The Voyages of Brendan

The Travel of Journey of Joshua T. Harvey, World Traveler, in honor of St. Brendan the Navigator


Haiti: The Jewel of the Antilles (Exit from Haiti, Day 29)

Last night a young man, Ronald, brought me a "ti kado" (a little present). Although Mendel and I were able to see each other briefly a couple of weeks ago, he was unable to make it over the mountains again from the Pelaigre Dam in the Artibonite Valley where he works. With the Internet out I was unable to communicate with him, but he sent this present, his friend as a liason.

The plane was delayed by two hours, so we passed the time watching the Germany-Argentina World Cup match with a bunch of Haitians in the lounge. Those Haitians. Crazy about football. "Fanatik." Jason’s group was late for their flight to Atlanta, only to have their replacement plane leave two hours "en rita." They were not happy, but it only goes to show that Haiti is not just a place—it is a state of mind, garnering patience and flexibility, joy in the face of adversity, courage in rough places.

Most of trip was quiet. I taped up the latch on my bag so I wouldn’t have any problems reopening it. My trunk was very underweight this time. I made my plane to Richmond uneventfully, though we almost did not take off because of a weight restriction. The stewardess and pilot were under the plane, bringing bags up to the cabin and storing them in all these hideaways in order to balance out the load so that we could take off. I think they even poured extra water into the toilet tank so that it would be a few pounds heavier in the back of the aircraft.

Chris and Erin very kindly picked me up around midnight. When I arrived at Chris’ house, I discovered myself unconsciously worrying about mosquitoes, scanning around their house for them. I also wondered if the toilet was really going to flush or if I was going to have to fill up a bucket of water in the sink to pour into it—it actually didn’t the first time I tried! I am not even sure I will recognize the sensation of a hot shower or being able to drink out of the sink without worry. Much less electricity all the time. You get so used to these dysfunctional things about Haiti that you miss having to deal with them. You miss them a lot. You miss them immediately. I did not bother going through my stuff to find a toothbrush, nor did I take a shower. It helped me remember.

Last night Ronald was carrying a bright yellow shirt, hand-stitched and decorated with blue thread, with a little design stitched in the back. The bag covering it said, "Zanmi soley." This morning the gift took on new poignancy. Asking Theremise about what this meant, she cooed and said, "Rad soley se pou moun ki proche de legliz-la." I was shocked and humbled. "The ‘soley’ (sun) clothes are for men who are close to the church." I remembered all the times I had seen Father Brissault and Monpe Malherbe wearing similar apparel. A man close to the church. Confused, I asked her if it was okay for me to wear it. "Ou met"—you may—but she indicated that it was for me to decide. She meant, of course, that when I wanted to I should, but it took on another layer of decision for me. It seemed like an honor, receiving such a garment, that I would have to grow into, even live up to. To wear it was a bigger choice than "on what days"—it was more like "with what disposition". It can help remind me of Haiti and of who I am called to be in the spiritual life, in the world of suffering, in the world of action and contemplation. To be seen as "a man of the church" by another is a humbling but life-affirming task. As I was finishing Richard Rohr yesterday, the book I started on the day of my departure, I could not help but reflect on this shirt and the masculine archetype of "the king," he who makes decisions and controls his own authority. Could I be this type of man, becoming empowered, truly and deeply, not controlling and shallowly? The shirt calls to me because the design stitched into the back, it appears to me anyway, is a crown. As Jason kept reminding me on the trip around the city the day prior, "You are a man. You are like a machete—sharp and powerful, but only when it is necessary to wield such strength. You need to remember this every day." A man of the church. This trip: a "wild man’s journey." Can I become the "wild man" that Rohr writes about so clearly? Will I be worthy of this crown, a crown topped with a sparkling jewel, the remembrance of this trip to Haiti; Haiti, this precious gift that I miss so dreadfully already? This shirt gave me the affirmation to overcome myself and be "a mighty man of valour." Though the road to such empowerment is as twisted and bumpy as a Haitian mountain road, as confused and entangled as Port-au-Prince traffic, unpredictable like a tap-tap, as dank and dirty as La Saline, full of suffering and sickness and death like Cite Soliel, I have already come through or close to these and survived. Beyond mountains there are more mountains, but you pass over them; you swerve through and around cars, dangerously, but also with humor and courage at breaking the rules of the road; you come to dark places but always return to the light. The journey is as obscure as the meeting of sea and sky, but the horizon line is so clearly defined. Both bask as friends of the sun, of the light, empty and reflective.

I eagerly and proudly wore the shirt on the plane ride; I even hoped that it would ward off the overly aggressive skycaps at the airport. Between my large crucifix, the rad soley, and the fact that most of these workers, after frequent trips taking groups to and from the airport, coupled with the association with Domonde and Matthew 25 House’s vehicle, think I am a priest and call me "Monpe" already, gave me some authority when I told them that "Nou ka pote chay nou-yo."

We are able to carry our own loads.

"If your trunk is too heavy, take out the wheel rack and carry it on the plane." When things go wrong, be flexible.
Enjoy life. Be incarnated. Pour some water into the toilet. Balance the weight. Remember. Carry your load proudly on your head like a Haitian woman, graceful, poised, but powerful. Wear it like a crown.

What is a burden always reveals itself as a blessing. In carrying, we learn new lessons.

Very soon I won’t need a shirt to remind me: be Haitian.
Be a friend of the sun, of the light, sparkling like a jewel.

It is very precious to me, this "ti kado."

EDH: 10:15PM-6:10AM

Tour de Portoprens (Day 28)

Today I was taken on a 6 hour tour of the city. It was a wonderful way to pass the last day—a sort of reminiscence coupled with a looking-ahead to next time. It provided a complete contrast to yesterday’s funk.

We traveled the familiar Route de Delmas to the National Palace, but from a side street that allowed us to view the Palace and the sea together. We walked around the square and toured the neighboring statues and monuments. After maneuvering around the government center, we drove by the Cathedral, passing the Episcopal St. Trinite Church on the way. We were heading towards the dangerous area of Bel Air, coming within a block before heading down to the port area. We passed through Croix des Bossales, the market area where slaves were first unloaded in Haiti, passing La Saline, a slum area second only to the precarious Cite Soleil, the poorest place in the western hemisphere. The majority of the market road we discussed the smell: rotting and fresh vegetables, the sea and trash. We began arriving within a block of Cite Soleil, perilous shantytown, viewing the water tower on the kidnapping road, Route Nationale #1, before turning around—too dangerous. We returned through downtown past the crowded Marche de Feu, viewing the old St. John Bosco Church where Aristide began as a priest—his fiery rhetoric was met with a firebomb inside the church sometime in the early 90’s. We also heard of the Cow’s Head Market which was burned last fall, with people inside of it, by bandits and gang members in protest of the interim government. Heading up to the affluent Petionville suburbs, we continued into the spectacular mountains and foggy, crisp air of Kenscoff, closer to the views and clime of Scotland than what one thinks of Haiti. From there we could see the whole of Port-au-Prince below us, the sea, airport, and city in miniature, while basking in the sun and crisp breeze. We took a quick stop at the Baptist Mission founded by Wally Turnbull—a complex of beautiful buildings, a church, and a nice museum. Part of the museum was an exhibit on vodoun, which was strange, both that the Baptist museum held these artifacts (though in order to condemn them) and also because we had been having a tutorial in vodoun on the way up the mountainside (we talked about it, not did it). After visiting the house of Riccardo, our chauffeur for the day, we returned home.

