Oct 01 2014

Rolf Jacobsen – Moon and Apple

Published by under Poetry

Moon and Apple
by Rolf Jacobsen

English version by Robert Bly

When the apple tree blooms,
the moon comes often like a blossom,
paler than any of them,
shining over the tree.

It is the ghost of the summer,
the white sister of the blossoms who returns
to drop in on us,
and radiate peace with her hands
so that you shouldn’t feel too bad when the hard times come.
For the Earth itself is a blossom, she says,
on the star tree,
pale with luminous
ocean leaves.

— from The Winged Energy of Delight, Translated by Robert Bly

/ Photo by ShortAxel /

It’s past the summer season of apple blossoms and well into the autumn of ripe apples (at least for those of us north of the equator), but something about this poem spoke to me today. The blossoms of the apple tree glowing beneath the shining moon, a reminder to us all that even when things seem difficult, the Earth itself — and each one of us — “is a blossom… on the star tree.” If we are blossoms, that must mean we are quietly ripening with the season, and in the natural unfolding of things we will become sweet fruit in the cosmos.

Rolf Jacobsen, Rolf Jacobsen poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Rolf Jacobsen

Norway (1907 – 1994) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Catholic

Continue Reading »

One response so far

Oct 01 2014

a new path

Discover a new path
through this magical, unknown day.

No responses yet

Sep 26 2014

Hadewijch – The Queen of Sheba

Published by under Poetry

The Queen of Sheba
by Hadewijch

English version by Mother Columba Hart

The Queen of Sheba
Came to Solomon;
      That was in order to gain wisdom.
When she had found him, indeed,
His wonders streamed upon her so suddenly
      That she melted in contemplation.
            She gave him all,
            And the gift robbed her
      Of everything she had within —
            In both heart and mind,
            Nothing remained:
      Everything was engulfed in love.

— from Hadewijch: The Complete Works (Classics of Western Spirituality) , by Mother Columba Hart

/ Photo by priesteres /

Although my mother’s family was Catholic, my mother herself was a freethinker who didn’t want to raise me with overly rigid ideas of religion. She made sure I was exposed to the services of several different Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions so I could make up my own mind about God and religion as I grew up.

But that open-ended structure also meant that I came late to the Bible. I was in college before I really sat down and started reading the Bible. It wasn’t what I expected! How was I to understand these complex histories, stories, poems, and sayings? One thing was immediately obvious to me– a surface, literal reading of the Bible was not the way to understand its heart. I frequented the college libraries, checking out books of biblical commentary, from rather stuffy old tomes to modern New Age interpretations, all in an intense effort to discover what was really being conveyed by this enigmatic holy book.

You know, one of the sections that really had me scratching my head for a long time was the Song of Songs, sometimes called the Song of Solomon. In the center of the Bible was a love poem! An erotic love poem. The Song of Songs is a poem of pastoral lovers, alternating between the man’s voice and the woman’s voice. Although a reading of the poem won’t tell you this, tradition says that it is written by King Solomon and it relates his love affair with the Queen of Sheba. As lovely as the Song of Solomon is, what does it have to do with religion and spiritual truth? I mean, it is steamy stuff!

A little more background to help us make sense of the underlying meaning of Hadewijch’s poem: King Solomon was the son of the heroic King David. Solomon was considered the embodiment of perfect wisdom. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mystics have looked to Solomon as the keeper of hidden divine knowledge. The Queen of Sheba is said to have come from Africa or Arabia. When these two great rulers met, they had a celebrated love affair.

But what does any of this have to do with spirituality? A surface telling of this story may be entertaining, but there is a deeper, esoteric meaning underlying all of this.

In the spiritual reading of this story, the figures of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon represent the classic spiritual lover and Beloved. In this lover/Beloved dichotomy, the woman typically represents the soul and the man represents God. The journeying Queen of Sheba coming to King Solomon is the searching soul awakening to love as it approaches God in His radiant wisdom.

This is how the Song of Songs, and so many other classic poems describing passionate lovers, can be simultaneously read as spiritual works. Love and passion, separation and and loss of self and union. These teach us important lessons of the spiritual journey and the relationship between oneself and the Divine.

Keeping this in mind, reread this poem by Hadewijch.

Does it make more sense now? Hadewijch is saying that the journeying soul (“The Queen of Sheba / Came to Solomon; / That was in order to gain wisdom”) encounters the Divine Presence and yields (“she melted in contemplation”) The little self becomes nothing (“Nothing remained”), yet is flooded with the great vision of reality (“His wonders streamed upon her”) and all-encompassing love (“Everything was engulfed in love”).

