Music

petitioning the Lord with prayer

 

In 1969, the Doors recorded and released what would become their least popular album, The Soft Parade.   On the title track, and one of my favourite compositions I may add, Jim Morrison examines the proposition that you can petition the Lord with prayer.  If you listen to the anger and angst in his voice which ultimately becomes a bomb of a primal scream, you will glimpse at the truth, that you simply cannot petition the Lord with prayer.

Don’t worry. 

This is not going to evolve into a sermon, or some kind of religious exploration of dogmatic faith formation.  I do not intend, nor do I have any desire to convert you or validate your beliefs. cBecause when I started these musings over half a year ago, I promised myself to write with absolute freedom and explore anything and everything that entered my mind.

Please note:  if a discussion of prayer offends you, or makes you uncomfortable, I highly recommend my blog post on nudity and porn.

Ok.  Back to baby.

Soren Kierkegaard had the following things to say about prayer:

 

“The function of prayer is not to influence God,

but rather to change the nature of the one who prays”.

 

It bugs me when people instinctively and haphazardly tell others that they are sending their love, thoughts, and prayers.  How the hell does one do that?  I am certain that those are empty words that signify absolutely nothing.  It’s like signing your name to some sentimental writing on a Hallmark card, which doesn’t really say anything, and finds itself in the recycling bin, shortly thereafter.

The function of prayer is not to influence God.  Our sad tears, decisive moans and groans, threats, pleas, and empty promises to change, to never be hungover again, are not going to subvert love or the laws that govern us.

As dignified as we are, we are no more and certainly no less important than anyone else.

You cannot prepay your way into heaven. 

Prayer is not a thing to do.  It is not a thing at all.  It is a state of being, not a state of doing.  It is either something that you are, authentically and expressively, or you are just an ignorant fool.

The whole purpose of prayer is to gain insight into who we are, so that we can have the courage and gumption to change. 

Prayer helps you to leap. 

It takes the things that confuse and confound us, and brings us into a state of faith and trust.  It is the road map that help us to evolve.  A way to become fully human, fully alive.  And when we begin to move forward and evolve, by doing the things we have never done before, living lives we have never lived before, God, or the Universe if you will, sends us what we need, so that we can sneak our way into Heaven.  So we can experience happiness and steal us a little bit of joy from up top.

Prayer is not a petition. 

Kneeling in pain to pray when all hell seems to break loose, or when someone gets hurt or even dies, is not very prudent. 

Why not pray and change when things are good?  Why not be like Job?  Despite being where find yourself at this moment, you crawl your way towards a state of gratitude.

Why not say a little prayer?  It is nothing more than a means to communicate with everything.  Why not be grateful for the things we have, the things we’ve learned, the things we’ve tasted and experienced.  Why not say a little thank you for all the people that we have gathered on our little thin raft?

The Dutch philosopher was right. 

Never pray to change God or the situation you are in.  Pray for the strength and the courage to leap, so you may find yourself in a new situation all together.

If you pray.  You will find the courage to leap. 

If you leap.  You won’t crash.

Try it. 

Maybe the great religions of the world aren’t crazy.  Maybe they are onto something.

In either case.

Leap!

 


the war of art - part 2

 

The Resistance is powerful and it stops us from being creators.  It distracts or seduces us from being the masters of our destiny.

Rational Thoughts, and our Family and Friends are the other contributing factors that burden our struggle.

What are rational thoughts?

Rational Thoughts are intimately connected to our ego.  They are rational and that is the problem.  In order to create something great, we need inspiration and it does not come from within.  The Greeks and Romans believed in the Muse who would whisper things unseen into the poet's ears.  Living a good life is human domain.  Creating Art is divine.  Just listen to any exceptional singer songwriter like Neil Young or Bob Dylan, and the process is almost identical.  They never take any credit for creating the music.  They all say the same thing.  They were only the vehicle that let the songs out.

Genius doesn't live on the inside.  She is found on the higher plain and it is our responsibility to look for her.

What about our Family and Friends?  Surely they would not resist us?