I talked about buying some of this mountainside property near his house—I am pretty sure it is relatively cheap. Riccardo seemed to think this is a distinct possibility, even offering to make the deal for me. It would be well worth the effort of saving and taking a loan here or there in order to put a house in this prime spot. As the Haitians say, "Si BonDye vle"—"If God wishes."

A lot of the trip was spent discussing heavy thoughts with Jason, the photojournalist for whom the trip was made. He reminded me that I was already where I needed to be, as well as giving me suggestions on how to reclaim power lost to guilt, church life, and other issues that I have been confronting, very often in these writings. He suggested that I start in some aggressive martial arts or other type of physical discipline—what my spiritual advisers and shrinks have been saying for several years—in order to return more fully to my body, to grounding, to the earth. Our conversation completely locked in with Richard Rohr’s book, which I started on the way here and will finish on the way out. It is time for me to return to my masculinity without fear, with integration, with powerful powerlessness and powerless power.

To be and experience.

Outside people are singing. Church hymns, I think. Clapping in complementary rhythms. Repeating joy. This is Haiti. Port-au-Prince. City by la mer. Mountains cascading. Slum villages. Fetid trash piles. Markets of fresh vegetables. Panoramic vistas. Traffic jams of tap-taps. Where ocean fights the horizon in constant struggle. Where people live fully in themselves and not just in their heads, without the worries and trappings of an affluent society—this, there spiritual wealth: to trust in the earth, the spirits, The Spirit, God, Christ Roi. They are provided what they need, which seems like nothing to our jaded desires. But it is everything.

Today’s nostalgia may seem strange after yesterday’s ill humor. But the people are singing, I am sweating, hungry, tired, settled. It has been a journey without my constant analysis; one day I will live in myself like they do, incarnated but not incarcerated, without the need for thinking ahead or behind, to be truly in the moment, without a filter.
Haiti: the place where nothing works, but it always works out.
God bless Ayiti.

EDH: 6PM-8PM, 9:15PM-10:30PM

The Creeping of the Hours (Day 27)

Today has been a hard day, a battle of thoughts and ideas, of action and trying not to act.
I packed today. I am ready to come home. What else am I really doing around here for two more days? More of the same, which is very little. It is very similar to taking a seven hour drive—the last thirty minutes are the most difficult because you are so close to home but not quite there yet—but you want to be so much you try to will it, and, in willing it, you point out just how far away you are. It is a control issue, wanting to pack up and travel and be somewhere, to do something. The obsessive compulsive creation needs to act and move because it has become unbalanced. I moved a bookshelf from a room and back just to have something to do. Packing was only a pretense of practicality—"to see how much space I have now"—but was really just acting out of control.


I am so afraid I haven’t learned anything here. The last several weeks have been more luxurious than before—the air-conditioned room, the feast meals, the hours of no work, the staff becoming more and more like servants (which is an awful and ironic thing to think while in Haiti). This is so far from removed from what I anticipated—I am afraid I have depleted spiritually by coming. Will I have moved to the next realm of my life? Will people say "He changed so much in Haiti"? For the better? Am I more spiritual, more easy-going, more flexible, less controlling, more yielding? I am so worried about not having accomplished something, become someone different. Perhaps while being-on-The-Way, I am moving myself In-the-Way-of-Myself—embodying my old habits and thought patterns, instead of yielding to the truth. I feel no different, simply seeing the country as another place to be, unaffected, detached from the poverty. I am simply used to it, maybe even taking my position here for granted.
Jesus is the paradigm of someone who has yielded completely to the Father, so perfectly that he was the Father Himself. We are to follow this example. But to understand Jesus’ role, we must return to the story of the stormy sea, Jesus asleep, the fearful disciples’ terror. The priest discussed this posture, this strategy, of eyes closed as a moment of true faith. Only in the moments that we are lost can we reach for God Himself, without even Jesus. He removes himself as a mentor and guru, teacher and friend, so that we can find our own place; example, yes, enabler, no, so that we can find true empowerment.

I would hope that this is where I am in these final days, that my confusion and tempestuous thoughts—the sea as subconscious, the sky consciousness, in battle for the balanced horizon—are the true vestiges of yielding: letting-go of the situation so completely that thoughts, ideas, change, self-improvement are no longer important. It is the flip side of experience undermining the need to do in order simply to be, without judgment, even enduring the monotony of the last two days. Waiting for nothing. Acting on nothing. No-thing. God. And then acting in the space. Experiencing. Living. Breathing. In-Spirited. In-Carnated. Godly.
I want to be the right person, do the right thing, feel the right spirit, so much that I try to will it, and, in willing it, I simply see just how far away I am. But then, as Dawn said to me yesterday at Hospice, I am missing the ride, the being, and the growth experiences, the acting. Not-doing: the feeling of nothing-coming, no-being-coming, which is impossible, because being-always-is, even after death; the ultimate act of Yielding?

EDH: 6:10PM-10PM, 12AM-7AM.

Genyen Maladi nan Chay La (Day 26)

Stomach-sickness this morning. I hope this is not due to a bacterial infection or some other nasty thing in food or water but is merely from a poor eating choice. I have felt better as the day progressed, so I am hopeful, though I spent most of the morning in bed feeling weak.

The Internet men came today and succeeded in disconnecting us completely from service, saying that we need a new receiver for the antenna. That will only cost $500 American, and renders communication with friends impossible for the rest of the journey.

I drove by myself to Hospice St. Joseph today to meet with Dawn. We had a talk for several hours about life and suffering. She counseled me that I was already on my way and that I needed no advice from her. This is validating. I did not receive all of the information from her that I would have liked, but partially this was due to my talking about other things. She gave me a tour of the Hospice, which is several stories tall, overlooking the mountains and sea to the west of Port-au-Prince, towards Cite Soleil and Carrefour. Truly beautiful—she mentioned the amazing sunsets and that there was also a year-long volunteer position open there. I did not feel drawn to it, though the sea beckoned from afar, telling me that I could be a next-door neighbor should I want. I would love to stay and learn more Kreyol and work with the dying patients from the countryside—but now is not the time. I am refreshed and ready to play the piano again—it feels like a foreign activity to me now—can I even do such a thing? Music, in general, is creeping up on me.

EDH: 1AM-8:15AM

La Mer: Galilee (Day 25)

I realized today that I have broken through a Kreyol barrier, and have come to the other side of being able to use the words I know without thinking. I am not saying I am anything but a beginner, but I don’t have to try and remember words—what I know is now flowing nicely. I have also suddenly been able to understand more in conversation. I had about an hour discussion with Theremise this morning during which, except the times she spoke too quickly, I understood a fair portion. This figures, of course, since I will be leaving in four days and will not be able to use the language again for some time. It does inspire me to go back to French class for a semester and to possibly take up some German—I will be going to Germany, "si Bondye vle," with the University Chorus next spring, and, hopefully, to Switzerland with my mother.

We went to Mother Theresa’s Orphanage again today. Always a beautiful experience, feeding and nurturing those who are broken and abused; by them, we are evermore changed. I look forward to going to the St. Joseph’s Hospice tomorrow.

