Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Favorite Recipes: Falafel

Last weekend, I stopped by the Lebanese Food Festival at St. Elias Maronite Church here in Birmingham. Such a spread they had! And such a crowd! I was also able to tour their beautiful church on Birmingham's Southside.

The festival reminded me that it has been a while since I prepared one of my favorite dishes so I decided that today I would at least share the recipe again (you will see this one filed as a previous post if you go to the "Recipes" tab at the top of my blog).

One of my favorite restaurants in Birmingham is The Pita Stop which features Middle Eastern food. It has been in town for many years and was originally started by a Lebanese family. It was there that I first became acquainted with falafel, which immediately became my favorite thing on their menu.  If you are ever in town, The Pita Stop is well worth the visit.

Years ago I was talking with a colleague about how much I liked the Middle Eastern dish. His wife was Egyptian, and he mentioned that she had a recipe and often made her own falafel. I asked if she would mind sharing the recipe, which thankfully she did.  I immediately tried it at home and it is now one of my daughter’s favorites. While she was home visiting this summer, she requested that I make it again.

Here is the recipe that I have kept in the form of a handwritten note and used for years: 

Ensaf's Falafel

  • 4 cups dried chick peas
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 whole garlic
  • 2 bunches parsley
  • Hot peppers (I use 4 jalapenos in my half recipe version - 5 if you like it really spicy!)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground pepper


Soak the chick peas overnight, drain.
Combine chick peas, onion, garlic, parsley and hot pepper. Grind twice in an electric meat grinder.
Add salt, pepper, cumin, and baking powder. Mix thoroughly.
When ready to fry the falafel, add baking soda.
Shape into patties 1 ½  inches in diameter and ½ inch thick.
Fry in deep hot oil until light brown and crisp. (I use peanut oil in a large frying pan)
Serve hot with tomato slices in Arabic (pita) bread in the form of a sandwich with tahini sauce and sliced onion. Garnish with parsley.

The falafel batter may be frozen. Thaw and add baking soda just before frying.

*  *  *  *

I should note that when I make this, I just make a half recipe, which is as much as I want to deal with at a time. I use a food processor to do the grinding. First, I'll grind the chick peas (I do it in small batches in the food processor) then with the second grinding, I'll add the parsley, onion, and peppers I end up with a large mixing bowl full of batter with just a half recipe.  I usually have it with brown rice, sometimes with pita bread. Also, I must confess that I have never used tahini sauce when serving these at home, but I found a recipe online that looks good. You can find it here.

Falafel (photo from Wikipedia)


Mastering the Ghazal

No, not a gazelle, I said  ghazal
Poetry Month is a great time to learn about and experiment with new poetic forms. I’ve been getting these emails from Knopf Poetry during Poetry Month featuring a poem each day. Last week there was an interesting poem that introduced an interesting poetic form: the ghazal. 

Some of you may know all about it, and I have probably read some without being aware of the form.

The poem was “Easter Ghazal,” by David Young (read the poem at the Knopf site here). I thought it was an interesting poem and it prompted me to find out more about the form. I went to Poets.org to read some about the form that originated in seventh century Arabic poetry. Here is what I learned there: 

The ghazal is composed of a minimum of five couplets—and typically no more than fifteen—that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous. Each line of the poem must be of the same length, though meter is not imposed in English. The first couplet introduces a scheme, made up of a rhyme followed by a refrain. Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza.

A ghazal will often present the pain of loss and the beauty of love in spite of loss. In some of my poetry, I have tried to speak to the coexistence of sorrow and beauty, but I was not familiar with this form that traditionally presents such juxtaposition. 

More Examples

I then went to the Poetry Foundation website for their definition of the form. It was there that I found an example of a modern English language ghazal that seems more true to the form than “Easter Ghazal.” This one is by Patricia Smith, titled “Hip-hop Ghazal.” You can read her poem at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/49642/hip-hop-ghazal

Rain" is a fine example of the ghazal by American poet and novelist Kazim Ali. Ali was born in the United Kingdom to Muslim parents of Indian descent, so one imagines that he is going back to his ancestral roots in using the ghazal format. You can read his poem, for his poetry collection The Far Mosque at  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/54262/rain-56d23467ac47f.

