land of rest

Land of Rest is a blog of Peter Jenks. Poems, quotes and photos are by Peter Jenks (unless otherwise noted or I miss noting an older post's photo) and are copyrighted, you are free to use these if you acknowledge their source.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

For the Love of Prayer

There are written prayers we read, over and over again, like the Lord’s Prayer. I have prayed this prayer so often that the words are almost secondary, the very prayer is simply a part of me or perhaps I am becoming a part of it.

There are prayers I say which are requests, for healing and health and the well being of people I love. It is my way of holding onto them, reaffirming my love and in a way letting it go in order not to control as much as simply appreciate these people.

There are prayers I offer that comes from my longings and desires; concerns, frustrations and needs I feel pressuring my life. These can wake me up in the middle of the night. I offer them repeatedly to God, sometimes with great ardor. Yet, I find that the beauty of prayer comes when after repeated offerings of these prayers I slowly let go of what I once believed, thought, or felt urgently important in order to discover the larger perspective of God and God’s will. It is the wrestling with God and God's unwavering patient silence, and my wrestling with my illusions, in order to honestly look at myself, my life and my longings.

And the prayer of love comes as most dear of all. Just as the silence we share with one we love, just as the savoring of a dear friend, just as the delight in seeing someone excited to see us, so too, is the place where I can experience the reality of God loving me. And in this place I find I let go in even deeper ways to love back and discover the meaning of worship. This is not a place where I ask "why" or petition for some need, this is a place of rest, of letting go, a time of awe.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

As We Love Our Selves

In painting portraits, one of the greatest joys for me is the process of letting go of the preconceived ideas about the person sitting before me; and discovering, or experiencing deep love for this person.

The experience of loving others is a powerful and defining force in my life. The love I feel for my children leads me to work, sacrifice and change my plans in order to benefit their lives and needs. This love I have for them brings me wonderful pleasure and profound memories. I find great fulfillment in loving others. The love of a place or country, of beauty or for a cause, are other ways in which I find energy to live, and the essence of meaning.

On the other side of this experience and force in my life is the experience of receiving love. I find it very difficult to love someone - as opposed to receiving love from someone. In fact, I think there are times when I love or give to others in order to avoid receiving love from them. If I can give first, or most, then I will be protected from actually having to receive love myself. Or, if I do receive from them, then it is felt justified or earned because I have given them at least as much. And yet I harbor a deep longing to be loved, just loved (not an earned love) all the while fearing the actual experience of such fulfillment.

It is great to take someone’s picture or paint them; but, to have my picture painted or taken is much harder. I am a great critic of my own looks, the way I sound on tape, or the way I appear on film. Somehow, I find it hard to believe that someone could truly love me. I can more easily accept criticism than praise, and this, I feel, comes from the fear of having to receive. I have more power when I can be the giver. But can I really give when underneath I am longing to receive myself?

I am coming to believe that this struggle to be loved, this difficulty in probably even being able to love myself, is why I have trouble changing my diet and losing weight, or exercising as I should or caring for the way I look. So often I struggle for more will power to gain control of my life, and then fail again and again. It is dawning on me that perhaps it is the openness to be loved and loving my self, and experiencing the undying love of God that is the root of finding the power to change myself.

Friday, August 20, 2010

More than coming about - new course altogether

The demise, or fall, of the giant retailer Barnes and Nobles has caused me to reflect upon the vast changes in our society. The business of newspapers, magazines and now books are being completely re-understood within our lifetime. It is a change as monumental as the transformations that occurred when the printing press was developed. Entire industries come and go in a generation. Even when I was sailing out in the sea, I was aware when we had internet and cell phone connection. There once was a time when one could go for a sail or drive in a car and not be connected to everyone and everything through the technology we have developed.

During the last five or so years we have seen our world make revolutionary changes. Many of them are only noted for awhile, but then passed over. The print media, as I mentioned, is nothing like it ever was before. Photographs are all digitalized and rarely printed, only passed on the internet and through cds. Music is no longer even on cds. The age of vinyl, then cassettes then cds is long over. Healthcare and Education are both undergoing radical transformations. On top of this we are seeing a shift in religion as great as anything in 2000 years. This is why we see the reaction of fundamentalism and a return to the old ways in all religions, and other various aspects of our society.

