thou, O Master, grant me understanding of Thy statutes.
Blessed art Thou, O Holy One, enlighten me by Thy statutes.

Lord, Thou hast been our refuge from generation to generation.
I said: O Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul,
for I have sinned against Thee.
Lord, unto Thee have I fled for refuge;
teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God,
for in Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light shall we see light.
Continue Thy mercy unto them that know Thee.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
both now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.