It is clear that our family and friends loved us.  They love as for who we are, but they want to keep us the same.  It starts when we are babies.  Our mothers don't want us to grow up.  We are so cute that they wish we could stay like that forever.  It would cripple us and destroy us if we did.  

Family and friends don't like change.  It is sudden, and feels uncomfortable.  It awakens the resistance hiding inside of their being.  That sudden fear and anxiety will not be beneficial to our dreams and ventures.

Steven Pressfield is in no way suggesting that our personal relationships with those we love are not important or central to our lives.  He is talking about their usefulness to us as artists.  My boss will never consult my wife or children, so why should we consult them either?  Only you can draw the non-existent map and reach your unrealized potential.  

Our family and friends do not understand the artist that is trying to awaken inside us.  We are truly unborn to even ourselves.  Our only option is to face our destiny and assume our rightful part of the sculptor.  We need to take charge and chisel out our own new life.  

We are not responsible for the marble.  God is.  It is clear that we are the only ones capable of executing masterful strokes with immaculate precision.  We alone can shape ourselves into who we wish to become.

No one can lift wights for you.  No one can stop you from lighting up your next cigarette or pillaging your children's Halloween candy.  Nobody will pick up a pen for you.  No one will tell you what you should photograph next.

Read The War of Art.  

Prepare for battle.

The world needs new warriors!

 


my mid-life crisis

 

I think it's time to speak about my mid-life crisis.

Let me first clarify before you jump to the wrong conclusions that I have not lost my mind.

I have not lost my identity, nor have I lost my self confidence.  My mind is not overwhelmed with melancholic thoughts, and I am not anxious or filled with deep regret.  I don't want to get younger, or grow my hair.  I have not purchased a new shiny sports car, nor do I have any desire for a sordid love affair.

I am happily married and immensely grateful for my beautiful family.  I can also confidently say that I am content with my profession. 

Our family debt is slowly getting smaller.  My health is good.  These are the prime years of my life, and in just twelve more years, I get to retire, and French kiss my pension with open arms. 

All that is left, it seems, is to preorder a good pair of dentures, invest in a modest rental property in sunny Florida, buy a mahogany rocking chair, and pick a good stain for the pine box I'll be buried in.  Maybe a nice Hawaiian shirt wouldn't hurt either.

I have everything I think I need, and yet I find myself at the crossroads of my life, and in a state of crisis.

I've been here before, but not quite like this.  

Not all crossroads are wrought with pain and agony.  Quite the opposite. 

There is a relentless little voice inside my head and it speaks in an inaudible whisper.  I hear it with my soul and it calls me to greatness.  It calls me to heights I never dreamed possible.  To be honest, I want to ignore this little voice because it entices me to the edge of the Abyss.  An Abyss that is dark and cold.  Ready to collapse upon itself at any moment.  When I think of the artists I admire, I see people who were predestined and somehow chosen for their mission.  I don't feel chosen.  I don't feel predestined.

Artists are human caricatures.  They are people who seem so distant and far away.  They seem to live scripted lives.  They are gods and goddesses among us.  Individuals who start revolutions,  brand movements, and destroy to make new.  Their lives are those of legend, the anointed ones, the chosen people.  

There is nothing about me that seems remotely chosen, yet here I sit and wonder who I am not to believe and try? 

That is my crisis.  

I am living inside a moment that is without a doubt calling me to greatness.  I feel pushed and compelled to take swift and decisive action.  I can no longer stand by and wait.  

Part of me is very numb with fear.  Not the fear of failure, but the fear of success.  If I am right, then I have misread the meaning of my life, or perhaps wasn't quite ready to see it before.  I fear that over time, perhaps today or maybe tomorrow, I will have to say goodbye to some of my friends and acquaintances, or rather, they will secretly say goodby to me.  I am undergoing a Kafkaesque metamorphosis and facing my trial.  I am Joseph K.  It feels like I have awakened in the Tower and Babel and I no longer speak the same language.  I think and feel estranged and distant. 