There are wonderful advantages to the technology and changes we have witnessed, indoor plumbing and the telephone, being able to call for help from where one breaks down, having access to information, and more people being able to get their voice heard is wonderful. But when the computer goes down at a business, so does business. We are followed and tracked and marketed with our every keystroke. We have the priesthood of the computer technology to intercede between us and our family and loved ones. It is dangerous as well as helpful. I would speculate that the computer is becoming an intermediary between us and our own thoughts and creativity. We need to be careful of those who benefit from our being divided and thus remain conquered. Where is the faith that reunites us with ourselves and our lives?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Sea is Very Seductive

The sea is very seductive. Watching the tides, looking at boats, feeling the swaying of the waves and the pull of the wind is all very seductive. The siren upon the rocks that lures sailors onto the rocks is perhaps the sea itself. Steering a boat, as her hull and oneself are seemingly one, pulling in the sails and feeling one with the wind and water is deeply sacred. The honest admiration of other boats as they pass, especially the very beautiful ones, only deepens the addiction to the sea. It is a world unto itself, apart from the land, away from others. It is profoundly personal and also completely universal. The power of the depths moving the boat up and down with gentle swells lulls our souls like a mother holding a child. And the awareness that it could turn dangerous at any time adds the adrenaline of excitement and fear to the chemistry of connection.
It is wonderful, it is dangerous, it is a holy communion, it is refreshment, it is communication, it is terrifying, it is the provider and the destroyer, it is the home and link between worlds, it is limited, it is ever present and endless seeming, it is essential.
Some people, like me, feel that they need to live near the water. I do not necessarily have to see it every day, but I do need to know it is there. Some people like the big sky, which is a sea in another form, but the element of water somehow draws me like a magnet. Simply watching it calms and stills restlessness. Everyday as I drive by the little river by my house I greet the tide with a "HIGH Tide" or a "HelLOW Tide". It is a companion which asks very little and is very constant.

returning from rest

Emily and I just returned from an extended trip on a most wonderful sailing excursion around Penobscot Bay with Jacob Gerritsen. There are times when I have gone or done something and years later look back on it as a great time in my life. Then there are times, like this trip, when it is just so perfect and beautiful that even someone as obtuse as me can see that it is one of the great blessings in one's life while you are in the midst of it. I have felt for some time now that sailing around the islands of the Penobscot Bay in the summertime is as close to Eden or the most beautiful place on earth as one can get. It is not so overwhelming a beauty as the Grand Canyon, it is a sufficient beauty that slowly soaks into one's soul and waters it with wonder.
It is also interesting to me how while at sea we are very careful with our use of water, electricity, food, waste, etc. But now that I am home I find that I am running the water longer than perhaps I need, and leaving lights on when perhaps they are not needed. A boat is a small island with obviously limited resources, one is always aware of it. Being on this limited island of a planet just doesn't give me the same awareness, or I am just not wanting to see it and pay attention.
It is also interesting to me that hours after getting off the boat I find that my world is still gently swaying beneath my feet. I know, or at least assume, my house isn't swaying like a boat. How much of the experience is programed into my brain, how much of the swaying on the boat was just my own memory program?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

If the fig tree does not blossom

We need art in our lives. We need beauty in order to understand the sacred awe of our existence. We need stories to be told in order to make sense of our journey. We need fashion and style to help us claim our independence and uniqueness within each generation. We need the visual image which holds still the variations and subtleties of light in order to help us to see the depth of our relationships. We need food in order to live, we need sex in order to procreate and intimate our lives. We need water in order to be flexible and stretch. We need to safely move and inhabit safe places in order to nurture or souls and love.

We have people, and now an entire society, built around selling to our need in order to make money, not necessarily to meet the need. In fact if the need is not met we will buy again and again with the delusion of perhaps getting our need met. The desire is what drives us to continue, the delusion which keeps us from what we need. The desire that can never be met yet keeps pulsing within ourselves is what keeps us buying, unsatisfied; keeps watching, unfulfilled; keeps seeking and yet never finding what it is we are even needing anymore.

Our spiral from abundance into scarcity is a great blessing. The interruption of wealth and things might help us to touch each other again, to stop and breathe and hear a story or share what little we truly have. Until we receive, we cannot give. Until we know we need to receive, that we have fallen short and cannot make it anymore on our own, then we might find ourselves again, with each other.

I look back at the 1930’s as a great time for the visual arts in the United States, a time of depression. The 1940’s and 50’s created some great film and plays alongside of some strict censorship. Perhaps our artistic soul might be freer to emerge now that things are not as abundant and blessed. Our hunger for that which is a truly deep need will drive us to create that which will satisfy, not delude, and not just seek fame, notoriety and money.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Getting in the Way

My dog has a way of getting in the way. Wherever I want to go she has a keen sense of getting there first. Sometimes this is very frustrating, other times I take it that she is just being insistent about getting some attention. Whatever the case this happens time and time again. Sometimes I am prepared and other times I almost trip over her and hurt her and myself, with both of us trying to regain ourselves along with our yelps at the other.