An Old and Continuing Tradition

The ghazal originated in seventh century Arabia and became popular in the thirteenth and fourteenth century with Persian poets and was often utilized by Rumi and Hafiz. The form lends itself to romantic love poems as well as metaphysical poetry. The German poet Goethe, and Spanish poet Lorca experimented with the form. In our modern day, Ravi Shankar made use of the ghazal in his music. The form traditionally evokes feelings of love, melancholy and longing.

Every culture has its own unique poetic expressions and forms. We can expand our appreciation by learning to listen to other poetic venues. We can enhance our own creativity when we attempt to appropriate some of those other poetic forms. 

I think I will give this poetic form a try. If you are interested in writing ghazal, there is a great site called tweetspeak: the best in poetry and poetic things. It offers an introduction to ghazal and instructions on writing your own ghazal poetry.


Monday, April 29, 2019

Monday Music: Inner City Blues (Marvin Gaye)

Kyle Dargan said of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)” in the Paris Review:

Anyone who has taken a workshop with me has heard my idea about writing poetry being like building the lightest possible plane that will fly. Sometimes, that is. There is a place for excess, for everything in poetic intent, but, staying with this idea of efficiency and vicious concision, Marvin Gaye and James Nyx’s “Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)” has impressed me for a long time by capturing so much depth and nuance with so little. The sense of being caught in an inescapable, economic spiral builds over the verses, but let’s start with the second: “Inflation, no chance/ to increase finance. / Bills pile up sky high./ Send that boy off to die.” “Inflation, no chance” is an economics white paper in itself, but the juxtaposition of all four lines makes it possible to see a connection among poverty, loss of economic ground, and the pressures to enlist (and die) in the army. A sparse, quiet but wrenching verse that creates space for the “holler” to emerge as the chorus.

Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)

Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have nots
Money, we make it
Fore we see it you take it

Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
This ain't livin'
This ain't livin'
No, no baby, this ain't livin'
No, no, no
Inflation no chance
To increase finance
Bills pile up sky high
Send that boy off to die

Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Hang ups, let downs
Bad breaks, set backs
Natural fact is
I can't pay my taxes

Oh, make me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands
Yea, it makes me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands
Crime is increasing
Trigger happy policing
Panic is spreading
God knows where
We're heading

Oh, make me wanna holler
They don't understand
Make me wanna holler
They don't understand



Sunday, April 28, 2019

Remembering Harper Lee

Today is the birthday of Nelle Harper Lee (April 28,1926 - Februrary 19, 2017) of Monroeville, Alabama, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. In honor of this anniversary, I am re-posting this essay from 2017.  ~ CK

Harper Lee and the Hero's Journey

[The following essay is not a review of Go Set a Watchmen but rather it is my take on how Harper Lee's own journey was similar to what Joseph Campbell described as the archetypal hero's journey. It was first published on July 17, 2015 at AMERICAblog and is re-printed here because it is always good to remember Nelle Harper Lee and her lasting contribution to literature and to the world. ~ CK]

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in the screen version of TKAM
There has been an abundance of talk this week about Atticus Finch, the fictional character in To Kill a Mockingbird.  The release of Harper Lee’s earlier novel, Go Set a Watchman has created quite a buzz. Go Set a Watchman was Lee’s first submission which the publisher’s rejected and encouraged her to go back and rewrite, focusing on young Scout’s point of view. The publishing of that first draft has not been without controversy. The buzz now that it has been released is all about the portrayal of Atticus Finch as a racist. He looked upon blacks as though they were children, not yet ready for the full equality of citizenship. He was even a member of the White Citizen’s Council and didn’t like the idea of the Supreme Court meddling in the affairs of his Southern town.

Many seem to be feeling dazed over the fact that Atticus Finch, or probably more accurately, Gregory Peck’s cinematic version of Atticus Finch, could be so much a part of the Southern racist mindset. Much will be said about the literary value of Go Set a Watchman, and much analysis will be given regarding the protagonist of both of Harper Lee’s novels in light of the new information that has now been made public. Instead of literary criticism, I would like to take a look at the literary dilemma of Watchman in light of Harper Lee’s own journey. I see it as what Joseph Campbell has called, “the hero’s journey.”

