COVID-19 IN THE MIDST OF IT

Indoors we sit

And try to make sense of it

We go out for walks

And make do with telephone talks

 

We try not to see others as a foe

They could be a carrier, though

And so we keep safe distance

Whenever others are in our presence

 

We wait it all out in isolation

While this crisis saps our motivation

I try to read, write, and be productive

But make little progress in my efforts to be active

Day melts into day in mindless stupefaction

BREATHING THE SPIRIT OF ALCHEMY

The philosopher for Aristotle is not in conflict

He does what he wants and consistently wants what is virtuous

I am more like Paul, who does not what he wants

And does what he does not want

I do not want the legacy of my childhood

Nor the tyrant my father was, nor the misery that was my home

Church was my refuge

A morning’s refuge once a week,

For me, the salve of love

Communion, human and Divine beloved community

A morning’s refuge once a week

Ferment in the crucible of what my life became

Diffusing as tendrils through my passions

Refining the dross that was my upbringing

Veins of gold shining through adamant,

Heavy adamant from my upbringing I carry

In the pilgrimage that is a life’s progress

Toward being whole, gold, unitary

In what I want and in the manifesting power

That spirit has to make, remake, make new

Make conflict cease, bring release, grant peace

IT NEVER USED TO BE

Mike noticed me shaking

Playing at an open stage

The way we had in clubs years ago

The legacy of my psychotic episode years ago,

The effects persisting in my involuntary shakes, fear, and incompetence

Brett noticed me shaking

Almost convulsing onstage at the keyboard

It never used to be like that

The ease, the drive I had to perform

Then the caving fear onstage

The lingering apathy that stole

My passion to play hour upon hour at home

Getting better hour upon hour enthralled

Or onstage before crowds

Eager, excited, up

Darryl tried to jam with me last spring

Remembering my former ability

Thinking me as capable as it used to be

It was sad, the attempt, his generosity

One player quenched by bipolar disorder

Likely doesn’t mean much

But it does to me

IN COVID-19

Subjects wrap themselves in poetry

Today, practically every consideration pales

In comparison with

Tens of thousands infected, thousands dead

Hospitals past capacity, protective gear spent, exhausted

Medical professionals sick, exposed

Failed containment

Considerations pale in comparison with COVID-19

You used to be IT if you had

A Cabbage Patch Doll

And liked Ben and Jerry’s ice cream

Or were hip in the bar

There was even a word for it—

“Trendy,” and yet people were

I wasn’t anybody until I went to Harvard

Yet, things in this world matter

Mean something even in COVID-19

It’s hard to play Mozart piano sonatas, now

But they matter, and my new book of Confucius’ Odes

(Ordered online, in social isolation)

The wind blows a lot of chaff away

In these days

As it carries the virus

Through the entire world

And wraps words around itself

GLAMOR AND BEAUTY

Skin and hair and fingernails and toenails

And eyebrows and eyelashes and eyeshadow

And lips and lipstick and Botox

Lashes and polish and foundation

Makeup and moisturizer and exfoliator

Glamor and allure and sophistication

 

Good nature and simplicity, even innocence

And sincerity and faithfulness and trust

And honesty and emotional honesty and spontaneity

And genuine and caring and kind

And real and unaffected and straightforward

And loving and spiritual and beautiful

SITUATIONAL ETHOS: SCRIPT AND CAST

Self is poured into the social structure

In which one is situated

Options of connection are dependent

On the system in which one is

One is as an actor pouring self into a role

But self is not a role, though he or she act

One is situated

 

Friends are determined

Whom one receives into one’s life

Casting from the script written by the social structure

In which one is situated

Much as my television dictates

The terms of my engagement

(So, tonight I resigned myself to Karate-Kid II)

But I did not choose it

 

Personality improvises

Within the plot structure scripted

By social structures in which

One is situated

Self persists, improvising, developing, and accumulating

Experiences, motivations that persist

As the moon under undulating waves

In the play in which

One is situated

BACK THEN

An old movie

Brought to mind

College friends

We talked about the movie

Back then

When we were friends

That memory

Plays like an old movie clip

EARLY COVID-19

My distance and loneliness

In a poisoned world

My amusements and study

Grow vapid and I wonder

What to do in all this

In my state of shock, my enervated will

I can’t bring myself to do anything

Struggle with the clock that doesn’t seem to move time

Distancing, social isolation, and loneliness

How strange commercials from the old days seem

Tight social groups at cafes, parties, mobs at pop concerts

And New York city streets like a ghost-town

I try to wrap my mind around it all

What it all means, what it will mean

The economy, unemployment, isolation

How long?  What it all means

Shops shut down, restaurants, businesses

And all those workers unemployed now

The number of incidents rises, the death toll

They say weeks, probably months of this

Then we will emerge—but to what?

The scar COVID-19 will leave on the world we used to know

For now, the greatest love means isolation

Some Swedenborgian Truths in a Time of Crisis

Some Swedenborgian Truths in a Time of Crisis

Religious people may have mixed feelings about the Covid-19 virus.  In addition to the strange new restrictions on our social life, the growing numbers of sick, and the death toll, religious people may want to force meaning onto this pandemic.  I think that we are in a kind of state of shock as we try to understand what is going on.  Religious people may ask why this is going on.  But asking theological questions while in a state of shock, or panic, is not wise.