Yesterday many of us heard the story of Jesus calming the sea, a tale familiar to all of us: Jesus is sleeping in the bottom of the boat while the disciples are crossing the sea. Suddenly a storm whips up a gale force wind and threatens to capsize the boat. The terrified followers wake their master and plead for help. He rebukes the storm, "Quiet! Be still!" Asking the disciples why they are afraid, he continues with a more poignant question: "Why are you lacking in faith?"
This story, like many of the tales of Jesus, can be seen as fulfillment, literarily and mythologically, or literally and factually, of the Old Testament, the latter parts of Psalm 107 in particular (the Brendan psalm, as I like to think of it, which, it occurs to me, could have informed the famous Latin tale of the saint’s travels). Or, like many of the stories in the Gospels, it can foreshadow the coming trials, death, and resurrection. I had not considered it this way until yesterday, so I would like to use this hermeneutic, that of a foreshadowing, as the point of interpretation. I will also use the event mythologically—that it did not actually happen, literally, but as an elucidation of truth which surpasses mere factuality, that a story can be truer than real life. Early Christians, as I understand it, used the story of Jonah as a symbol for the death of, the harrowing of hell by, and the Resurrection of Jesus. We can view this sea story in a similar light.

In his homily yesterday, the priest at St. Louis de Gonzague said something to the effect of "Jesus was not really sleeping—his eyes were merely closed." This seems true to Jesus’ understanding of death—when he raises someone to life, he always proclaims, "She is not dead, but merely sleeping." This fits the apocalyptic understanding of the Gospel writers regarding the end-times—bodily resurrection. What is more important is Jesus’ laying himself down amidst the world and then reviving into a new situation. He sinks into the bottom of society, descends into the dream-like illusion of existence only to return—but to what? Jesus descends into chaos and revives into peace. What is so important is that the resurrection into the new self is always one that begins in chaos and leads to peace. Psalm 144 begs God to save us "from deep waters, from the power of [our] enemies."

The priest yesterday also pointed out the possibility that Jesus’ apparent detachment was a stratagem for testing the faith of his followers. I could not but wonder if the people of Haiti felt this way, that they are in a sinking ship, waiting for some saving command, an authoritative voice of leadership, a stillness in their lives. It is normal to ask, but I will ask again: can we bring the peace of Christ to them? Can we do this unless we have been taken into the depths of our selves, our errors, our over-active minds and schedules, and been stilled by the power of faith? If we can see ourselves as part of this tossing sea, understand our part in churning off the waves, feel the daily sinking of unmindful actions, and understand this ocean as vast and great suffering—can we then, by faith, come back out and be at peace, even when the boat still is rocking? Can we herald the call of change for the world by sleeping first in inner peace and then commanding stillness outwardly with the great power of our own tranquility? In this harmony we can resolve ourselves both into discord and out again into resolution: integrated serenity of mind, body, and spirit with a resolute will to change ourselves and the world.

It was fascinating to me to think that this story was simply the story of Jesus dying and coming back to stillness—of going under to his enemies, sin and suffering, and to bring us through this process likewise, whether it be literal, or, again, the mythology of our own spiritual journey.
Jesus called most of his followers from the sea. That includes all of us.

EDH: 10:30PM-11:40PM, 12:15AM-1:30AM, 2:30-4:30AM


Random Reports (and Mis-Reports) (Day 24)

EDH: 9:30PM-11:30PM, 9:30AM-7:10PM (!!!)

Today the gods of power gave us a full day’s share of electricity. As a consequence, we spent from 9:30AM-1:30PM doing the laundry which had piled up for several weeks. Eight loads is a lot of sheets and towels. In order to do the wash, we have to fill up the machine with wash-water and soap, then let it run through the clean cycle, draining the water into the dirt (all of the machines are outside), then filling it up again for the rinse cycle. The rinse cycle water gets poured into the neighboring machine (we have six in a row in various stages of functionality), then the whole process begins again. After rinsing we have to hang all of the sheets either in the washing courtyard or upstairs on the roof. Then we fold them and organize them according to size so that we can make and change beds quickly between large groups. It takes a lot of energy, at least for me, unaccustomed to such honest labor.

It was a hot day, so I took off my shirt to garner a nice burn, which I hope will turn into the tan I expect people assume I have absorbed here in the Carribean. A sneak rainstorm approached this afternoon, so we had to rush to get the remaining towels off the lines.

The remainder of the day I spent relaxing, napping, and reading in my air-conditioned room, so that the Lord’s Day had some resting involved.

I realized last night that I had reached a turning point about being ready to come home. This is because I only have five days left, not simply because I miss everyone and my life in Lexington—though this is true to some degree as well. If I had to make my life here, I could do it and get by gladly; but, as the trip winds down, home seems more graspable and therefore wanted. I was at Mass this morning thinking about what I would be playing at church today had I been there. These thoughts led to all sorts of “what-ifs,” but not so much that I could not enjoy my day here completely. It will just be good, different, to be back home. I will have to jump right into all sorts of projects, which may be even more stressful after such a quiet time here. Of course, I am already anticipating Edinburgh in August.

Living in community here with Father Alan, Ted, and Helene has helped me to reflect on how many moments I control at home without having to make a sacrifice of any kind. This is something I have known for awhile, that my alone time at home can let me do as I please. It is very difficult to be with someone 12 hours a day. I have tried to reclaim some personal time and space alone, but this can be very difficult even in this relatively large house. There are limited resources—one computer, for example—that must be shared. I live on my own schedule most of the time, so to compromise and make room is not a bad thing, but often surprisingly difficult for me. Everyone has been easy to get along with and pleasurable to be around, but I have been challenging myself to imagine married life or monastic life. After this experience, I am not sure I could do either, which means I will hopefully be led to one in order to practice yielding more often.

I hesitate to post this because it may seem like I am besmirching the good workers of Matthew 25; it just an odd set of occurences that I must relay. I have begun to suspect that someone working here in the house is taking my personal belongings. Obviously this is not an accusation to take lightly, even though I am not going to pursue any possible punitive results, so I underscore the fact that I may simply have misplaced them under accidental and unknown circumstances.

I had a camera disappear right around the trip to Carrefour, which I simply shook off as Ted mistakenly putting it in his bag, or my inability to keep up with my things--I had taken it out of my room as I was packing for the day, leaving it on the kitchen table. Then the day Ted left my toothpaste went AWOL. Again, I thought that an accidental packing by him or the guests who stayed in his room that night was to blame, though it seemed obvious that it was not a communal toiletry. Today I discovered that my razor was gone. This is more than just taking something off the common shelf accidentally--my razor was packed under the table in the bathroom in my toiletries bag. I am trying not to be angry about things being stolen, if indeed they were, because they are simply things and can be replaced; I had intended to leave most of the belongings I had brought down anyway. I can also, understandably, not assume that it is one of the staff here--our house is open at all times that we are here. But, I am a bit concerned how, should a security guard, for example, be bogarting my goods, I can trust him to protect us during the night! Mostly I am just very disappointed at that chance that someone would not ask us and take advantage of our trust. These are materials which could so easily be provided by us or the supplies stockpiled in the house--because there are, in fact, stockpiles of toothpaste and razors, and even a few extra cameras around. I also hate to be suspicious of anyone around here, so I write this to cleanse out the suspicions and let the matter go; similar things have happened to me before without resolution, so I set the scenario down to bed here.

Speaking of, perhaps I should check to see if they have been pushed under my bed by my carelessness. Nope.

If someone has indeed taken them, may God bless their wants and needs, and may He bless the using of what I do not really require.