The Traveler Comes Home

In Go Set a Watchman, Jean Louise (whom we knew previously as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird) is a young adult woman who has been living in New York City, and returns to her Southern hometown to be dismayed by the racism she sees in her beloved father.  It has long been noted that the gentlemanly Southern lawyer, Atticus Finch, is based upon Harper Lee’s own father who was an influential lawyer in the small southern town of Monroeville, Alabama.  In Go Set a Watchman, Jean Louise’s experience is too similar to the author’s own life not to wonder about the autobiographical nature of the writing.  After all, Harper Lee had left Monroeville, Alabama to live and work in New York City.

Remember that this was the 1950s, when the South was still under Jim Crow laws, fully segregated, and resisting implementation of the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The paternalistic view seen in the Atticus Finch of Go Set a Watchman is characteristic of many educated whites of the time, and a view that might have been considered “forward thinking” by fellow Southerners. The problem is that Jean Louise has seen the world and now sees her own town and townsfolk in a different light.

I am a Southerner, born and raised in a small town in Alabama, and I can speak to the effects that travel can have upon one’s perception of things back home. I first went to the big city to go to college, and then I went, not to New York, but to the San Francisco Bay Area for three and a half years. My trek was in the late 1970s and early ’80s, and I can attest to the feelings of shock and dismay when revisiting one’s hometown with a renewed vision and seeing the racist attitudes on display. Those attitudes had always been there, they were part and parcel of my own upbringing, but I could not see them clearly until having spent some significant time out of the South.

A Hero’s Vision

Joseph Campbell, in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, talked about a common archetype in mythology in which the hero makes a long journey to a distant land. He is changed in the process of that journey by the things he encounters (in mythology, it is often a magical realm of unsuspected challenge and/or danger). Eventually the hero returns home with a new vision and gives hope and courage to his people based upon the transformation that his journey has wrought within him.  Psychologists tell us that these mythological archetypes are present in all of us, and that we each live out these various archetypes to some extent.  I would submit that Harper Lee made that hero’s journey and while her initial return home is reflected in Go Set a Watchman, her transformative work is seen in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Having made my own journey out and back home again, I can attest to the dismay in realizing that the people I revered and who nurtured and taught me so much, could also exhibit racist tendencies.  I cannot claim to be on a hero’s journey, but I think I understand some of the things at work in that archetypal expression.  I can see how Harper Lee would have been frustrated by the mindset of her friends back home, but since these are her loved ones, there is more than frustration.  When our travels break us free from those regional bonds and drop the scales from our eyes, so to speak, our first impulse is to demand that that everyone else “see the light” just as we have. The problem is that they have not left home; they have not been on that long transformative journey. The returning hero, as mythology points out, must then find some way to open the eyes of his people.

The Transformative Power of Story

Harper Lee found a way to open the eyes of her people and was able to craft the transformative work that would enable all of us to see ourselves in a new light. In other words, she completed the hero’s journey when she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.  She found something redemptive in that racist Southern culture that would give us all hope that things can be better than they are now.  When To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, most Southern whites were denying that there was a problem. Resistance against civil rights was widespread throughout the South. Harper Lee, however, not only gave hope to the movement for racial equality, she also showed the white people in power that there was some decency within them which meant that they did not have to be trapped in an evil racist system.  Not only was there hope for blacks to throw off the shackles of oppression, there was hope for whites to throw off their own shackles of bitter racism.

We were not there in 1960. Though we have made some progress, we are still not there in 2015. Thanks to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (which we now see came about by way of wrestling with the harsh realities of a racist culture in Go Set a Watchman) we have a transformative gift given to us by that hero with a thousand faces. Harper Lee took a hard painful look at the racist South and she found that element within our own culture that could save us from ourselves. That gift, it turns out is universal – it is not just for the South. That saving grace in the midst of injustice and oppression that we see in To Kill a Mockingbird has resonated through the years all over the world.

