Pray for the President!

I’m on the mailing list of the Presidential Prayer Team. I keep hoping for an armband of some sort, but so far all I get are emails.

Why “presidential”? As it says on their masthead, the Presidential Prayer Team is “Mobilizing millions of Americans to pray daily for our President, our Leaders, our Nation, and our Armed Forces.” Well, if press accounts are any guide, people like George Bush, Kenneth Lay and Jack Abramoff certainly need spiritual assistance! The Presidential Prayer Team takes its scriptural authority from 1 Timothy 2:1-2

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty

– and not, for example, from 1 Samuel 8:10-19, which begins:

And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots….

…And to protect his oil fields, no doubt. But let’s not cavil here! 1 Timothy clearly takes precedence, since it is so rich in instruction for those who desire to walk in the paths of righteousness. The rest of the chapter just excerpted, for example, tells us how we are to pray:

I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

Now I know some liberals may find the Word of God a little hard to take, but that just shows how narrow-minded they are. Men raising up their hands and praying out loud, free of any bedeviling doubts, while their women bow their heads in silence and make babies: why, this could easily describe our fundamentalist brothers and sisters in Islam, too, or in any number of other false religions. It’s very ecumenical!

So I do hope you’ll all go online and sign up for the Presidential Prayer Team’s special Presidential Prayer Rally, scheduled for President’s Day – Monday, February 20. They point out that “Whether he’s signing new legislation, meeting with the family of a fallen soldier or protecting our nation from terrorism, our President and Commander in Chief, George W. Bush, says your prayers sustain and guide him through the complex decisions he faces daily.” Click here to sign up for a time slot. And don’t forget to invite all your friends!

Of course, the actual content of your prayer is between you and God. But I know some of us become a little tongue-tied when we start thinking about including matters of such global significance in our private devotions. So if you’d like to share your ideas for some properly prayerful language that might fit the bill next Monday, please feel free to use the comment boxes below.

Shooting the message

Real Live Preacher waxes eloquent about the perils of language (via the Progressive Faith Carnival for Feb. 5):

Words sound nice and they are like magic. You write words on paper and a thousand miles away, someone looks at the paper and says, “I like the sound of that. Do it again.”

Only there is no such thing as a word. A word is only a sound, and writing is even farther removed from reality than that. Writing is a mark that stands for a sound that stands for something unknown and perhaps unknowable.

If you love words, you must renounce them. You must throw them to the ground like the statue of a false god and trample them. You must deny them three times. You must name these demons and cast them out.

Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity…. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words… Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Eccl. 12:8,10,12)

My Zen

Never mind Fuketsu’s Zen. If you want to express the truth, throw out your words, throw out your silence, and tell me about your own Zen.

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My Zen is a joke.


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My Zen walks like a duck and quacks like a duck.


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My Zen does not pass Go.


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My Zen is all heart, baby!


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My Zen looks for enlightenment in all the wrong places.


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My Zen has a celebrity endorsement from Jack Shit.


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My Zen is no joke.

One day late

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I spotted this guy in my front yard this morning around nine. He was moving quickly, and clearly had much more urgent things on his mind than meteorological prognostication. Quoting myself (a terrible habit, I know):

Groundhogs are the only solitary marmots… When they rouse in early to mid-February, [the males] do much more than check for a shadow. They pay social visits to all the females within their territories – re-acquaintances made necessary by the fact that woodchucks do move around, whether as a result of juvenile dispersal, or simply to acquire better real estate. The high ratio of females to males that drives this annual peregrination stems partly from the increased exposure of male woodchucks to predators, especially in late winter and early spring when cover is scarce and predators are hungry.

I wonder if this was the same obsessed individual who broke into my parent’s house last October?

Short Mountain

Hearing there were old trees there, last Saturday my hiking buddy and I went over to Short Mountain – a place I can see from the ridge above my house. It’s time for a closer look, I thought. Together we saw far more than we would’ve seen alone. I am indebted to L. especially for drawing my attention to the stump in the second photo and the pool in the last one.

