Archibald MacLeish, the 20th Century American poet once wrote; “We have learned all the answers, all the answers. It is the questions we do not know." One of the questions I’ve been asking myself in writing this collection of poems is, what is my duty as a poet and an artist?
Creative works can be intensely unique since they are often the story of one person’s journey through life. Most of these poems were all written within the last three years, others over and across the years. I can remember clearly that the first poem I ever wrote was in high school, even then there was an element of the sacred involved. Later in college I wrote more poems, in some cases finding the courage to read a few lines out loud in some of my English and drama classes.
As I grew older, eventually leaving the academic world for the corporate world, I put writing poetry aside. Oh, from time to time the spirit moved me, inspiring me to write a poem or two. In the late 1980s, I attended a poetry writing workshop with Vassar Miller, a well known poet from Houston. We even became friends for a few years; Vassar encouraged us all to write more. You will find a poem, a remembrance of her, within this book.
Only in the last few years have I written, and been inspired to write more and more. Why you may ask? Well, something in my life changed of course. What, you may ask?
One of the key things that changed is that I left the corporate world where I was a Vice President with JP Morgan Chase for more years than I care to say, a couple of decades at least. The other is that I began practicing meditation on a regular basis and taking more time to nurture my relationship with God. I am a Christian, baptized when an infant, and raised in the church. My wife Joanne and I have participated in the life of Trinity Episcopal Church, in Houston for many years now. We took our wedding vows at Trinity, in front of 200 witnesses.
There is another part of this story to tell. Nearly four winters ago, I attended an interfaith dialog at Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, followed by a weekend retreat on meditation at Camp Allen. An event sponsored by an organization called Star in the East, founded by Geshe Michael Roach and Lama Christie McNally, authors of The Eastern Path to Heaven, from Church Publishing Incorporated and Seabury Books. Church Publishing Incorporated is the official publisher of worship materials and resources for The Episcopal Church, while Seabury Books focuses on more innovative and ecumenical materials.
Since then I have worked with Star in the East, to offer other meditation retreats, on average about one a year now. This enabled me to learn more about the connections between Christianity and Buddhism, and to delve deeper into an interfaith dialog between these two powerful and ancient spiritual traditions, both core religions of the world. Which in turn led me towards other schools of thought and teachers in both Buddhism and Christianity, especially the work of Fr. Laurence Freeman, Director of the World Community of Christian Meditation and Professor Paul F. Knitter, who teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. In this sense, many of these poems are a story about this mythic and interfaith journey.
I cannot claim to be a Buddhist, but I am most certainly a Christian, one who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The strength of that belief and even my knowledge of Christ have only grown stronger in the relationships I have formed with my Buddhist friends. Many still consider themselves to be Christian, and see Christianity as their core faith, the faith they grew up learning and practicing. Their study and practice of Buddhism is simply an extension of their Christian faith, and their relationship with the divine.
What have I learned? In short, I have learned a nonexclusive approach to Christianity and an inclusive methodology when engaged in an interfaith dialog. I have learned that I can talk with people of another faith about the uniqueness of Christ, and of my faith in Christ, with an open heart and mind to what they are saying too. We enter into a dialog together, and in doing so, we enter into God by sharing a sacramental gift of stillness, silence, peace, and unity found in practicing meditation with people of my own faith and people of another faith.
Christianity teaches us that God can be known through love, through compassion. According to the Gospel of John, “God is Love.” When a Christian says, “God is Love,” they are pointing towards Agápē, divine or selfless love, the highest and purest form of love, to be compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate.
Meditation and contemplative prayer are simply tools, disciplines and methods to help us awaken God’s compassion within the human heart. For any Christian, God becomes known through Jesus Christ, who was both fully human and fully divine. Jesus, therefore, is Lord and Brother, uniting in one person both humanity and God. Christians know Jesus as the Logos, the Incarnate Word, the Word Made Flesh, and the image of the invisible God, preeminent and preexisting, the First Born of all Creation. Jesus, for a Christian, is redeemer, reconciler, revealer, and teacher; Jesus is all these things and more. In Jesus, we find our personal destiny, our truest self, and an ultimate reconciliation with all creation.
Christianity teaches that God is present when two or more people gather in his name. I believe that whenever we come to together in an interfaith dialog, to share our experiences of God, the sacred, "the More," then we are also coming together as a People of God, in the Name of God, regardless of our different cultural, linguistic, and religious backgrounds. I believe that Jesus, as the risen Christ, is there with us, literally; he is there beside us, praying through and with each one of us.
Christianity teaches us that "the way of Christ" is a way that calls us to love others unconditionally with immense compassion and loving-kindness, which is quite similar to the Buddhist call to become a Bodhisattva who develops universal compassion and a spontaneous wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. For me, the call of Christ is one that I must answer by loving others in all their diversity of beliefs, in all their pain and suffering, even taking on some of their pain as did Christ on the cross, and in showing them through love how Christ lives and dwells within my own being. It is the approach Christ compels me to take; it is a path marked by extraordinary humility, with no hint of hubris.
When someone from another tradition sees this humility and love working in me, then they have an opportunity to come to know Christ as the Incarnate Word, as I have. This dialog is one we must always engage in with mutual respect. By loving them (accepting them) as I believe Christ does; I am living the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Christ. I am living a life of Christ, and of Christ as my personal savior; I am discovering the Way, the Truth, and Life, in absolute abundance by being in relationship with others, with all of creation.
The call of Christ, is a call to become more Christlike in how we relate to other faiths, even finding Christ at work in these faiths. This is no more than a simple process of learning, listening, and looking closely at the truth found in other spiritual and contemplative traditions. Father Laurence Freeman, author of Jesus the Teacher Within writes, “Learning to revere the truth in other religions will help Christians to love one another. And in that tough work they will recognize and enter the embrace of the risen Jesus.”
As a Christian who encounters the Holy Spirit daily and within a community of faith, I accept that the spirit of the divine is actively at work in the world across all cultures and all prevailing sacred traditions. I believe that the sacred is actively at work in healing the world and in bringing us closer together through such dialog. I believe that God is calling us into a relationship with one another regardless of which faith we may practice; God is calling us into a relationship with all of creation. This is what God has written on my own heart; it is one way God reveals himself to me. Ultimately, what is most noteworthy, besides all this talk about belief, is that Jesus loves us and asks us to share his love, and to in turn find a new life and a new creation within this love.
A friend once told me, that each artist must develop a new language; this is true of poets too, as pointed out in the poem, “Poets of Creation.” My hope is that the truth of these thoughts and this ideology are coming through my work as a poet and an artist. My hope is that these words will help to transcend and transform the differences we face, regardless of our cultural, linguistic, and religious backgrounds. Indeed, to develop a new language through poetry that brings a renewed and closer understanding to the light of God’s wisdom and word shared by many of the worlds contemplative traditions.
Yours in Christ,
An introduction to the book of poetry, Wheels Turning Inward.