There are some issues, some people and some circumstances that act like this in my life. They are the things or people that can trigger me away from my best self. A news story about an injustice that I feel strongly about, or a comment made by someone that rubs me the wrong way; and suddenly my day is sent into a tailspin of emotional banter within my mind.

Animals I find are extraordinarily interconnected with our souls. It is why they know when we are sick, sad or when someone is dying. We somehow find our soulful wiring interconnected with the animals in our lives and in some cases even begin to look like them. So this annoyance from someone so close is probably a reflection of not only a need by the pet, but of something within us.

Just as the dog, wanting attention or food, gets in my way; there are issues that I avoid and yet they keep popping up to get my attention. Some people who have similar shortcomings as I do send me into a fit of judgment towards them when their words or actions are only a reflection on the frustration I feel within myself.

In my quest for peace of mind, I savor quiet and a restful place. I want to avoid the conflicts and turmoil of everyday issues. But it is these everyday issues, people and pets that keep tripping me up which are also spiritual attention getters. It is here that I need to begin my meditation. So as I prepare to go home and prepare dinner, I bring with me all my frustrations of the day and will probably find my dog slipping in front of my chins. Where can I go from your presence Lord? You call me home, to the place where I am unraveled and can let go. Today I consciously remember that the interruption to my quest for your answer is most often where I find your response.

Monday, August 9, 2010

That We Might Have Life

A sister church had a sign up recently asking people about their status in regards to heaven or hell. It got me thinking, why is it that we in the church sometimes focus more on what is going to happen after we die, than what we are doing now? The more I, or others, in the church seem to focus on issues of life after death there seems to be a direct decrease in participation in the local community here and now.
My recent thought is that life after death does not start after death. We either engage now in heaven or we are living in a hell. We chose how we live, graciously, with thanksgiving, engaged in God’s forgiveness and grace; or we can slide into self service, simply getting by and through things, become overwhelmed with stress and frustrations. If I do not enter into a relationship today with God, if the forgiveness of Jesus doesn’t transform me now, dying isn’t going to help any help me any – even with the right way of thinking or memberships. For me I find that the more I engage in reaching out, helping others, trying to make a difference in my world and the lives around me the more I am open or experience the presence of God.
The question about heaven and hell really should be more present minded. Are we finding life, are we feeling alive, do we have the strength to engage or am I simply atrophied into an mindless apathy? What is going to happen has already started.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Swimming in Air

Every so often I find myself writing a poem. I do not know why.
On a hot day, in Maine standards, this emerged.

This life upon the bottom of the sea,
Of atmosphere, can be so cluttered
With creatures clammering to be free
Of pain and debt and anything
That causes us to cry.
We try so hard to fly beyond
the ocean of air and breath.
And yet we still return again and again
And crawl about
Darting and hiding
From the threat whose claws might bring death,
Or worse,
humiliation or pain;
And keep us from getting wet.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What is "it"?

Having recently seen several different art shows and heard various art talks I have been struck by the question, “what is it that makes something speak to me artistically?” Some of the work I saw was rather boring; some very beautiful, but the flash of wow left me feeling like something was missing; and some of the works moved my heart and soul into a place that is both wounded and divine with great poignancy.

I have heard people talk about different performances by musicians, some are very good at playing the notes well and others might miss a few notes but carries the soul of the piece out into the hearer’s heart. What makes for the difference in such performances? It is not always the case that the well played piece does not have the same soul to it, there are moments when this magic and the well played piece are one in the same. And there are times when people try for the soul and are just plan sloppy.

It is a hard thing to describe, but there are some works of art that have elevated my life or connected with my understanding and experience in such a way that I will never be the same. Once I had a surgery in which I almost died, after I had recovered and began going about my life again I came upon a painting that somehow portrayed the experience my inner awareness felt or knew in my near death experience. Simply seeing it portrayed, seeing that someone else knew what was held secret in my soul, brought great comfort and a healing awareness to me.

Much of the art I saw recently was displayed in ways that would lead people to buy it, which is important for the well being of the artist and gallery. But beauty alone or innovation alone, or craftsmanship alone can lead the piece of artwork into that place where we are changed. What is it? I think that sometimes the marketing of art inhibits such creativity. Public work that is displayed without aim of sales might help. The need to be touched and to see such transforming art is like the desire for water or companionship.