The first thing that Swedenborgians would assert is that this is not punishment from God.  God doesn’t punish.  From one way of looking at it, you could say that God can’t punish.  God is good and can do only good.  God can do only loving things.  God does only loving things.  God does only good to us.  Consider this quote from Swedenborg,

as He wills only what is good he can do nothing but what is good. . . . From these few statements it can be seen how deluded those are who think, and still more those who believe, and still more those who teach, that God can damn any one, curse any one, send any one to hell, predestine any soul to eternal death, avenge wrongs, be angry, or punish.  He cannot even turn Himself away from humanity, nor look upon anyone with a stern countenance (True Christianity n. 56).

So Swedenborgians would say that the pandemic is not punishment from God.

The pandemic is not a sign of the Last Days.  The Book of Revelation talks about a plague coming in the Last Days.  Swedenborgians say that the Book of Revelation is about what goes on inside us.  The battles and plagues and earthquakes are symbolic of our spiritual struggles.  After all, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come visibly.  Neither will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’  For the kingdom of God is inside.”  There have been several “plagues” in my lifetime.  There was h1n1, swine flu, and the sars virus.  Either one of these could have been called the plagues pointing to the end times.  Then there was the Black Plague of the middle ages.  That happened in the 14th century.  People then thought that they were in the end times.  But we got through all these plagues and forgot about them and the end times.  And we will get through this.

In these hard times, more than ever, we need to think about our neighbor.  We need to practice social distancing to protect ourselves and our neighbors.  Many of us will experience financial hardships.  Those of us who are fortunate financially are in a position to wisely help out when they can and as they are able.  I don’t mean to minimize the difficulties we will go through in the months ahead.  But we will get through it.  Now, more than in times of prosperity, neighbor love is needed.  As we all struggle through the uncertainty, fear, and hardships, love will get us through.  And though we practice social distancing, we are not alone. God is going through this with us.  “Behold I am with you always.”  Let’s be with one another, too, always.

 

 

 

Confucius and Laundry

While my clothes were in the dryer at the laundromat I continued reading the Analects of Confucius.  I have been reading Confucius over the past few weeks.  Much of his sayings I can’t understand.  But I do understand a portion of them.  However, pondering each saying–or should I say wrestling with each saying–puts my mind in a sacred space.  Confucius is emphatically about virtue.  His sayings make a person think about virtue.  Reading Confucius and wrestling with the meaning of his sayings disposes a person’s heart toward virtue.  I didn’t expect my psyche, my mood, to enter a sacred space when I read Confucius.  I was surprised when I put the book down.  I looked at the dryers, and I felt good about doing my laundry.  “This is a pleasant way to spend my time.  It is a useful and good activity for me to do,” I thought.  This feeling was remarkable.  Previously, laundry had been a drudgery.  So, I was surprised to find myself feeling good about doing my laundry today.  Reading Confucius elevated my spirit.

Generally, I find that sacred scriptures of world religions have that effect on me.  My Swedenborgian background taught me to pay attention to my psyche when I read the Bible.  Swedenborg writes that reading the Bible, “Enlightens the mind and warms the heart.”  He’s right.  The Bible also makes me feel spiritual and spiritual peace.  Other sacred scriptures have an analogous effect on me.  When I read the Koran, which I have to ponder deeply at times, I am uplifted.  Also,  the Tao Te Ching transports me, difficult as it is.  Even the Rig Veda, with the catalog of Gods and Goddesses it lists, and its vocative verses seems to lift me.

Sacred scriptures are records of humanity’s interactions with the Divine.  My interactions with sacred scriptures give me a personal experience of spirituality.  I feel different when I read sacred scriptures.  This is a kind of evidence for me.  I am not a Muslim, a Taoist, a Hindu, or a Confucian.  So why would I respond to their sacred texts?  But I do.  These texts point toward the Divine.  And I think that there is something there.  Why else would they affect me as they do?

I don’t live in the spiritual world now.  Or at least I’m not conscious of it.  So I also read literature from this world.  We are given birth without an instruction manual.  We make our way through this world as best we can figure out.  I think that great literati are sages with suggestions about how to negotiate our way through this world.  We certainly get enough of this world.  Everywhere we turn, we get this world–making a buck, hustling, doing our job, raising a family, watching reality TV.  But part of life in this world is interaction with the Divine.  And though I love to read Hemingway and Thoreau, they don’t do for me what the Analects of Confucius does for me.  I will continue my reading and wrestling with sacred texts and my hustling for virtue.  My contact with the Divine.  That feeling of serenity, peace, and love that spiritual texts give me suggest that they’re onto something.  Someone once told me that he didn’t see enough evidence to make him believe.  I wonder if he’s looking.  I’ll fully admit that there’s no proof I can put before him.  But my personal experience has encountered evidence that makes me believe.

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