This is the great spiritual formula: the sweetly melting ego leads to the Divine Self; death leads to new Life.

PS – The Longing In Between Pre-order Response

We have had an excellent initial response to my announcement of the new anthology’s release in early November. Thank you, everyone, for your support of this new publication! The final elements of the book are coming together beautifully, and I think you’ll be as pleased as I am with it.

The special pricing will remain available for pre-orders placed before October 15. For more information about The Longing In Between click here.

Hadewijch, Hadewijch poetry, Christian poetry Hadewijch

Belgium (13th Century) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

Continue Reading »

5 responses so far

Sep 26 2014

back at breath

Words are built of breath,
and thoughts of words.
When we find the silent, knowing space
beneath words and thoughts,
we are back at breath.

No responses yet

Sep 24 2014

New Book: The Longing In Between

I am so pleased to announce the upcoming publication of the new Poetry Chaikhana anthology, The Longing In Between. The final touches are being added now, and we have a publication date of early November.

The Longing In Between is a new collection poems by beloved classical sacred poets and a few modern visionaries — accompanied by my own thoughts, meditations, personal stories, and commentary.

As much as I love the immediacy of emails and the personal connection they allow, emails are fleeting. Particularly loved emails may get saved for a while, but inevitably they fade into the ethers. The Longing In Between gathers together poems and commentary from favorite Poetry Chaikhana emails, expanded and refined — in book form. For me, nothing can compare with the satisfaction of leaning back in a chair while leisurely turning the pages of a beloved book. I build relationships with books in ways that no email or website can approach. I really hope The Longing In Between will invite you into that sort of literary friendship.

The Longing In Between, Sacred Poetry From Around the World, Poetry Chaikhana Anthology, Ivan M. Granger
Pre-order Now!
= Coming in early November =

The Longing In Between
Sacred Poetry From Around the World

A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology

Edited with Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

before Oct 15:


A delightful collection of soul-inspiring poems from the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions, accompanied by Ivan M. Granger’s meditative thoughts and commentary. Rumi, Whitman, Issa, Teresa of Avila, Dickinson, Blake, Lalla, and many others. These are poems of seeking and awakening… and the longing in between.

Devoted readers of the Poetry Chaikhana can finally enjoy this amazing poetry paired with Ivan’s illuminating commentary in book form. The Longing In Between is a truly engaging and thought-provoking exploration of sacred poetry from around the world.

“The Longing in Between is a work of sheer beauty. Many of the selected poems are not widely known, and Ivan M. Granger has done a great service, not only by bringing them to public attention, but by opening their deeper meaning with his own rare poetic and mystic sensibility.”

author of the best-selling Ten Poems to Change Your Life series

I am announcing The Longing In Between early because the Poetry Chaikhana is offering a special pre-order deal. If your purchase a copy before October 15th–

  • You will receive a discounted price: $14.95 (rather than the full price of $16.95 USD)
  • I will personally sign your copy
  • And, most importantly, you will be offering a big help in covering the Poetry Chaikhana’s initial publication expenses

To purchase a special pre-order copy of The Longing In Between click here or the ‘Purchase’ link above for payment through PayPal. If you prefer to pay by check or money order, you can mail it to:

Poetry Chaikhana
PO Box 2320
Boulder, CO 80306

Shipping and handling: $3 US, $4 Canada, $9 International per book
(Payments should be made to “Poetry Chaikhana.” US funds, please!
And please don’t forget to include your mailing address.)

“Ivan M. Granger has woven these poems into a tapestry of great wisdom with his reflection on each poem. I can imagine each poem and commentary furnishing the basis for a daily meditation.”

author of Consider the Blackbird and A Light that is Shining

       Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt–blessed vision!–
that a fountain flowed
here in my heart.
I said: Why, O water, have you come
along this secret waterway,
spring of new life,
which I have never tasted?

       Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt–blessed vision!–
that I had a beehive
here in my heart;
and the golden bees
were making
from all my old sorrows
white wax and sweet honey.

       Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt–blessed vision!–
a blazing sun shone
here in my heart.
It was blazing because it gave heat
from a red home,
and it was sun because it gave light
and because it made me weep.

              Last night, as I was sleeping,
       I dreamt–blessed vision!–
       that it was God I had
       here in my heart.