Our Internet suddenly decided to work again, so I just read on Yahoo that a Canadian missionary who was kidnapped last week in northern Port-au-Prince was freed last night during the awesome rain storm we had. Both of these pieces of news were, well, new to me (“If I haven’t seen it, it’s new to me!”). The byline of the piece mentioned “an upsurge of violence in the capital.” This is also news to me. As always, I cannot tell if this is the typical misreporting (the standard whipping-boy, “gangs loyal to former President Aristide,” was, of course, to blame) and sensationalism (though I only went to church today, everything seemed fairly quiet on the block-and-a-half drive—and I have yet to hear gun fire at any point this whole month, though there are police and UN tanks with all sorts of large weapons) about Haiti, but this man had definitely been kidnapped. We were also definitely stopped at a checkpoint the other night (though not by the UN as listed in the report). I post this not to make anyone fearful for my well-being, but to say that not everything is as is reported; we certainly will remain vigilant and cautious, but this reminds so much of the terrorist alerts we have to endure back in the US, not to mention all the false information coming out of the city into the rest of the world. “Upsurge of violence” indeed! It’s equally strange that I have not heard a word about this kidnapping until a week after the fact, though I do not doubt its authenticity.


Yielding Returns (Day 23)

Today has been a true day of rest and catching up on lost sleep. It has been a lazy, thinking day, with some light grocery shopping thrown in, plus some reading and World Cup matches. We got an e-mail from Ted, which was wonderful; he is missed, though Helene and I are still kicking it, gangster-style, as evident from our adventure with the police. I am not so sure Ted isn't glad that he wasn't here for that.

We found out today that Theresa, our boss, will be flying in Wednesday. We will have to prepare the house for her. I am glad that I took Ted and Father Alan's room with the double bed in it, having lived in the office for three weeks; Helene will have to move into it next week.

The rest of today's writings are highly philosophical and are dedicated to Dane Boston, Daniel Brinson, and Harry Pemberton, whose free-time and class-time allowed such thoughts to be birthed and discussed. Sometimes the baby is unruly, other times it is tame, other times, simply ridiculous. Read on if you dare.

The thought occurred that if Tao (is) yielding, free will can enter in.

Yielding (is) open to all, including non-yielding. If yielding (is) the way of the universe, it can admit of the capacity for non-yielding. To use an example from Heidegger, if someone is blind, it is because he always already had the ability or capacity for sight; it is simply now dysfunctional: sightedness is a prerequisite for blindness. Similarly, yielding is a prerequisite for non-yielding. The simple use of the prefix “non” must include the “yielding” portion of the phenomena to make sense, otherwise it would just be “non” with no other phenomenal characteristics whatsoever. Yielding allows non-yielding to pass by.

One could argue that you could simply chose “closed-ness”, for example, as a descriptor, but closed-ness does not allow for the possibility of motion; it is locked up, unable to breathe. If the universe (is) non-yielding, it cannot admit of anything—no motion, movement, creation, destruction. It could have no (is) about it, because it would [(be)] (not-is). Some openness must exist to allow safe passage of existence. Yielding and non-yielding are active, both noun and verb, and so do not have the finality of either “closedness” or “openness,” though “openness” is pregnant with potential to both emptiness and form—in a word, the ability to yield to such appearances or non-appearance. As such, yielding can admit of its opposite, while non-yielding cannot.

With the open space of yielding possible, the ability to form a block to its movement, non-yielding, remains in-tow. The blockage of the movement only serves to more fully define the openness. We can view the un-viewable: emptiness. To overturn the aforementioned illustration in order to show the phenomenological nature of this freely admitted limitation (because yielding admits of non-yielding), we are actually blinder to what we experience because we are mostly living in the world of form—the blocked movement, and what we underlies this form is free of quality: it is emptiness, ether.
The blocking nature of non-yielding shows allows us to see the emptiness as emptiness, because it is form defined as form.

This yielding is beyond the pull of Being and beings, of the ontological difference. It is, in fact, the movement, the worm-hole, between the two that allows existence to exist and move to be experienced. It allows us to experience and make experience happen—the safe passage of existence. It is like a tunnel, open to movement and defined by its walls, its limits. In the realm of its openness it is the clearing for appearing and non-appearing, Being, emptiness; in the realm of its limits, it is form, beings. It lets loose the space between noun and verb, subject and object, subjectivity and objectivity—but it (is) beyond these, prior. It moves with and through and under and around.

It (is) of its own accord. Being the ground of all existence, movement, and reality, it (is) itself in the moment of interaction with it. It yields choice or not-choice. With yielding inherent to non-yielding and non-yielding the defining limits of yielding, the echo of such movement can be found in choice: to be or not to be, for example. Free will can open up to choosing or not choosing. Further, we can choose to align ourselves with such yielding, or choose not-to-yield. Yielding must yield to choice, otherwise, it would [(be)] not-yielding.

EDH: 9PM-4:30 AM



This is one of those bizarre stories from Haiti that you hear about. I am not going to try and pretty up the prose, because this story needs to be protected in memory simply for what it is.

Last night we went to the Hotel Olaffson, one of Port-au-Prince’s best known landmarks, to hear the band RAM, one of Port-au-Prince’s best known bands. The Olaffson was made famous as the setting of Graham Greene’s novel The Comedians, and has been a meeting place for Bohemians, ex-pats, and “journotrash,” as author Bob Shacossis has dubbed them, for about fifty years. The building itself is, well, infamous as a monstrosity: white gingerbread, turn of the 20th Century, three stories tall, built into a rock face on a hillside, part art nouveau, part haunted house. The décor is vodoun oriented with statues and flags and so is RAM’s musical style, a mix of konpa and vodoun rhythms. RAM, founded by ex-pat Richard Morse, a disgruntled New York musician searching for new beats in the era of New Wave schlock who bought the hotel on a whim, weathered the political turmoil of the first coup d’etat in 1991 and the preceding unrest, writing subtly subversive songs in the racine style, using tradition drums in addition to drumset, bass, guitar, keyboards, and vocals. Richard Morse himself was routinely shaken down by the Tonton Macoute even as the Cedras government used his band as a front of faux democracy and false freedom of speech. At the return of Aristide, they performed at the National Palace to thousands of fans. Subsequently, one of their songs was used on the soundtrack to the movie Philadelphia.

We arrived at the Olaffson around 10PM. This is very late for my standards, but we went with two students who are staying here and their German friend, Marin, who has been working in Port-au-Prince for several years. They had been to see the band during their last trip in March, so I felt that taking a small risk was warranted; they themselves thought nothing about going, but, though I was encouraged by their attitude, I thought them to be a bit gallant. Nonetheless, we loaded up the Pathfinder and went downtown.
We passed by a police checkpoint, but they were stopping people going in the other direction. “Helene,” I said, “It’s funny that we weren’t stopped because when I changed shirts today I left my driver’s license in the other shirt pocket!” We laughed at our brazen luck. I also said that if anything should ever happen on the road, Helene should start calling me “Monpere” which is “Father”—as in priest—in Kreyol, because priests seem to have special status in Haiti. We laughed at how funny that would be too.

On arriving we were directed to a parking space on the road beside the hotel. Suddenly teenage boys are clamoring around the car. As we got out, it finally dawned on us, with some help from Marin’s French and Kreyol skills, that we were going to have to pay them to “protect” our car. This protection is basically a racketeering and extortionist ploy: they are protecting your car from themselves. People who refuse to pay up front routinely return danced-out and a bit inebriated to find their tires slashed.