I have decided not to be afraid of the Abyss and to walk with fear and trembling, down a road I do not know or see.  I'm not sure if I am more afraid of the unknown path, or making the return.  If I don't succeed, I will have to crawl back into my old stretched skin, and I'm afraid to imagine how dark and empty it will feel.  Heraclitus was right.  We cannot step into the same river twice, because it is not the same river, and I am not the same man. 

Life perpetually moves forward.  No exceptions.  It is only our mind that is stubborn and braces itself to live in the past.

The word crisis has several meanings. 

It is possessed by the three weird sisters: chaos, anxiety, and uncertainty.  This is why the moment of crisis never feels right.  How can it?  There is nowhere to run.  There is nowhere to hide.  No safety nets.  No underground bunker.  Panic sets in and fear is never far behind, yet despite all of our natural instincts, the only way through, is to stand still, motionless, and watch the storm pass us by.  It always passes by.  Only those that go through the storm are greeted by the new sun.  Only those who are courageous to leap, experience weightlessness, and emerge transformed.

There is a fourth often forgotten sister.  The one we never speak of or ever write about.  She, like Cinderella, is made to sweep our house and be enslaved to others.  Her name is Catharsis and she embodies an opportunity and a chance for growth and change.  

Catharsis is the process of releasing.  A point of purity.  A moment of cleansing.

No, I have not joined a cult.  I'm not a big fan of the secret whispers, the midnight meetings or the sweaty handshakes.  I also think I didn't follow the application process correctly.  If there is one thing I know about cults, it's that they are efficient.  The office was closed, so I might have to wait 'til Monday.  They just hate it when you call them outside of regular business hours.

What does this all mean you ask?  

I don't know.

These are the only words swirling around in my brain and it is all I have in order to try to make sense of where I am and where I want to go.

I have been a photographer for almost ten years, but never took it seriously.  I was lucky to have inherited that passion from my father.  I have never written with meaning and purpose either, at least not until I started these little musings of mine.  I believe I also inherited my love of writing from my father.  

My mother on the other hand game me my soul; the heart to love the broken and forsaken.  I have never met a more beautiful and kindhearted woman in my life.  I had the privilege of meeting one once, and so I married her.

Two men stared out their prison bars.  One saw stars, the other saw mud.

I am standing in a pool of mud, still behind bars, but what is different about me today is that I can see the stars.  

They are beautiful.  They are majestic and they cannot be counted.  

It is not only the sun that happens to shine bright.  She has a seemingly infinite number of brothers and sisters.  Our ancestors spent their life contemplating and rejoicing over those little points of light.  So far away; yet so real and visible.  We don't look at the stars anymore, we only watch them on Oscars night or the Grammys, on our precious little glowing screens.  

I plan to continue writing.  I plan on creating breathtaking photographs.

There is no more dreaming.  No more standing still.

It is time to do the work.

 


it's not what you have, it's what you give

 

It's not what you have, it's what you give.

We seem to have accepted the fragile myth that we are in control. 

We perceive our version of reality through a very foggy and a somewhat murky, half conscious mind.  Much of our effort is spent in accumulating material things, and the more the better.  The other part of our effort is comparing our conquests to those around us, to make sure they see and that we fit in.  We have even built multitudes of storage lockers around us because our homes are not simply big enough to contain it all.

Material possessions are not intrinsically bad, it's what we do with them.  Owning a Porsche and giving your friends a rides in that Porsche, are two completely different experiences.  One gleams and has, the other generously gives.  Microwaving an Swanson's dinner is a thing we have.  Cooking Christmas dinner for the family is an gift, an act of giving.

At the end of our life, we will remember and indeed be remembered for all that we had given. 

Give without taking and help without applause.

 

It's not the life you choose, it's the life you live.

I stole this from one of my favourite songs, proving that music really matters and that art is not a mere vehicle for entertainment or amusement; it is the essence of a well lived life.

We don't choose where we are born.  The world existed long before we came along, and we embrace it as it stands divided and in war.  We can't change that. 

There is no use complaining that our parents didn't make the right investments for us, or that we didn't inherit enough.  There is no use being envious that you don't own a cottage, or afford a vacation, or even the time off work to take one. 