              Antonio Machado

This is my favorite poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. Actually, it is one of my favorite poems, period.

The repeated line, which I have translated as “blessed vision,” has elsewhere been rendered as “marvelous error.” Machado’s actual phrase in Spanish is “bendita ilusión,” but this “illusion” is not an erroneous delusion; it is an illusion in the same sense that a dream or vision is an illusion. It is something intangible, seen and felt but not physically there. I have the feeling that Machado is teasing us by calling the experience a dream, seeing if we are foolish enough to ignore it. Perhaps the poet can’t quite believe the beauty of his vision.

Let’s take just a moment to explore how this poem parallels the mystic’s ecstatic experience…

“The Longing In Between… presents some of the choicest fruit from the flowering of mystics across time, across traditions and from around the world. After each of the poems in this anthology Ivan M. Granger shares his reflections and contemplations, inviting the reader to new and deeper views of the Divine Presence. This is a grace-filled collection which the reader will gladly return to over and over again.”

author of Awakening Kundalini: The Path To Radical Freedom and Kali’s Bazaar

Ivan M. Granger Consider purchasing a pre-order copy of The Longing In Between and support the Poetry Chaikhana!

And thank you to everyone for all of the encouragement and support along the way!


PS- Happy Equinox and happy New Moon!

2 responses so far

Sep 12 2014

Bibi Hayati – Is it the night of power

Published by under Poetry

Is it the night of power
by Bibi Hayati

English version by Aliki Barnstone

Is it the night of power
Or only your hair?
Is it dawn
Or your face?

In the songbook of beauty
Is it a deathless first line
Or only a fragment
copied from your inky eyebrow?

Is it boxwood of the orchard
Or cypress of the rose garden?
The tuba tree of paradise, abundant with dates,
Or your standing beautifully straight?

Is it musk of a Chinese deer
Or scent of delicate rosewater?
The rose breathing in the wind
Or your perfume?

Is it scorching lightning
Or light from fire on Sana’i Mountain?
My hot sigh
Or your inner radiance?

Is it Mongolian musk
Or pure ambergris?
Is it your hyacinth curls
Or your braids?

Is it a glass of red wine at dawn
Or white magic?
Your drunken narcissus eye
Or your spell?

Is it the Garden of Eden
Or heaven on earth?
A mosque of the masters of the heart
Or a back alley?

Everyone faces a mosque of adobe and mud
When they pray.
The mosque of Hayati’s soul
Turns to your face.

— from The Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry, Edited by Aliki Barnstone

/ Photo by Jane Rahman /

There are several important themes and images in this poem, but for now let’s bask in the poem’s rich aromas. Take a slow, deep breath…

Is it the night of power
Or only your hair?
Is it dawn
Or your face?

In addition to a nectar-like sweetness, many mystics experience a scent that can be rapturously overwhelming or tantalizingly subtle. The aroma is the intoxicating scent of what I sometimes call the Celestial Drink, variously called wine, amrita, rasa, dew, honey. But this blissful scent can also be understood as the perfume worn by the Beloved that awakens sacred ardor upon the spiritual journey.

And, of course, perfume is scented oil, oil being the substance used to anoint and initiate.

Is it musk of a Chinese deer
Or scent of delicate rosewater?
The rose breathing in the wind
Or your perfume?

To suggest the almost erotic sense of divine union, sometimes the earthier scent of musk is described. Musk is the aphrodisiac oil of the musk deer. Deer, being creatures of profound silence and shyness, are themselves symbols of the elusive Beloved.

In Bibi Hayati’s poem here, she carries the language of sacred aroma over to the scent of flowers, as well. Blossoms and flowers are natural symbols for enlightenment, the unfolding of awareness and the opening of the heart. Let us not forget, though, that flowers have a direct connection to the Celestial Drink, for their sweet perfume emanates from the sweet nectar they hold.

And, of course, the flower precedes the fruit, whose juice ultimately yields wine…

Is it a glass of red wine at dawn
Or white magic?

Let’s take a moment to contemplate this image more deeply. Let this form a visual image in your mind: a glass of wine held up to the rising sun at dawn. The rim of the glass catches the light of the early sun, lighting up in a ring of white, with the sun reflecting itself as a single starburst of light along the edge — it is an evocation of the Muslim symbol of the star and crescent. The rim of a glass catching the light — that is the crescent — and within it is held the star or sun.