We walked up the torch-lit driveway to the massive staircase leading up to the wrap-around porch and front entrance. The bar and club rooms were full of people, gathering en masse closer to show time. As clubs go, this was no exception—we waited at least an hour for the band to start. They finally exploded onstage with the polish and energy of a decade-old house band. The real coup, I thought, was that Richard Morse bought this decaying edifice and made his band the weekly act. The subsequent turmoil mixed with steady performances has made RAM coltishly legendary to anyone who knows anything about Haiti. I could write more about the music, the drumming, the fervent dancing of the crowd, but it has to be heard and seen to understand the experience.

Helene quickly found herself dancing with a Haitian man and having a good time. Marin and the two students were drinking beers as I watched from the side room where the music was not too loud for my ears (I did bring earplugs, but I thought that I did not need to stick out anymore so than I already did). At around 1:30AM I started to feel tired and cautious about the drive home. One of the students had had enough as well, but the other three were still partying. Helene was now wearing the hat of the Haitian man. Marin and the remaining student were downing a glass of the hotel’s celebrated rum punch. I consoled myself with the fact that this was a one-time experience. I was still entertained by the scene, but I was getting restless.

At the band’s break, Marin, the two students, and I convened on the porch to take in the breeze, watch the Haitians grinding to Kreyol rap and pop tunes, and conversing about politics, religion, and other topics about which I am all together too ready to discuss but which require some alcohol for others to feel at liberty. Suddenly, a series of hits on my shoulder revealed Helene wandering off, being dragged by the Haitian man and carrying his hat. I didn’t realize until later that she was trying to be rescued, so we all just waved at her as she passed by.

The band resumed but was soon slowed by a power outage. There were enough safety lights to keep things unhidden and people dancing. Resistant to the end, RAM carried through with drums and a capella chanting. By now I had enough excuses to try and call it a night, but one of the students reminded me that this was prime RAM, just like in the coup d’etat days when machete-wielding soldiers cut the power to silence the seditious guitars only to discover that the power of the African drum, the power of Ginen, could not be silenced. I sank back to listening for a few moments until Helene showed up saying, “We have to go. This guy won’t leave me alone.” We escorted her, a scrum of handlers protecting her from an unwanted suitor, to another room. Her shadow was fleet. We actually went outside to a back area to hide but he still appeared like a high-schooler in heat.

“He kept telling me that he loved me—in English,” she muttered, “and that”—and I quote—“he could ‘go for hours.’” I finally turned this charade into the strong suggestion that we would now be leaving. Marin curtly but warmly confronted the poor and lonely man thanking him for a pleasant time with Helene, but that we were all going home for the night.

We wandered through the jungle of side-stairs and palm trees to find our car, safe as promised. The boys demanded payment, which we gave to them. I was willing to give them a $10 bill, but Marin insisted only on 100 Gourdes or so, which is about $2. We paid one boy and began to drive off. In a typical Haitian situation, another boy knocked on the window demanding his payment too. We told him that we had already paid someone and that he would have to work it out with the other kid. He was resilient and even annoying—this quotidian scenario plays itself all over the city constantly. We finally just drove away.

It was now about 2 AM.

The two students argued on the way back how we should have treated the boy, pity or loathing. I sat silently, not knowing what to think, watching the darkened streets for potholes. We came around a corner. Police checkpoint. Men with machine guns and shotguns. Waving us to stop.

This is not the first time I have had a gun pointed at the vehicle I was in, nor will it be the last, I am sure. Everyone was very calm. Routine checkpoint at 2AM.

There are commercials on during the World Cup matches that inform you how to identify real policemen from fake policemen. Many men in Haiti have acquired uniforms and use it to their advantage in all sorts of ways, ranging from mostly harmless to deadly.

The first identifying attribute is to check the identification cards hanging around their necks, “Not inside the shirt, nor pinned to a pocket” the commercial instructs in Kreyol. These men had chains, but no cards. Anywhere.

The second trait is that they will be driving a vehicle marked with the police seal, a number on the side, and a special license plate with the same two marks. Their vehicles did actually have all of these.

Were these real policemen or not? What is one to do when men have weapons?—it makes authenticity a moot point. Demanding to see their badges—where would that lead us?

We rolled down our windows. The lead officer demanded, in perfect French, to see my “license de conduit” and my passport. It was ironic for him to ask me for my papers, while none of his could be found.

It’s a funny thing, speaking Kreyol daily—the French is still there in the brain, but it is much more difficult to pull out on demand, hidden—like the policemen’s ID badges— nowhere to be found; it comes out conjugated sometimes, and not others, confused and unclear, a pastiche as vague as these men’s truck markings. I attempted to speak back in French, but not quick enough. It was clear that I had left my license at home.

It’s a funny thing, leaving the license at home. I actually pulled it out of the other-shirt pocket and locked at it, then put it back in, not feeling like it was important—no little warning voice of intuition—thinking, “I’ve never had to have this before—it’s not like anyone respects the police here anyway.” So odd how much respect a man with a shotgun garners on the Haitian roadside after midnight.

It was now 2:15 AM.

He berated me, nicely but sternly, for a minute for not having my license or my passport. No foreigner carries his passport in Haiti, and one of students in the back seat—did I mention before that they were law students?—said as much in French. Not good French, but better than my now-faltering conversation. The lawyer took over in a series of well-played, but unsuccessful tricks.

I always carry my license with me, but had left it at home tonight on accident.
--No excuse.
He had his driver’s license and a photocopy of his passport in his wallet. Could he drive?
--But I was the one driving now.
He and everyone else had been drinking, so I, who had not, was sober-driving.
--But if there was or had been an accident, I would be the one liable.
Not if it was his car and I was sober-driving.
--(This apparently does not work as well in a country where people drunk drive often—but not so often because no one drives after night here. It’s not safe.)
--Could we please step out of the car?
Absolutely not.
--Are we hiding anything illegal in the vehicle?
No. Search the whole car, from top to bottom, we have nothing to hide,
--What are you doing here?
We are working on a student research paper. Here are our student ID’s.
--What school?
The University of P***
--You should all have your passports and driver’s licenses.
We don’t carry our passports in this country—it is unsafe and there are bandits about.
--It is national law that you carry your passport for identification at all times. Do you think I could go to the Dominican Republic and drive and not carry my passport there?
But no visitors here carry passports. We are warned not to.
--But it is the law.
Then can we send someone home to pick up the driver’s license and passports and return?
--You are already breaking the law.
But if someone could just go get them, we could show you that we are not here illegally.
--It is too late for that.

This went on for about 5 more minutes or so until Marin, who was ahead of us and had already passed the checkpoint, was returned escorted by two armed men after she explained that we were following her back to the road that we all knew so that we could make it home safely.

I started asking Saint Brendan to make a way for us.

Marin jumped right in, blond hair, dimples, an angel from Almagn—so we all thought after this adventure—in French and spoke with the police. After several more minutes of discussion, in which she basically said “Give us the ticket or a fine or let us go” (but in much more diplomatic terms), he said the infraction would cost us $300 Haitian. This equals 1500 Gourdes. Or, $40 American. The exact amount we had in the car.

It’s funny about this $40. A week before the trip to Haiti, one of Helene’s friends was discussing the trip with her and said, “Here is $20. Keep it in your pocket for something important.” It sat in her pocket through all of her travels up until this point. Just before leaving the house, one of the students paid me for some crafts, so I had put that, you guessed it, $20 into my pocket—just in case. I had the feeling I should. (Strangely, not my license, but $20.) If I had paid the boys outside the hotel as I had thought reasonable, we would have been short $5-10.

There was another five minutes spent trying to assure the policemen—if they even were policemen—that $40 American equals $300 Haitian, one policeman actually calling someone on his phone to make sure this was correct.