Many have left the South and have been changed by the experience of living somewhere else – tracing the hero’s journey. Many left never to come back and some returned. While others have come back home and tried to make a difference, only Harper Lee has returned to the South and given us something so astounding as To Kill a Mockingbird.  Rather than mourn over the clay feet of a fictional character, or fret over the awkwardness of literary first drafts, I choose to be grateful for Harper Lee and the hero’s journey that she has demonstrated to world.


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Saturday Haiku: Dogwood

dogwood blooms
in the springtime mist
morning wakes


Photo: Dogwoods in Dothan, Alabama
Credit: Trey Whatley


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Poetry at the Movies: Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams starred in Dead Poets Society in which he portrayed an inspirational, unconventional English teacher at a well-to-do prep school. Here is an memorable scene in the movie in which William's character, John Keating  talks to his students about the importance of poetry.


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Art Lovers Unite for a Lively Evening

For those in the Birmingham area, I’ll be reading one of my poems at the Birmingham Arts Journal event tomorrow night.




Free reading and reception
featuring artists, photographers, poets and authors who appear in the latest editions 
And FREE music by the Birmingham Cello Project

Art Lovers Unite for a Lively Evening
14th Floor of the Wells Fargo Tower
in wonderful historic Downtown
Birmingham, Alabama

See you there!


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Poetry at the Movies: Paterson

Paterson, New Jersey, is the hometown of the poet William Carlos Williams. Paterson, the movie,by filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, portrays a week in the life of a bus driver named Paterson, who lives in the town of Paterson, NJ. You can red my review of the film here, and you can see the official trailer below.


Monday, April 22, 2019

Monday Music: Full of Grace (Sarah McLachlan)

Full of Grace
By Sara McLachlan

The winter here's cold, and bitter
it's chilled us to the bone.
We haven't seen the sun for weeks
too long too far from home
I feel just like I'm sinking
and I claw for solid ground.
I'm pulled down by the undertow,
I never thought I could feel so low
Oh darkness I feel like letting go

If all of the strength and all of the courage
come and lift me from this place.
I know I can love you much better than this
Full of grace
Full of grace
My love

So it's better this way, I said
having seen this place before
where everything we say and do
hurts us all the more.
It’s just that we stayed, too long
in the same old sickly skin.
I'm pulled down by the undertow,
I never thought I could feel so low
Oh darkness I feel like letting go.

If all of the strength
and all of the courage
come and lift me from this place,
I know I could love you much better than this.
Full of grace
Full of grace
My love


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Saturday Haiku: Farmyard

on the farm
the yard is swept clean
before noon


Image: Farm yard in Brittany
Artist: Helen McNicoll
Medium: Oil on canvas


Friday, April 19, 2019

A Good Friday Awakening

[Note: the following essay was first posted on February 12, 2012 under the title "How Pete Seeger Taught Me about Forgiveness"]

I clearly remember the catalyst that moved me to grant forgiveness in my heart. That catalyst came in a single day through two separate NPR broadcasts back in April of 1995. It was on a Good Friday. At noontime I was listening to a portion of a Good Friday service being broadcast on the radio while I was in my car while running some errands. Two of the people reading scripture and offering commentary were Martin Luther King, Jr.’s son (Martin Luther King III) and the Methodist minister from Piedmont, Alabama (Kelly Clem) whose young daughter had been killed in church the year before when a tornado struck. I don’t remember who said what, but I remember the message that came across that there are times when we suffer losses and times when we must forgive those who have wronged us. At the forefront of my thoughts was my own need to forgive that person who had betrayed me some four years earlier.

Later that day, I was driving home, again listening to NPR – this time it was the “All Things Considered” news broadcast. Burl Ives had died and they were interviewing folk singer Pete Seeger, talking about Burl Ives’ life. Pete Seeger made the comment that when he thought of Burl Ives, he thought of that clear, strong, beautiful voice of his. The interviewer wanted to probe more deeply into Seeger’s thoughts. What about that time during the McCarthy Red Scare, when there were hearings in Washington, D.C. before the House Committee on Un-American Activities? Burl Ives had testified before the committee, exonerating himself and implicating Pete Seeger, resulting in Seeger being blacklisted along with other folk singers of the day. Seeger’s career was severely affected by that awful reactionary time. Seeger’s response to the interviewer was, “Sometimes you just have to forgive and move on with your life.” He spoke with such conviction and serenity. I was moved by that interview. I said to myself, “If Pete Seeger can forgive Burl Ives, then I can forgive ______.”