One way to understand this symbol is that the circle represents the world, or perhaps the individual soul. But, to be spiritually awakened, that circle must be broken open. That edge, which is the wall of separation, is broken open by the star — the light of God, enlightenment. The crescent and the star of Islam for Muslim mystics is a succinct expression of the proper relationship between the human or the worldly with the divine reality.

The closing lines get to the heart of everything:

Everyone faces a mosque of adobe and mud
When they pray.
The mosque of Hayati’s soul
Turns to your face.

Every sacred ritual is always an outer enactment of what we must realize within. What good does it do when we face a mosque or altar or the rising sun, but our souls are turned away from the all-enchanting beauty of the Beloved?

Bibi Hayati

Iran/Persia (19th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Sep 12 2014

what you are

You are what you are,
not what you think you are.

One response so far

Sep 10 2014

Story: The King’s Fortress, by the Baal Shem Tov

Published by under Stories

I thought a change of pace would be nice today. Rather than a poem, I offer a story by the Baal Shem Tov. Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer of Mezhizh, known respectfully as the Baal Shem Tov (the Master of the Good Name), lived in the early 1700s and is the spiritual father of the Hassidic movement that became such an important part of Judaism in Eastern Europe (and later, after World War II and the Holocaust, spread to the rest of the world).

Much of the spiritual genius of Hassidic Jewish mysticism is passed to us through stories, usually tales from the lives of revered Rabbis. Sometimes though we get an allegorical story, like this one told by the Baal Shem Tov himself…


/ Photo by ivan.kovpak /

There was a king who created, through his magical art, barriers and walls, one within the other, with which to surround himself. All these were, however, really illusory. He commanded that money be spread around at the gates of each of these walls to see how great the determination and desire of his subjects, how much effort each one of them would make, to come to the king.

There were those of his subjects who immediately returned home after they had collected a little money at the gates of these illusory walls. There were others who got as far as the second or third walls. But there were very few who did not desire to collect merely physical treasures, only to reach the king himself.

After considerable effort they came to the king and saw that there were really no barriers and walls, everything was a magical illusion.

So it is with God. Those who truly understand know that all the barriers and walls of iron, all the garments and coverings are really on God himself in hiding, as it were, because there is no place where he is not.

(trans. Alan Unterman)

Teachings of the Jewish Mystics
by Perle Besserman

2 responses so far

Sep 05 2014

Muhammad Shirin Maghribi – Each Way I Turned

Published by under Poetry

Each Way I Turned
by Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

English version by Mahmood Jamal

Each way I turned
I turned to You;
Each place I reached
Was the path to You.

Each place of worship
I entered to pray,
I saw the arch of Your brow
In every arch and every doorway.

I saw the face of worldly beauty
But I saw it in the mirror of Your face.
In the manifest and the hidden,
In the ideal and the real,
All have looked and only to You.

Don’t ask about Maghribi.
He is by madness struck —
By those dark lashes of Yours!

— from Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi, Translated by Mahmood Jamal

/ Photo by AlicePopkorn /

I really like this one… It is a work of profound devotion, without an ounce of dogma.

Each way I turned
I turned to You;
Each place I reached
Was the path to You.

Each place of worship
I entered to pray,
I saw the arch of Your brow
In every arch and every doorway.

It suggests a spiritual journey of great intensity and yearning, yet, at the same time, at rest with the constant recognition of the Beloved — everywhere!

I saw the face of worldly beauty
But I saw it in the mirror of Your face.
In the manifest and the hidden,
In the ideal and the real,
All have looked and only to You.

We don’t have to strain our eyes looking, looking, looking. Wherever we are, whichever path we are on, we just have to see.

Catching constant glimpses of the Eternal in the minute and mundane and manifest, as well as in the most elevated and most inward… everything in and out and all around becomes a window to the Divine. Who can then act sober and sane?

Don’t ask about Maghribi.
He is by madness stuck —
By those dark lashes of Yours!

Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

Iran/Persia (1349 – 1406) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Sep 05 2014

legislated or experienced

The world has had plenty of God,
dictated and legislated.
We need more God,

No responses yet

Sep 03 2014

Granum Sinapis

Published by under Poetry

Granum Sinapis
by Granum Sinapis (Anonymous)

English version by Karen J. Campbell

In the beginning
high above comprehension
is the word, eternally.
O rich treasure,
where the beginning eternally bore the beginning!
O paternal bosom,
out of which, in bliss,
the word flowed forth eternally.
Yet the womb still
held fast to the word, truly.