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In the last week of January, white rocks half-hidden by the green of lichens.

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The side of the tree that faced the weather still raises iron fingers to the breeze.

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Where it ground against another rock during the last ice age, the ridgetop boulder still burns.

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In the exposed end of a limb ripped down by last January’s ice storm, a complete record of the tree’s efforts to hold on to it.

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At the base of a large white oak, a monstrous burl. Inside, maybe a twist of limbs; another, darker sky; the shadows of birds.

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Right where we join the trail, a black birch’s spreading bark splits the bright orange blaze in two. Which way should we go?

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Behind the leaf dam, slow lines of foam crossed by a single leaf. The mountain stream turns still, no sound of water.

Where else

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Last Saturday, I went for a walk and photo safari with my buddy L. Right where the trail dipped into the woods, by the side of the state forest road we found two perfectly good men’s wool socks lying in the grass. Through the viewfinders of our respective cameras we admired their topography – half ear, half rock tripe. L. snapped pictures from all angles; I took a couple, then found other interesting things to shoot.

“Hey, the sun’s getting pretty low,” I said after a while. “We haven’t even made it into the woods yet!”

“Well, where else are you going to find socks?” L. said.

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A sown darkness

This entry is part 39 of 42 in the series Antiphony: Paul Zweig


I’ve been reading Paul Zweig, and responding to his poems with poems of my own. This is the twenty-third poem in the third (“Eternity’s Woods”) section of Zweig’s Selected and Last Poems, followed by my response. See here for details on this experiment in responsive reading. I’ll remove Zweig’s poems after a week or two to prevent egregious copyright infringement.

The Other Ocean
by Paul Zweig

It was the whip-marks of the horned asp,
And the Beduin sucking his coffee
Through cracked fleshy lips…
[Remainder of poem removed]
* * * *

The Other Coltrane

when the new moon’s still a sliver
pale fingernail against
the blackboard

& you hear
the shriek of wheels gone
slightly off-true with the track

ninety-nine cars heaped high with coal
hurtling by in the darkness

don’t it make you shiver
that night train

What is the via negativa?

Beth knows.


In other news, qarrtsiluni inaugurates a new theme, “Lies and Hiding,” with a poem about the vagaries of history by Maria Benet, which seems to reflect her own history as an Romanian immigrant. I guess it’s O.K. with poetry to give away the ending:

You are packed:
the clothes of your new life
folded and stashed in your mind–and again you rehearse:
the border, customs, forms
to fill. Again you write:
nothing to declare,
nothing worth currency.

Dick Jones shares two wonderful poems based on his travels in the Ural Mountains between 1989 and 2000. “BIRDS ON THE CHUSOVAYA RIVER” begins:

High flat sun, sour light
draining like whey
through muslin cloud.
This bird’s geometry — square-winged,
turning on the axis
of its hunger, reorders
the sky. The berkut, summer eagle,
sideslips into the treeline.

SB compiles some recent good news for internet addicts and writers of poetry. I particularly liked this quote (from the Independent): “Poetry, it seems, is not the new rock’n’roll, but the new Prozac.” (Fortunately, the author of the article is considerably wiser than this may suggest, and comes down rather hard on the notion that the best thing about poetry is that it might be good for you.)

Finally, Tom Montag‘s Morning Drive Journal feature helps remind me what a real winter might be like. This is how it was in Fairwater, Wisconsin on February 1, 2000:

It’s a lovely winter morning. A cold nip to the wind, partly cloudy, the sun hidden, a greyness. No frost on the windshield of the pick-up. I can see my breath in the air. A stillness, as if winter holds its breath, then the branch of a bush moves and the spell is broken. Clouds are smears to the north and east and west, haze above. If we could cup the day in our hand like water, what would it look like?