It didn’t happen in an instant, but I made that my discipline for the Easter season that year. I know that my own health and well being were positively affected by my move to forgive and get on with my life. I should hasten to add that this lesson is not a one time thing. Since that day, there have been other occasions where I have struggled to forgive and move on. 

I should also add that I have at times been the one who needed to be forgiven. Furthermore, I have no doubt that because of the nature of human interaction, there have been people who have had to forgive me for things I was not even aware of doing. Living with others always leads to hurt and offense. If we are aware, we sometimes realize the hurt we have inflicted and can ask forgiveness. Other times, we are not aware until it is brought to our attention. There are still other times when, just as we must forgive and move on, someone else finds the grace to forgive us and move on – even when we are too blind to realize the hurt that we caused. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Maundy Thursday Prayer for the Notre Dame Cathedral

(Associated Press photo)

Prayer for the Notre Dame Cathedral

Our Lady graces many chapels throughout the world, often as a nook off to the side where she draws in the seeker who has become weary from the crush of the world. She also comes in grandeur, calling to our highest hopes and aspirations, as on the River Seine in Paris where that ancient cathedral stands shattered and smoldering from devastating fire.

Many stood to weep and to sing hymns of devotion even as the flames continued to rise. We join our hearts with the people of that ancient city who feel immeasurable loss. We join hands with the people of that ancient faith, many of whom have come in recent years to see their Church shattered as well. 

May Our Lady instill in all of us the courage to rebuild this ancient and sacred space to speak beauty and hope to all the world.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Poetry at the Movies: Il Postino

Il Postino is a delightful film about how a postman's life is transformed when famous Latin American poet, Pablo Neruda, comes to live on his small Italian island. Read about the making of the film here, or watch the official trailer below.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Writing Haiku

Six years ago I embarked upon a haiku project. I have made it a weekly discipline to write an original haiku for my Saturday blog posts. The following is a post I shared in 2014 following a weekend workshop on haiku.

Notes from a Haiku Workshop

Last April, I became a student of haiku when decided haiku would be a good way to encourage more people to write poetry. I posted a blog about how to write haiku and was astonished at the interest shown, judging by the number of hits that blog post received. As a result, I decided to begin a new feature on my blog called “Saturday Haiku,” in which I write and post a new haiku each week. My first Saturday Haiku was in May of 2013. Though I have been posting haiku for ten months now, I am still a student of the art – which is why I was excited when I heard about a haiku workshop coming to my hometown.

The haiku workshop was held in Birmingham, Alabama last Saturday and was led by Terri French, who is a former Regional Coordinator for the Southeast Region of The Haiku Society of America. The workshop was hosted by the Birmingham Public Library as part of the city's Sakura Festival and lasted from 10:00 a.m. until noon. In that short time I learned how much I do not know about haiku. Indeed, much of the information that I shared last year from other sources on that original blog post about writing haiku was very basic and did not include later developments in the writing of English-language haiku.

The first surprise for me was that the “5 – 7 – 5” method for allotting syllables in the three lined poem is no longer considered the standard. In the Japanese language, on is the sound unit comparable to the English syllable.  However, in the English language, a seventeen syllable span is much longer than seventeen on  in the Japanese language. One source states that thinking in terms of 3 – 5 – 3 is more comparable to what the Japanese language does in 5 – 7 – 5. The Haiku Society of America considers that 12 syllables in English would be comparable to 17 in Japanese.

A Brief History

Ms. French gave a brief historical review of haiku, beginning with its origins in Japan. Matsu Basho, who lived from 1644 to 1694, is considered the father of haiku. Yosa Buson (1716 – 1784) was a painter as well as poet, and would sometimes combine a painted image with a haiku. From Buson’s influence came the “haiga” which is a combination of picture and haiku in which the image compliments (rather than illustrates) the poem. Kabayshi Issa (1763 – 1828) is considered to be the most beloved of haiku poets. Fukuda Chiyo-ni (1703 – 1775) was a female haiku poet of some renown.  As the haiku continued to develop in Japan, Musaoka Shiki (1867 – 1902) elevated haiku to a literary status.