Of the two, one flowing forth,
ember of love,
binding both,
known to both,
so flows the sweetest spirit
in complete symmetry,
The three are one:
do you know, what? No,
it alone knows itself completely.

The enmeshment of the three
harbors deep terror.
No reason has ever
comprehended this circle:
here is a depth without bottom.
Check and mate
to time, to shapes, to space!
The circle of mysteries
is a source of everything;
its point of origin rests, completely immutable, in itself.

Leave your doings
and climb, insight,
the mountain of this point!
The way leads you
into a wondrous desert
which extends wide
and immeasurably far.
The desert knows
neither time nor space.
Its nature is unique.

Never has a foot
crossed the domain of the desert,
created reason
has never attained it.
It is, and yet no one knows what.
It is here, there,
far, near,
deep, high,
so that
it is neither the one nor the other.

Light, clear,
completely dark,
without beginning and also without end,
it rests in itself,
unveiled, without disguise.
Who knows what its dwelling is?
Let him come forth
and tell us of what shape it is.

Become as a child,
become deaf, become blind!
Your own substance
must become nothingness;
drive all substance, all nothingness far from you!
Leave space, leave time,
eschew also all physical representation.
Go without a way
the narrow foot-path,
then you will succeed in finding the desert.

O my soul,
go out, let God in!
Sink, my entire being,
into God’s nothingness,
sink into the bottomless flood!
If I flee from you,
you come to me,
if I lose myself,
I find you:
O goodness extending over all being.

— from German Mystical Writings: Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, and others, Edited by Karen J. Campbell

/ Photo by Hamed Saber /

This is an amazing poem to me. It gives us so much to explore and meditate upon, but let’s particularly look at the references to the experience of God as a desert.

This language almost has a Buddhist feeling to it, a sense of a great spiritual vastness, a living emptiness, “God’s nothingness.” You could say that the desert is what the Buddhists would call Nirvana.

The desert is eternal, “The desert knows / neither time nor space.” It is unlike anything else (since all of creation emerges from its emptiness), “Its nature is unique.”

“Never has a foot / crossed the domain of the desert…” Not only does this line tell us that the desert is not a physical location; it is also revealing the more subtle truth that you — the little you, the ego you — cannot enter the desert. The desert cannot be comprehended by the logical mind (“created reason / has never attained it”), it can only be directly experienced.

What a haunting riddle:

It is, and yet no one knows what.
It is here, there,
far, near,
deep, high,
so that
it is neither the one nor the other.

You can say that the desert is what it is, beyond the ability of the conceptual mind to define it. It is everywhere and always. It is not limited by the duality of this as opposed to that; it is the living harmony of all things at once.

I love the truth of the lines: “it rests in itself, / unveiled, without disguise.” There is no effort in its existence, and for us to perceive it, we too must become truly effortless, natural, stepping free from the constant work of the ego-mind’s distractions. To do this we must, “Become as a child, / become deaf, become blind!” We must “Leave space, leave time…” We must be completely open and free from the safe limitations of preconceptions, we must even “Go without a way…” “Then you will succeed in finding the desert.”

It is only when we leave behind the little self that we can finally discover the vast Self of God. “O my soul, / go out, let God in!” “…if I lose myself, / I find you” Then and only then do we find the “goodness extending over all being.”

Granum Sinapis (Anonymous)

Germany (14th Century) Timeline

The poem “A Grain of Mustard Seed of the Most Beautiful Divinity” or “Granum sinapis de divinitate pucherrima” (usually referred to simply as the “Granum sinapis”) probably dates from the early 1300’s in Germany.

Although its author is unknown, it is thought to have been written by a student of the great German mystic Meister Eckhart. Some suggest that it was Eckhart himself who was the author.

More poetry by Granum Sinapis (Anonymous)

4 responses so far

Sep 03 2014

words and breath

Words affect breath.
Thoughts affect breath.
Breath guides awareness.

No responses yet

Aug 27 2014

Mahmud Shabistari – One Light

Published by under Poetry

One Light
by Mahmud Shabistari

English version by Andrew Harvey

What are “I” and “You”?
Just lattices
In the niches of a lamp
Through which the One Light radiates.

“I” and “You” are the veil
Between heaven and earth;
Lift this veil and you will see
How all sects and religions are one.

Lift this veil and you will ask —
When “I” and “You” do not exist
What is mosque?
What is synagogue?
What is fire temple?