It was 2:30 AM.

After this resolution the situation lightened up considerably. They had told the student that his French was very good and we all had agreed that it was a frustrating experience, but suddenly things became even less official. They said that there was another checkpoint on the road to our house and that they would call ahead for us. We watched one “officer” do it. They gathered around our car and told us that the road ahead was very dangerous, so we should follow them and they would protect us. We felt this a welcome piece of news. Helene, who did have her license on her, switched places so that we would be on the road legally. The men got up into their truck with their gear and arms and took off into the night, us trailing behind. At the main road they waved and we thanked them as they wished us good night. We made it home safely.

2:45 AM.

We discussed with Thay, who was working security on our arrival, what had happened.
He sort of laughed but also warned us about fake policemen, but then added that if they had the police truck, then it was okay; we were home safely; oh, and if they had not been real policemen things would have turned out very differently. For the worse.


Now, could it be that I did not bring my license for our own safety, so that we could be stopped, hassled, but then kept safe on the dangerous road? I wanted to think that as I wandered off to sleep. I never felt like I was in danger, nor was I afraid. Mostly I was annoyed and tired. But, was there a point, if any? To prove God’s love and protection?

As Theremise prepared to cook dinner and clean the kitchen this morning, I told her the whole story as a way to practice my Kreyol. She was concerned for most of it, saying, “They are not real policemen if they don’t have their papers around their necks.” This was validating because it seemed like the government was aiming for transparency after months of vigilante justice and hooded men dressed all in black disappearing dissidents; policemen must be identified as such (though, I wasn’t sure how broadcasting exactly how was going to stop bandits from copying those features also); even more so validating because the publicity gained through the World Cup matches was actually being seen and people were receiving the word on the police force. After asking why we were leaving the house way after the time we should be returning to it on any given night, I told her I was well aware of the safety concerns, that the young were often too gallant, and that it was a one-time event only. Besides, we had learned our lesson. She was confused about the badges and the police vehicle, though. We decided it wasn’t important whether they were real police or not, because “N’ap viv”—we were still alive.

I turned to telling this tale as a lesson to myself and everyone else. But the moral of the story is not whether we were foolish or whether one should not go out after dark in Port-au-Prince.

I started thinking about how Marin would not have taken us through any place dangerous, and so I wondered why we needed their protection. From who? Their “protection”…..

We had been scammed.

Confirmation from Helene that the men did have some sort of badges, only put into shirt pockets and….and in places where we would not be able to identify them by name or number. With a real police truck. I suddenly remembered them waving a Haitian motorcyclist through after a brief chat and maybe even a car or two with no problem….
They were real policemen hiding their identity but using their legitimacy to make money. Here we were, an SUV full of white people, in the middle of the night….It suddenly dawned on me: we needed to pay them for their “protection”—from themselves.

Little boy racketeers grow up to be men racketeers.

With guns.

If someone requires you to pay them for protection, just remember whose interests they are protecting, and from whom they are likely protecting you.

EDH: I was told 11PM-4:30AM


Non-Yielding: Exception, Rules, and Riddles (Day 21)

I cannot give any solid explanation to today’s writings, but merely shadows of understanding that may lead someone else to a better way. I have no answer to these problems, only more riddles.

At home I bug people by asking, “Do passing lanes exist because we have no patience, or do we have no patience because we have passing lanes?” This question cannot reveal any truth here in Haiti, because it pre-supposes order and law on the road—and even staying on the road, for that matter. We could reform the question for Haiti as: “Is there chaos on the road because there is no patience, or is there no patience because there is chaos on the road?”

In Rockbridge County I very often use slow traffic and country roads as a mindfulness practice—I can remain patient because I have nowhere to be (even if I do) and I can enjoy the beautiful scenery as I go. I often do not pass a tractor when I could in order to remember and implement the training of Buddhist teacher Thich Naht Hahn: “Wherever your car goes, you go too.” I have been having an internal struggle as I drive in Port-au-Prince, because I do not know if this mentality can even work. There is so much aggression here on the road that, even if you let someone pass by you or yield to their wanting to enter the stream of traffic, three cars will pull around from behind and go around you, making the traffic even more confused and belligerent.

Basically, if you yielded all the time, you would get nowhere. Order is maintained by taking initiative.

There is a certain level of aggression that has to be maintained in order to survive, road wise. Then that aggression eases into situations where you do not necessarily need to pass a tap-tap stopped on the road, but you feel like you want to anyway. Then you realize, “I am driving aggressively with people in the car, and, therefore, not as safely as I should.” Then three people come around you from behind and pass you by veering into oncoming traffic. Of course, no one wears seat belts of any kind, nor are there regulations enforced that say that you must drive with headlights at night.

Often more difficult to deal with than other drivers, there are poor children that come and beg money from you as you drive by. Some of them are obviously malnourished, streaks of red-hair framing their dull, angry faces, “M grangou!”

I am hungry.

Normally I would have no thought in giving some change to anyone who asked for it. It is a good practice to keep a pocket full of ones and change in all big cities for the homeless and the downtrodden. If you were to do that in downtown Port-au-Prince, you are in for a lot of trouble.

First, if you give money to one child, all three other “ti moun” with her want, even demand, money, too.
Second, if you give money to a child on one block, somehow the children on the next block know that you are coming, waiting for your car.
Third, if you give money to children on a regular basis, they recognize and mark your car for repeat business.

They are aggressive, clingy, often rude, and subtlety racist (all white people are rich and therefore must give me money), but one cannot blame them for their misery (how much we complain at even less in our well-fed, well-lit, well-built lives in the United States).

Our Lord mandated that we give money to those who ask us. At what point, then, does practicality stop you from actively feeding the poor?

I have been in the orphanage where children are sick, dying, have tuberculosis, probably HIV or AIDS, and it gives me pause—but I would not discourage anyone from giving of themselves by picking one of them up, comforting their broken bodies, staring into their often empty eyes. In fact, I would always encourage the experience. How then, could I withhold something as hollow and empty as money? One could use the anti-capitalistic “love of money” argument, that money will not make them any happier, but this concept does not fit the situation, like trying to teach a parrot sign language. If someone cannot eat, then they cannot worry about their spirit—they are in too much pain. Only those who can eat freely can fast freely. What to do when this nurturing act is overwhelmed with exceptions and even danger?

Richard Rohr points out that masculine spirituality is that of action, making a difference, asserting oneself; for him, feminine spirituality is that which is normally taught by the church: silence, contemplation, simplicity. He wonders, though, if the church has focused too much on yielding (to use my own words for sake of summary), this feminine receptivity, instead of teaching us to move forward, actively, as Jesus did, trusting the masculine version of God, Abba, Father. The end result, however way you approach it, is integration of the two poles into one spiritual reality.

Last night I chanced upon the daily reading for July 9th in my Taoism reader, titled “Nonyielding.” It discusses the reality of the world’s competitiveness and suffering. For Taoists, the world is an arena for warriors (for masculine action, Father Rohr would likely concur), but outside the ebb, flow, and sway of this aggression, one must affirm compassion always. One must return inwards to the source of life, which they call Tao, which we call God, Father and Mother, having been involved in activity during the day.
It is a spiral staircase of polarities.