Haiku influenced several English language poets in the Imagist Movement before World War II. Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and Amy Lowell are some of the writers associated with that movement whose poetry  was short and haiku-like.  In the post WWII period, Harold G. Henderson came to be considered the “godfather” of American haiku. He translated Japanese haiku for English-speaking audiences.

R.H. Blyth, who lived from 1898 to 1964, brought the Zen movement into the writing of haiku. Blyth influenced the Beat Poets and the Beat Poets in turn influenced American haiku. Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, and Gary Snyder are examples of Beat poets who made use of haiku in their writing.

Terri French enlightened the workshop attendees with information about influential modern haiku poets. She made special mention of women pioneers in contemporary haiku including Jane Reichold, Alexis Rotella, and Anita Virgil. She told us about Nick Virgilio, a modern poet who greatly influenced contemporary haiku and who was a member of the Haiku Society of America. I did a little more research online and found that, according to an article in Wikipedia, Virgilio “experimented with the haiku form, trying several innovations that were adopted by many other American haiku poets, including dropping the traditional 5-7-5 syllable count in favor of shorter forms. He included rhyme in his haiku along with the gritty reality of urban America.” The article further notes that Virgilio’s published collection of haiku “has been called one of the most influential single-author books in English-language haiku.”

What is Haiku?

The official definition of haiku used by the Haiku Society of America is, “A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.”  

In the workshop, Ms. French elaborated on some aspects of haiku: 
  • Japanese haiku makes use of kigo, the “season word” which identifies the season to which the poem relates
  • There is the use of juxtaposition
  • There is the use of kireji, the “cutting” word which in Japanese serves as a verbal punctuation
  • There is the “aha moment,” or the epiphany of new realization 
In closing, she gave a few haiku “guidelines” (Ms. French does not like the term “rules” when it comes to haiku): 
  • 17 or fewer syllables
  • Three lines
  • No rhyme
  • No end punctuation
  • There is no capitalization except for proper nouns
  • Haiku are not titled
  • No use of overt metaphor, simile, or personification
  • Use concrete nouns rather than lots of adjectives to convey seasonal imagery
  • Make use of comparison

The Take Away

In two short hours I learned much more about haiku than I ever knew before. In addition, we also had time for hands on practice in writing haiku. As a student of the art of haiku, I hope to carry some of my new knowledge into my own writing as I continue my weekly practice of haiku on the Saturday Haiku feature of this blog site. Rather than being forever wed to the 5 – 7 – 5 format, I will pay more attention to the spirit of haiku, trying to say more in fewer syllables. 

The primary corrections I will make in future haiku writing will be to eliminate punctuation, capitalization and overt use of metaphor. In one of my early haiku, I said that the thin crescent moon with its arc of light was “like a door ajar.” Ideally, I would have carried that imagery without the overt metaphor. I love metaphor and simile, but I will need to learn to restrict its use to poetic forms other than haiku. It may be that haiku will help me make better use of the concept of metaphor and simile without resorting to overt “like” or “as” phrases even in my other poetry.

I hope that interested readers will continue to follow my Saturday Haiku offerings, but more than that, I hope that more of you will take an interest in actually writing haiku. The purpose of my initial post in writing haiku last year was to encourage people who probably do not consider themselves to be “poets” to find in the haiku an accessible avenue for poetic expression.  As you may note, I have been writing haiku for almost a year with only a little bit of knowledge about the art. Even so, having the discipline of a very simple weekly practice has helped me to pay more attention to my surrounding world. I probably try for that Zen approach” that Blyth introduced to American haiku, though it should be noted that haiku does not have to be about anything Zen. Having listened to an experienced teacher in Terri French, I am even more interested in pursuing the art.