It's the life we live that is important.

Terry Fox wasn't special.  He wasn't the first person to be struck down with cancer and he wasn't the first teenager either.  Running across this beautiful country, ocean to ocean, was not a new idea. 

Yet. 

Terry Fox chose to live his life.  He lived it fully.  He died fighting, living without regrets.

He lived a determined life, and chose to dream for others. 

The burden he carried and the life he lived, has make it possible for so many people to make their own choices.  Choice that were otherwise determined.  Freedom that should have never been possible.

He gave the time he had left.

He lived the only life he had.

And that has made all the difference.

 


dance lesson

 

Reading this will not improve your Cha-Cha.

They say human beings were born to dance, but I know with absolute certainty that I was born to walk, or perhaps stand.  What I really do well however is nap.  We have a sacred family motto that reads - in case of fire, do not wake, just move to a safe location.

I love dancing.  The noun, not the verb.  I love watching, not doing.  The idea, not the activity.

I seem to have inherited the man-gene that encourages me to lean on a wall, like I did at all my grade school dances, and observe the motion and commotion.  Of course, on the other hand, who doesn't love a slow dance?  Its like hugging while moving in a circle, and it is twice as blissful while Stairway to Heaven is playing.  Not because it is the best ballad, but because it is seven minutes and fifty five seconds long!

This post is not about dancing, well, not my dancing anyhow.

This reflection is about my little daughter and what she has taught me this week.

She is five years old and she loves to dance.  Not just dance, she loves to perform!

I have had privilege of being in the front row of her many performances.  She twirls.  She flops.  Sometimes she inadvertently hurts herself.  But she was born to rise again.

This has become somewhat of a routine. 

We are invited to the living room.  The young lady requests that appropriate and energetic dance music be played, and we sit attentively and observe.  The performance begins, and lasts for as long as we let it.  I often get nervous because I know eventually I will get asked to dance.  I never want to, but I always say yes.  I cannot break a little girls heart.

My daughter taught me an invaluable lesson. 

A friend of ours gave us the name of a wonderful children's group that sings and dances, and all their performances are available on YouTube.  All their videos have twenty-five or thirty million views and it is no wonder because these videos are very well produced, professionally recorded, and beautifully choreographed.

The change in my daughter was remarkable. 

For twenty five minutes, she became her father and found a metaphorical wall to support her, and she never danced.  We waited and waited for her to begin, but she never did.  There was no twirl, there was no flop, absolute stillness.

I think about her every day.  I cannot shake her anxiety from my consciousness. 

When no one is watching, we dream dreams and will ourselves do anything.  When we seek the approval of others however, or encounter peers that are more seasoned with experience; we become numb.  We retreat.  We hide, and cuddle up to our security blanket.

This is the safe thing to do but it always kills our spirit.  We were not born to be numb, to retreat, or to hide.  We were born to live, to share, and to dance.

Even me.

 

 


black like me (part 2)

 

Langston Hughes opened my mind many years ago and showed me a painful glimpse into his broken soul. The novelist John Howard Griffin inspired by Langston Hughes' poem Dream Variations, embodied Atticus Finch and did not mind his business.  He discovered the night side of the American Life.  "You never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" (To Kill a Mockingbird, 85-87).  John Howard Griffin did just that.  This exceptional American journalist, climbed inside the skin of a black man, almost sixty years ago, and walked around in it, deep, deep inside the South.

I mentioned Father Tom McKillop in my previous posts.  He was the man who gently nudged me towards Viktor Frankl and his search for meaning.  It seems that once you become fully human, fully alive, you are blessed with unbelievable abundance.  At the same time, Father Tom also introduced me to his dear friend John Howard Griffin.  I never had a chance to meet him because he died five years before I even arrived in Canada, but it is never too late, through art and literature, to know people that we have never met.  As a young man I read and felt the sting of Black Like Me, and that has made all the difference.

You can read his book for yourself.  It is burdensome read, but do read it slowly and carefully. There is much truth about our human nature there.  It is full of timeless insights.