I forgot it was the solstice yesterday. “All of life is cycles. All of life is balance,” reminds master Ming-Dao. The sun has reached its peak of light, then returns to the ebbing darkness of winter—only to rise again; it is a “resurrection of the spring” as my friend Chris Edwards and others have dubbed it. But it is not permanent. It goes back and forth, fading and appearing. I have been writing on the yielding nature of The Way, but I have been neglectful of nonyielding as a component part of living. Life is paradox and so cannot have a simple polarity. The integration of action and contemplation, assertion and compassion—these seem to be the recurring themes for my trip. Walking upwards and downwards on the staircase as it bridges the edge of the horizon.

In an earlier writing, our now-familiar Taoist has written on returning, this profound possibility out of exceptions: “This back and forth movement between the source and the activity of life is the movement of all things.” It is the horizon’s riddle and answer.

As my trip begins to turn towards the past like the day-after-solstice sun, I will soon return back to Lexington. But perhaps I can begin to reconcile the arena of Port-au-Prince’s aggressive streets with patience, impoverished urchins with withholding money.
Some days I will let them pass. Some days I will give out money. As we now see two sides, we can see the whole coin. We can flip it into the air as God would see fit for us and take the riddle wherever it lands, on the street or in la mer. And the horizon will gleam.

EDH: 10PM-6:30 AM, 7:30-7:40AM


The Divine Current, Of a Sort, Part 2

Yesterday’s dip in the ocean was the first bath I had taken in over a month; the shower afterwards, the first shower.

Now, before you judge the disgusting nature of not bathing for a week, consider this: as soon as I stopped bathing, even the mosquitoes wouldn’t come near me. As Helene and Ted drained whole bottles of “Off,” pouring toxic chemicals onto their bodies, I have only been bitten five or six times in two or three days. Plus, now I can say that I went a whole week without a shower. Though, still, having done so, I am not really falling prey to their annoying assaults. If truth be told, I have been using daily no-water hair rinse that they use in hospitals, and, strangely, in space shuttles. Needless to say, I was not walking around with matted hair smelling like a street bum. The smell of Port-au-Prince, the mixture of burning trash and hot air mixed with diesel fumes, is still a bit more overpowering than would be possible for a human being to conquer.

Ted left today. It is sad to see him go. We had a great talk last night about what we had learned and what lessons we will be taking back with us. His departure also leaves a renewed blockage in the language barrier, so I will have to become more proficient at Kreyol.

In honor of his departure and the memories of our time together, I have begun the new series:

Things You Can Only See in Haiti

An anti-AIDS commercial during World Cup games which pits team “La Vi” (Life) vs. “SIDA” (“AIDS” in Kreyol). Winning members of team “Life” are “Abstinans”, “La Fidelite” (a two person combo) and “Kapot”. I will leave “Kapot” up to your imagination or your Kreyol dictionaries—Catholics do not speak of such things.
In rush hour, people pulling around concrete barriers to pass sitting traffic—by driving headfirst into the oncoming lane, often with police watching. (Seen it, not done it…yet…)
Speeding around a police car that has stopped, veering into oncoming traffic and playing chicken with a United Nations vehicle coming towards you. (I was not driving, but I was there.)
A supermarket brand of bread named “Hard Bread,” which is exactly quite soft and tasty.
A tap-tap, the Haitian bus equivalent, somehow straddling a concrete barrier in the middle of the road, blocking a lane of traffic in both directions, midair. At night.
A shortage of the national beer, Prestige, because the factory exported all of it to Germany for the World Cup.
5 traffic lights in a city of over two million people that occasionally work.
Neon yellow butter that does not have to be refrigerated. Neon.
A gas-station named “The Station of the Immaculate Conception”.
Street merchants selling Ziploc-sized bags of water.
Sweet potato pie, or “pan potat,” as made by Ted’s aunt, so excellent in taste and texture that one member of the house attached the following message to it: “This is like the afterglow of sex: gentle, warm, and radiant—and it leaves you wanting just a little more. Oh, and it took only two minutes to feel that way.” Since we are all Catholics here and therefore do not know of such indiscretions to describe them in such detail, I will not name names. Or as the Haitians say, “Chat konnen, rat konnen, et mourik mais rete la.”
An Internet café that is also a brothel. Or a brothel at which you can access the Internet. Didn’t go, but two guys staying here did. For the Internet.

Today I also realized we should have instituted a running count of electricity hours, sort of a running meter of when the power is actually on. It is such a big deal for us. Whole minutes have been wasted wondering, out loud, when exactly the electricity will come on. We have considered placing bets and running numbers. It is normal for someone to cry “Ay Day Ash” (or “EDH,” the Electrical Department of Haiti, in Kreyol) when it comes on, or to ask, “Kote ou ye, EDH?” (“Where are you, EDH?”). Spontaneous songs have even been created about this mysterious force, the EDH. So, in the spirit of pointless lists, I have instituted the EDH Meter.

Behold, the mighty Meter of EDH:


It comes on during the night, so all numbers represent the previous day’s cross-over to the current day; it may also include any random day-light appearances of this Electric Phantom from the previous day. We have considered building a shrine so that we may appease it and harness its energy for the air conditioners while sleeping. Like a Golden Idol of Electric Pole, or The Totem of AC Outlets. So far no shrine has been erected, but its power over us (literally) has proven it to be a Haitian lwa, or vodoun spirit, at the least. Hence, its own daily record.


La Mer: Carrefour (Day 19)

The stressful half-hour drive through heavy tap-tap traffic was worth the plunge in the ocean just outside of Carrefour. It was the warmest water I have been in, lined with cold currents that felt about twenty degrees cooler, and so salty that our eyes burned simply looking at it.

I was able to commune with the sea once again, even taking a boat ride worthy of Brendan himself—handmade with wood and tar, a skinny, gnarly man at the helm with the flimsy oars, six of us on the waves together, with Brendan’s presence, seven. Just viewing the horizon, nature’s greatest Rothko painting, gave me time to meditate on oneness again.

The horizon, deep azure water meeting turquoise air, rests on the sharp line. Are the two blues different entities? Is the dividing line a third? Or can they all be melded into one whole picture, three spaces equaling one plane? There is so much in Taoist writings about how the One divides into two, then the two add up with the original to make three, and then to ten thousand. This is very similar to our idea of Logos that was separated from the Divine source to bring creation into being; the Divine reencounters the Logos to bring forth a third, the Spirit. With these Three, all things are possible.

During my daily communion readings, I have been taken through the story of Elijah in 1 Kings. I have become even more familiar with it because, coincidentally, the passages in my year-long Bible for this week have been the same story. I am drawn to the powerful, esoteric myth of Elijah’s night on the mountain, the coming of the windstorm and the earthquake. I do not mean to say that it did not happen, but it is written in a parable style. It does not have to be literal, but more archetypal; in such a way, it can reveal more truth than facticity, and therefore more powerful.

Elijah is fleeing his enemy, King Ahab, and so he runs to a cave. The cave, according to Joseph Campbell and Jung, is the unconscious. Here Elijah flees into himself in order to find God. The Lord speaks to him, a simple question, “Why are you here?” Elijah answers. Then he undergoes the spiritual tests on the mountain, the trial of spirit (the windstorm in the heavens) and of self-power (the earthquake in the land). These about were external things, in a sense, experiential moments. But God was not in the outer things, or there reflection in Elijah's mind, no more than the Pharisees’ struggle: the outer rituals of Judaism without inner conversion never yielded spiritual results. Perhaps Elijah, too, struggled with the religiosity of spirit and law.