For further reference: 

Picture: A portrait of the poet Basho, with his most famous poem "An old pond - a frog jumps in -" (c.1820) by Kinkoku, Yokoi (1761-1832)
Public Domain
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Monday, April 15, 2019

As the Ruin Falls (Phil Keaggy)

C.S. Lewis's poem, "As the Ruin Falls," was set to music back in the 1970's by guitarist Phil Keaggy who was a huge talent in the field of contemporary Christian music that was just emerging at that time. Lewis's words gave more depth than was typically found in the Contemprary Christian music genre. Scroll down to see the lyrics. If you really want the full depth of Lewis's poem, read his novel Till We Have Faces. This song, in addition to being effective poetry, is a good meditation for Holy Week.

As the Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love --a scholar's parrot may talk Greek--
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

                                                    ~ Clive Staples Lewis



Sunday, April 14, 2019

“Were You There?” A Palm Sunday Reflection

[This essay was first posted in 2016 with the title, "Crafting, the Cross and Holy Week"]

I could not help thinking that when the slaves sang, 'Were you there when they crucified my Lord?' they actually were there. They were there in a way that neither the plantation owners then  nor nice church people now  could realize.

On the day after Palm Sunday, I made some palm leaf crosses similar to the ones pictured here (I got the pic from Sermon on the Sidewalk blog). I went online and found a great YouTube guide for making them, as I had done last year. 

In the past, I found it to be a good remembrance of Holy Week and its message, as I kept the cross in the car throughout the year. This year, I made the crosses because I had to do something with my hands to calm the emotions I was feeling and to put my thoughts into perspective.

You see, the Palm Sunday service did an unexpected number on me. I don’t know why I say “unexpected” because Palm Sunday usually has a profound effect on me in some way. This year, though, I thought it would be different because I have not been especially attuned to the season until this week. Sometimes the beauty of church liturgy, whatever the season, is that it is there when you want to truly engage, but if you are not up for deep engagement, you can still take part in the rhythm of the service in a lighter, more peripheral manner. I thought this year would be one of those peripheral participations.

The Liturgy Drew Me In

So we processed into the church with palm branches, participated in a liturgical reading of the passion narrative from the Gospel of Matthew,  heard a brief homily, celebrated the Eucharist, and it was all very nice. I didn’t get all emotionally caught up in the rejoicing stage or in the “crucify him!” moment. It was all nice and pat. Then came the closing hymn, “Were You There?”

“Were You There?” has long been a powerful and moving song for me. It is one of those Negro Spirituals that has made its into many hymnals, Catholic and Protestant alike. It was not the first time I have had mixed emotions about Negro Spirituals, often noting their simple beauty that arose from such hardship. 

During Sunday's service, however, I glanced down at the bottom of the page and read the source of the song which was listed as from “Old Plantation Hymns.” The loaded term, plantation, was just too much to keep me on the periphery. I could not help thinking of the hardship inflicted upon the slaves by the plantation owners. I could not help thinking that when the slaves sang, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” they actually were there. They were there in a way that neither the plantation owners then  nor nice church people now  could realize. 

The institution of slavery was oppressing and “crucifying” people, not for our salvation, but so that they could have a bowl of sugar on their table, abundant crops in the field, and money in their coffers. How often does our society still oppress or take advantage of workers just so we can have goods in the market and food on the table? “Sometimes, it causes me to tremble…” 

Craft Time

I had to get still and quiet Sunday night after the service. I couldn’t just shake it off; I had to dwell with it for a while. Then with a new day come Monday, I needed another routine to put me into a productive rhythm. I knew if I let the morning be “craft time” the use of my hands to make things would get me grounded again. 

The other thing that helped my perspective was having just seen the BBC documentary, “How Art Made theWorld.” In one episode, it was pointed out how cultures around the world had used art to come to terms with people’s awareness that we will all face death. Many cultures have incorporated religious art that acknowledges death. One of the things that art can do is to find an object that acknowledges death and at the same time provides comfort and hope. The Christian cross was given as an example of such a symbol.

So I busied my hands, steadied myself, and practiced an age-old art form whereby I could come to terms with death and celebrate life at the same time. There was also the factor that this was a fun thing to do, like so many projects we did as children. There is still the reality of suffering and death, but a little bit of art can give us courage to live. A day of crafts can give us a steady hand to work for change in the future. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...