We see this “it” this transcendent power most often in nature, when we take the time to look. This need for transcendence is a great reason we need to protect our environment. But the ways in which someone else has experienced nature, life and this journey we are on and can express it with such depth on canvas or in verse or through sound is crucial for us to truly know that we, too, are somehow connected and seen.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Need to Support our Local Churches

Generally speaking, our local churches are the last remaining place we sing together, often all verses of a song, not just the first verse of the national anthem heard at a ball game. And the last place to hear people read ancient stories aloud, and poems, and to hear oral oration for wisdom. It is a place where we can gather to study and discuss a book, join in common meals that are made together, to be still, a place to meet other people, and a place to bring those things most sacred in our hearts for care and keeping in the arms of our God.

We are not funded by the government, we survive primarily by the strength and generosity of the local community. It is proportionate to the commitment of all of us as to what will be the health and well being of the soul, or spiritual health, of our community. Our participation, our time, our financial support, and most of all, our prayers will determine how high our spires truly rise above our town greens, not just our symbolic structures. We open our doors not only for those who qualify or agree with us, but for all who dare enter the silences of one’s soul, or wish to seek some sort of solace in their life. We are also a place open for the daily activity and the betterment of our society with scout meetings, public forums, AA, and other activities that strengthen us for our common good.

Our society spends millions of dollars in an effort to isolate us into addictions with electronics which seemingly connect our lives, but cannot compete with a handshake, or an embrace, or a conversation face to face. Highways, designed to speed commerce, have driven our families further apart. Technology and transportation offer ways to worship perceived perfection on television and in person with celebrities. This does not offer, however, the live exchange and personality of our own families, friends, and neighbors. The local church offers the place where friends and neighbors, oftentimes far from loved ones, can gather and claim that space between our loved ones which is sacred and held together with prayer. Gathering together to pray and worship is the great affirmation to live and love; and the revolutionary declaration against the twin tyrannies of apathy and avoidance. It is truly important that we support our churches in every way possible; that we keep these institutions, which represent the soul of our community, alive, vibrant and healthy.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

More reflection on my trip to the island

Moving out to an island seems to me to almost live out a metaphor. To move apart from the mainland is an act of separation. With this thought in mind, I began wondering about the metaphor in which I live. My town, Thomaston, is a place of crossroads, between the peninsulas which stretch down the river and route one which bisects it. It is also a town that sits in the shadow of other bigger towns nearby, the towns of Rockland and Camden.

In reflecting on the metaphor of the town in which I live, I see that my life reflects the geography of my habitation. So often I have sensed that I am always in the midst of a crossroads in my life and always under the shadow of others.

There is a spirituality and psychology of geography which deeply affects us. On my first sabbatical I discovered the outer connection of the land to my soul. Whatever I was dealing with inside my head, heart and soul would become manifest in what I would do left to my own devises in the woods. When I was charting new paths in my thoughts I would go out and do the same in the woods, and this would continue with all sorts of other ways of thinking and then acting. When I realized this I would consciously try not to do things that I was working on within my soul, but when I would reflect later it became evident that I still was doing outwardly what was going on inwardly.

We become part of our land, and our land is a part of us, whether we know it or not.

Monday, August 2, 2010

a day in Matinicus

Going to the island of Matinicus today for a funeral. It is a beautiful place with wonderful people.

It seems to me that living on an island really takes a commitment, living becomes very intentional. Simple things need to be considered that people on the mainland take for granted, like trips to the store, or ferry times. There are very clear limitations set out by the limits of the island itself. I wonder what kind of commitment I make to where I live? If not having to be so deliberate about such little things as transportation, stores and getting into and out of my town causes me to take more for granted and exposes me to miss important things in life.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

And Still

As I pass the jeweler I love to look at things
and maybe I might buy, with great savor,
something for my wife, whom I love so much.

When birthdays come around it is a joy to think of what I might give to my children, and even more to see their excitement, when they open a gift.

When I share a breakfast with a good friend, it feels good to be able to take the check and pay for us both,
because this is something important to me.

These are not things done because I have to,
or just because it is a good thing.
It is simply a piece of my heart’s response.

O Lord, you are deeper than any love in my heart, the One I cry to in my distress and in whom I find my rest. You are the one who holds my heart together with these dear ones in my life. You have been giving to me surprises, blessings and these very ones I love, simply out of your deep pleasure.

Why do I look at my giving to you. O Lord,
like a bill to be paid, or a burden to bear?

And still, your forgiveness and mercy wake me
every morning fresh and new again.
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