Suddenly God sends the fire, “the demolition of religious facades....’Whoever draws near to me, draws near to fire’ runs one of Christ’s apocryphal sayings, and each of his words, his actions, and his miracles is fire—a fire all the more consuming because it is not the fire of justice [external action], but of love.” (Michael Hollings, “Therese of Lisieux”) This realization of already-being-loved by this mighty fire, of already being-on-the-way, helped Elijah be-open to what was there all along: the still small voice of God inside of himself. Only then did he return to the opening of the cave, to the outside world, to be asked the same question; he gives the exact same answer (remember the Zen method: find the simplest answer, leave it, study and meditate on it until you arrive at the same conclusion as before, but in a new way). Then Lord drags him back through the wilderness in order to anoint Elisha as his successor. Soon after he confronts Ahab again. “So, my enemy has found me!” taunts the King. But Elijah has found his true power and speaks of Ahab’s fate-to-come. He has come to himself and the true nature of God’s love for him, Elijah, beyond experience and religion.

This reminds me of something I read last week regarding St. Therese: “’Yes, I believe I have always searched for truth. Yes, I have always understood how to keep my heart quiet.’ Such is humility, which holds her on the narrow ledge between the abyss of truth on one side and that of lying on the other. Such humility is no virtue, but the sign that one possesses no virtue, since, ‘it all flows from him.’ …She does not produce light, she reflects it….’My soul also appears to be radiant and golden because it is exposed to the rays of love.’” (Hans Urs Von Balthasar, “Therese of Lisieux”)

As I was reading Richard Rohr today, I came upon a corollary message, this time of Mary, Mother of God: “Upon receiving the sacred word [of Jesus’ birth], Mary does not contemplate, she acts immediately....There is no mention of planning, companionship, means of travel or encountered difficulties…The events themselves will be her guide and teacher. The plan will be given by God through life’s encounters. Reality is her teacher…Decisive action beyond our own fears gives us a sense of our own power and the power of God within us. Mary offers no refusal or false humility….She can hold her power comfortably because she knows it is from Beyond. She does not need to protect or deny it. It is hers to hold and offer….” (“The Wild Man’s Journey”)

Today, God was in the still, small voice; in the boatman, the puppy frolicking in the sand, the coconut falling from the tree, the speck of salt floating in the sea. And in me. He is the sum of the balance between dark blue and blue with the dividing line in between: heaven making earth more heavy, earth making heaven more light. He is found in experience balanced with meditation and meditation seeking experience. We make ourselves free from ourselves in our own releasing of true self-esteem and power; in that moment we can yield to His being-coming. He sits in the space that comes to us when we are open to Him. And these moments, as for Elijah, help us to be-open. Both/and, sky and sea, openness and experience, action and contemplation. Each reveals the other to be what it is. Religion is put into true perspective only in this love, as a way to be open to it, to bind body, mind, and spirit holistically as one. Today’s Gospel reading for me was: “Be perfected as your Father is perfect.” This can also be translated, more appropriately, “Be whole (holy) as your Father is (whole) holy.”

Jesus brings this wholeness through the realization of God’s great love, unearned, transpersonal for all people. He does not abolish religion, but makes it reflect its true purpose: the way of love. The way of love, then, like meditation, opens up a more perfect understanding of the law. He fulfills it, like a key fulfills a lock’s purpose as the lock gives the key purpose. They are two sides of the same coin. They are two portions of the same horizon.

Spirit and law yield to be one entity: love. Two reduce back down to one and point forward towards three.

This, as Kierkegaard postulates, is the hardest thing for us to grasp: that neither spirit nor law can move us towards God or towards ourselves--only the love of God is capable. Accepting this love, nearly impossible.

The Holy Pilgrimage (Day 18)

I once read an article about taping concerts which gave me a new perspective on live music. A member of a band was talking about how flattering it was that people wanted to tape and trade their shows, but how, when they did so, they were really missing out on the experience itself, distracted with power cords and stereo connections instead of listening to the concert. I quietly ceased my concert-taping days in order to be more present to the unfolding melodies and beats.

I thought of this message during the Resurrection Dance Theatre performance. Amused, I watched a high school student fidgeting with his digital camera in order to tape as much as possible. He consequently missed the performance due to battery problems, end of memory card issues, rain. I wanted to say, “Hey, kid, don’t worry about it and watch the show!”

I should have been speaking to myself.

I thought of another passage where a nun was trying to live Paul’s exhortation to “pray at all times without ceasing.” She became so obsessed with the idea that she could never do any of her other work, constantly breathing her sinfulness and begging for mercy. Finally a priest, concerned with her zeal, told her that she was praying well but living poorly. She became instantly happier when she stopped.

As the wind flowed through my hair at 40 miles an hour on the byways of Jacmel, I thought about how I had missed some of my delay routine here, meditation and prayer, reading, etc. Our hours are always different with groups, so sleep patterns change regularly. I simply do not receive the time I need to be in quiet space, with God and with my breath. I have lamented this frequently, but yesterday the realization was given to me that this silent time is often just like taping a performance. It is a time for rest, rejuvenation, for sure, but also for analyzing the day, considering ideas and experiences, or trying to forget about these things in favor of a still mind. However, when the Jacmel breeze hits your face, you should not worry about the hour that you should have been meditating. You open yourself to the breeze that goes where it blows. You feel the salt in the air. You watch the blue rocking of the waves.

Today when I went to the History Museum of Haiti, I tried to listen to the words of the guide, but instead of attempting to remember too many details of the story, I tried to feel the shadowy presence of the ghosts on the walls. Touissant Louverture. Dessaline. Mars Plaisir. Boukman. I tried to feel the horror of the indigenous people who were tortured and terrorized by Columbus and his crew. I tried to feel the weight of the shackles of the slaves who were sent in floating caskets. I tried to imagine the silent drums resting unplayed in the shade of plantation oppression. Not by my efforts, because it was impossible for me to really embody these things so far removed from my life, but by the murmuring of the dead did the monument open itself as sacred, a lotus surrounded by words, words locked in time, sadness meted out in the bloom.

The timing is peculiar for this unfolding. When I came to Haiti, I was prepared for all sorts of experiences, wanting to do all sorts of things while I was here. I slowly succumbed to the fact that not everything I would like to do is a good idea. I also became more passive because I was trying to make experience happen without success. Or I became too practical. Or, on occasion, fearful. Now I am obligated to be open to what comes. I was made to fail in order to appreciate more what was already in front of me.

I had already anticipated that I would be happy here just like home. I do not miss my life “back there,” nor music, which might be surprising to some. I have made many attempts in frequent travel to be at home anywhere, happy with anything or nothing, present here and now. This seems to be just another petal on the blossom of presence.

To be sure, I will still take as much time for my daily practice as I can—it brings moments of peacemaking around me and in me—but it must be balanced with the outward extravagances of living, the full and rooted occurrence of happenstance. It is in the unfolding of these outward moments that I have the most difficult time living, favoring the inner acceptance of thought, judgment, analysis. But they must become a see-saw, tottering between two poles. At some point they will be level with each other. When they do they become a smooth and poignant place like the horizon: ready for anything that intrudes itself into the yielding openness.

Having written this, I came upon my nightly reading by Deng Ming-Dao:
“When people visit a holy place, some say that the spirits of the place speak to them. Others remember the exotic pageantry. When it comes to sacred sites, it’s better to be a pilgrim than a tourist. Go with a humble attitude, and let your heart be moved by what you experience. Then you will receive the true treasure of the shrine.

Ultimately, it is not the place that is important; it is what you feel that is lasting. To visit a place is minor; to change within yourself is greater.”