"If a white man became a Negro in the Deep South, what adjustments would he have to make?  What is it like to experience discrimination based on skin color, something over which one has no control?  This speculation was sparked again by a report that lay on my desk.  The report mentioned the rise in suicide tendency among Southern Negroes.  This did not mean that they killed themselves, bur rather that they had reached a stage where they simply no longer cared whether they lived or died" (Black Like Me, 1).

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts.  I have no idea who you are or why you have chosen to stop by here, but I am very grateful that you have.  It is with you in mind that I labour.

I love to tell stories and I'm about to tell a story you will not find anywhere else.

One evening I invited my former College professor John McRae to my apartment in Scarborough, along with Father Tom, and some fellow classmates.  It was a very informal gathering.  I'm not even sure I served food but we were all so engrossed in our conversation. 

I secretly arranged this get together after hearing that both of these great men in my life had not seen each other for years.  They used messenger pigeons, flying back and forth, to keep each other informed.  How happy I was at that time to be a mere messenger pigeon.

Father Tom told many stories about his friend John Howard Griffin that night.  We were fascinated to learn about his friendship with mystic Thomas Merton and French philosopher Jacques Maritain.  We heard stories about the ignorant dark forces sending prostitutes to his hotel room, in an attempt to dishonour and discredit him.

What I remember most vividly however, is his story about the cabdriver in New York City. 

As a young man John Howard Griffin spent time in France, studding musicology, and particularly the meditative power of the Gregorian chants.  After the breakout of the Second World War he joined the French resistance and helped many Jewish people escape to England.  He left France in 1941, having narrowly escaped capture by the Nazi occupiers.  He joined the US army when he returned home and continued the fight.  As a radio operator he kept information flowing in all directions but in 1945, during an air raid, he was hurt by shrapnel and lost his sight. 

Blindness changed him. 

It's ironic isn't it?  Blindness made him see things so clearly that sight kept away for so long.

Life went on with struggle for a young John Howard Griffin.  He married and became the father of four children.  He earned his living by writing about his war experiences, and lecturing on the Gregorian chants.

He would visit New York City often and became friends with one of the cities beloved cab drivers.  They shared stories about their lives.  They enjoyed each others company, and both looked forward to the next lecture that would once again reunite them in New York.

John Howard Griffin called the same company every time he was in town and he always requested the same driver.  That driver was dependable, loving, optimistic, and anticipated things he needed before he did.

On one of the trips, the cab company informed John Howard that the taxi driver was let go and no longer worked for the company.  He was shocked.  How could this be?  This sweet, compassionate man had so few flaws.  What happened?  There had to be a mistake.

The cab company explained that their former employee treated everyone with disdain.  He had a bad temper, terrible manners, and a cancerous outlook on life.  Enough was enough.  There were only so many complaints that a company could handle before they to let him go.  They put up with his dark spirit for too long.

Puzzled and confused John Howard Griffin pressed the issue but without answer.

Months later he learned in passing that his beloved former cabdriver had a horribly disfigured face.  I don't remember if it was burned or scarred, but he lived like that his entire life.  Childhood must not have been so blissful.

At that moment John Howard Griffin realized the contradiction. 

Blindness.

We cannot see disfigurement or ugliness if when we cannot see at all.  This cab driver led a life of great torment, except for the few moments he spent with a blind man.  In those moments he could be who he was, he could be who he was meant to be.

I have never forgotten that story and often wonder how many things I miss and how little I truly know. 

We are the walking blind.  Living a blind existence in open sight.  We shake hands and ask people how they are, without waiting or expecting an genuine answer.  When we are asked in return, we lie and head merrily on our way.  We are quick to judge, and slow to understand.  Slow to give, and quick to receive.  We are far too silent, too passive, too ignorant, and too spoiled. 

We need a blind man to help us see.  We need a poet to make us understand.  We need each other to live.

 


black like me (part 1)

 

I offer you a poem for your consumption.

