Practicing Lucidity

One of the assignments for the Catholic and Orthodox Christianity Module at the Chaplaincy Institute, where I’m still a seminarian, was to practice one of the Christian forms of prayer. I opted for Father Thomas Keating’s Centering Prayer with a sacred word. One selects a word as symbol for consenting to Divine presence and action within, then brings it into sitting in silence. I invoked the word repeatedly over the course of a week. Below is the text that emerged, interspersed with photographs I took while I was in Rome one year earlier.



I am here in the sounding dark. I am the presence and the void. I am the flame and the velvet black. I lead you into form and offer you the gift of formlessness. I am close as the embers in your chest and vast as the fires of the night sky.


I anchor this moment, I make it a ruby woven into your robes, I mark it on the body of your life. You sit and call and your wings open from your shoulders and your crown wears its gold and your body hums and you will be here whenever you desire, beyond the fleeting cruelty of time. You call this moment companion, and name it thus: the mountain towering above you, holding you in its embrace of snow; the fire murmurs and tells stories to your blood; your love beside you, sharing your table and bed and going out with you into the swirling white. You are here in love, now and evermore.

You ask to be the vessel and so you are. From deck to mast strung with golden chains, you ply the night seas, luminous. Your bow stirs moonlight, your breath fills the sails. You are honored and captain. Angels alight on the deck, they wear the garland roses you bestow. Your word sends a wave of intention. The lion head emerges from your chest and the billion stars remind you, you are no small thing.


Thank you for dipping my wings in gold. Thank you for placing the crown on my head, that I may bow to serve.


Be with the man blessed with such pain. He sits in the gravel edge of his voice, he wears thunderheads of bitter mistake and self-hatred but today he’ll speak to you of angels and when you lay hands upon his furrowed brow he’ll soften into the sunlight of his smile. His pain is yours and yours, his. You are each portal to the other.

This is my home, the water moving in air, the spill of oak hills down toward frigid sea. I know what’s out there, beneath the blanket of grey. I’ve walked here for a thousand lives.

I’m on fire with my life. I’m the wheel in my chest, luminescent spokes spinning off sparks.


I remember the rain that bent the leaves of grass as it bent the hairs of my head. I remember feeling it swallowed by the open ground. I remember the loamy smell, the wet rock, the streaks of it down my chest. I remember the sound of it on leaves pulling me from my bed, to stand under a falling sky with mouth open to drink. I stripped and ran wild with it through scrub and oak. I floated on the lake, droplets like notes of music all around me, lightning on the ring of mountains. I remember it all. What a wonderful time I’ve had here, experiencing rain.


You dwell in all the forms of your dreams, you are actor, scene, and Creator Director. As within, so without. How could it be otherwise?

In-between combustions a crow calls to a child and the child answers in joy. Coffee steams in ceramic curves, scones crumble, heels click on concrete. I’m in love with the world.


I watch the moon rise into mystery, I listen for the Earth dreaming of redwoods. I pour out an offering of wine and turn to the darkened hills. My heart sings with gratitude for the climbing trail.



One Step Beyond

Chased by rain and an icy wind off the North Sea we sped out of the lands of Nether at 200km an hour on the ICE train. Every click of track carried me deeper into the continent, deeper into what the hell am I doing here. Just when I wasn’t getting the hang of the Dutch it was on to being baffled by Germans. Luckily I had a German guide with me who handled train tickets, taxi, hotel check-in, joined me at dinner buffet, then left me to fend for myself. I slept well in an efficient and tiny German hotel bed.

I love saying Good Morning to people while running on the trail, sipping coffee, buying celery. So I was happy to make my way to breakfast exchanging “Guten Morgens” and then just “Morgens” as I got hip to the local ways.

I quickly got hip to the fact that it’s not a true German breakfast if you don’t end up with meat sweats afterward. I’ve never eaten so many different animals so many times over for breakfast. But it was good to eat beyond my fill, and write, and drink the one cup of coffee I was offered.

Tying the laces of your pilgrim boots is not a penultimate act. One does not train in seclusion until the grand ordination when the waxed cord bends and dives and draws fast, forever asserting the smooth step ahead as one leaps from the monastery heights. You tie again and again, and some days the knot is uneven as old cobblestones and other days smooth as rail and either way you’re free to strut or stumble on whatever pebbles or broken walls present themselves.


But in Germany I started to get the hang of my ties and the rhythm of the soles of my wingtips, even as the forecast called for more treacherous winter. I ate, I slept, I soaked in the waters my guide showed me. We drank Negronis at the water bar, sweated in the wood-fire saunas at the edge of barbarian woods, stood in cold showers as if rinsing off the blood of Romans.

And still the platform came too soon, as it must. Before arriving at the station we found the church from 822 AD locked just prior to our trying the great iron handle, so we knelt and conducted ritual of metal devotion in the baroque pomp next door.



I said goodbye to Guide and Germany as I boarded the train pointed toward Prague. I showed my savvy by accidentally sitting in first class – oh the horror of conductor and passenger alike! Back to my humble seat to watch as we passed through great cold landscapes, haunted castles on dark hills silhouetted by an ill-setting sun. Germany will never produce vampires who twinkle and equivocate about blood.

Prayer of Germany: Wind and snow, inspire high fires in the hearts and homes of all winter’s people; Blood of this land, drive dancing feet deeper into this world; Steel and stone, teach us to love fierce and heavy with time; Light, last long enough to show all travelers safe haven.


The Single Step

I’m on pilgrimage. That’s what I’ve been gabbing at god and everyone, though I should’ve been asking what the hell that means. Concepts rain: journeying outward and inward away from the known, following ancient routes to sacred places, walking closer to knowing ones Divinity. The world faiths have their pilgrimages, and the world’s faithful follow them. Secular pilgrimages abound as well, many miles eaten by wheels for devotion to sport, music, festival.

I feel myself outside of both but I’ve left my home and my understanding of the Divine and I’m on my feet in Old Country. Where I rest today frames yesterday’s road. Meaning is distilled drop by drop, tended by the days’ intentions: open; surrender; go forth.


As soon as the plane took off into the Cascade Sky I realized I’d been sitting still too long. Too comfortable, too familiar, and now this great unknown expanse of time and continent was making me anxious. The thought of new currencies, transport, food was perfectly unsettling.


I flew out of the sunrise and landed in Amsterdam on New Year’s Eve. Euros in my pocket (thanks Mom), I stepped onto the train, found lodging in Utrecht and a delicious Dutch salad. So it begins.

We toured Amsterdam on New Year’s Day, the garbage trucklets overwhelmed with the devastation of firework husks, broken glass, cigarette butts. I knelt in a Catholic Church and sent my Reiki prayers up through the gilded steeple.


The next day I knelt in what was once a Catholic Cathedral but had been bashed and dulled into a Protestant Church during the fury of the Reformation. (I lamented the waste at the time, but visiting the Vatican weeks later I understood the rage and felt tempted to do some tearing and burning of that perverse opulence myself.)

Just a few days with those sweet pink-cheeked bike-riding sea-strugglers amidst their canals and coffee before boarding the train to Germany. Thank you Netherlands.

Prayer of Amsterdam: May the light of this moon illumine all I love and have left behind, may it show my feet their stance on this new ground, may it see all travelers to safe rest.