Langston Hughes wrote and published Dream Variations, in 1926.  It is an subtle series of lines, that found its way into his first poetry collection titled The Weary Blues.  Don't be concerned if you never heard of it.  At one point I was happily oblivious to its existence as well, but it is worth reading.  It's worth some time and study.

Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, in the infancy of the twentieth century.  He died in his late sixties, having made a irreplaceable impact on our world through his collection of plays, prose, and poems.

His life was hard.  He was black, in a white America, long before any traction of the Civil Rights Movement.  His parents divorced right after his birth, seemingly baptizing him with much disappointment and insecurity.  He was raised by his maternal grandmother, but she to left him too.  She died when he was in his early teens. 

After that, he reunited and lived with his mother, often moving from place to place, forever unaccepted and rejected.

As a teenager that he found a way out, he scratched his way with poetry.  He contributed what he could and as much as he was allowed, painfully aware why his work never appeared in main stream poetry magazines.  When you are the wrong colour, in a society with no desire for change, it doesn't matter how articulately you describe your experience.  Your experience doesn't matter.  You are the dark, in the middle of the day. 

He couldn't join a movement because there was no real movement to join yet.  He continued to write and write, becoming a founding member of one.

Langston Hughes was a pivotal pillar of the Harlem Renaissance.  His poetry was different.  It was very down to earth.  His lines mirrored the lyrics and melodies of jazz and blues musicians at the time.  While his contemporaries looked for abstract ideas and metaphors to describe their misery, Langston Hughes connected with the musicians and wrote in simple prose, determined to leave no one out.

Dream Variations is a deceptively subtle poem.  Perhaps the saddest poem I have ever read.  Imagine being so abandoned and struck down by the society, that you long for darkness.  When you look out into the world, you cannot stand tall, and peace only comes in the cover of night and darkness.  They are all you have.  They are Black Like Me.   

 

Dream Variations

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me-
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening...
A tall, slim tree...
Night coming tenderly
Black Like Me.

 


you are not the sum total of your mistakes

 

The majority of our thoughts are always negative and it is somewhat surprising then that we let the good ones in.  It is a heavy burden, but the fault lies in our human nature.  It is a lie.  It seems, we can't help ourselves.  We are just such Shiny Happy People.

In the winter we can't function properly because the Sun fails to provide enough vitamin D.  In the summer, that same Sun gives us skin cancer. 

Lets embrace our genetics for giving us flawed memories and a propensity to be distracted by bright shiny objects.  At least some of the daggers we direct at ourselves fail to hit their target.

But what about those that do?

I have reached the conclusion recently that it is foolish to try stop those thoughts.  They have a strong will and an endless supply of ammunition.

We have to remind ourselves and most importantly, remind each other, that we have an inalienable human will not to listen.

We are not the sum total of our mistakes.

Say thanks for sharing.  Why don't you jerk yourself a soda.  Go play in the middle of a busy intersection.  

Don't sum up your ledger, your faithful accountant is on vacation.

Be who you are mean't to be.

 

 


if not today, when?

 

Yesterday is today's tomorrow. 

Ponder that for a moment.  Read it slowly.

By now your New Years Resolutions are dead.  They were dressed in such fine silky robes and oh so majestically prophesied by the mystics of old, yet here they lay, martyred, resembling the final scene of a Shakespearean tragedy.  The end of resolutions just might be the first sign of the dark days of winter.

We mean well.  We plan well.  We do not execute so well.  It's not our aim, it's our mindset.

Many of us look for the coming of spring, the sunny days of tomorrow, or continuously gaze at the bright star that will lead us to Bethlehem.  We just love our Sugarcandy Mountain.  Molly sure did.

Change starts today.  Tomorrow is too late.  You have other plans.

Change starts right now.

What have you stopped doing?  Why have you stopped dreaming?

Don't make a list.  Don't think for too long, or this moment will dissolve into nothingness. 

Grab the one thing that comes into your mind right now and begin a new.

Today is yesterday's tomorrow.

Begin again.  Begin a thousand times.

The truth is, there will never be a tomorrow, so awake, and be alive today.