— from Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom, by Andrew Harvey / Eryk Hanut

/ Photo by Pieroc /

“I” and “You” — What is Shabistari talking about here? “I” and “You” is the normal perception of separation. Here “I” stand, and “You” are a separate entity over there. It is the perception of duality in which we see the entire universe as a fragmented existence of separated beings and objects. On the one hand, that perception allows one’s self to feel supremely important in contrast to all else, but it also isolates us and imprisons us in a physicalized notion of reality. Even when we touch, we never quite make contact. The heart ever yearns for real unity.

To show us the way out of this perceptual trap, Shabistari has given us an image to contemplate: a lamp surrounded by latticework. The lamp shines with a single light, but the lattices divide up the radiance into several individual shafts of light. He tells us the world of separation between “I” and “You” is like that — one light divided into many rays.

Think about this image a little more. So long as we look outward, we continue to only see separated beams of light reaching through the air patterning the wall. But the moment it occurs to us to instead follow the light, we turn around and discover the single light that is its source. Finally seeing that single light, we then know that there has only ever been that one light. Does the lattice somehow create many lights of the one light? No. It is still the one light, but expressing itself through the many beams. To prove this to ourselves, all we need do is remove the latticework (“lift this veil”), and then the light shines everywhere, undivided. And the whole time the light itself has never changed its action or nature.

Shabistari makes an interesting shift in the second verse. The separation of “I” and “You” is expanded to be understood in the realm of the world’s religious divisions. And the metaphor of the lamp’s lattice has become a veil (which, of course, covers the face of the Beloved). Even the many sects and religions are one — when we finally look inward toward the light that shines at the heart of each tradition. To one who has lifted the veil and witnessed the underlying Beauty, the distinctions of each tradition and theology no longer separate them. Instead, we can say that the best of each religious tradition adorns the Face differently — but it is the same Face.

Lift this veil…

…and separation is lost, the soul’s isolation ends. And every place becomes a place of worship.

Mahmud Shabistari, Mahmud Shabistari poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mahmud Shabistari

Iran/Persia (1250? – 1340) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Aug 27 2014

hearts and minds

Religion is not to close your mind,
but to open your heart.

No responses yet

Aug 22 2014

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Secret Language

Published by under Poetry

Secret Language
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

Every part of you has a secret language
your hands and your feet
say what you’ve done
and every need brings in what’s needed
pain bears its cure like a child

— from Secret Language: Rumi A Celebration in Song (Music CD), by Ramananda

/ Photo by woodleywonderworks /

The continuing crackdown by police against protesters in Ferguson, Missouri has inspired me to mediate on our ideas of race…

Looking at me, most Americans would call me white, but less and less does that mean something to me. Ethnically, I’m a typical American mutt, with ancestry from numerous countries, not all of them European. I have always had a diverse group of friends, from different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

My closest friend in early childhood was a Nigerian boy, the son of students who had moved to the United States to attend the local university. Though I certainly don’t claim to understand race from his perspective, our friendship alerted me to questions of race and racism early on.

More recently, my friendship with a Pawnee man has led to several fascinating conversations on race and identity. He said something that startled me: There is no such thing as race. There is culture, there is appearance, but there is no race. My initial reaction was that it’s a nice idea to espouse as a countermeasure to the ongoing problems of racism, but race itself is a simple fact, isn’t it? It took a bit of deeper thought on my part before the truth of what he was saying struck me — the actual, biological truth of the statement, not simply the ethical rightness behind it.

Let’s take a few minutes together to go beyond the question of racism and see if we can dismantle the underlying presumption of race itself…

There is no such thing as race. Yes, there are noticeable physical characteristics, and we can loosely identify some characteristics with populations from specific geographical areas, but there is no such thing as a white race, a black race, or any other race we want to name.

A white person may be someone with fair skin and blue eyes and we may be accurate in saying that he has some ancestry that goes back to northern Europe, but it is false to say he is a member of the white race, as distinct from other races.

The fact is that there is no central characteristic of a white race or black race or any race. How can that be, you ask? We could mention several details like hair or eyes, but the most obvious distinction is skin color.

But think about skin color for a moment. That northern European may have very pale skin, but if we travel south through Europe to the Mediterranean, the common skin tone is much darker. Are they still “white”? Are we still talking about the same “race”? (The 19th century was uncertain on this point, by the way.)

Let’s go further south, down the boot of Italy, through Sicily, and hop the Mediterranean to northern Africa. The average skin tone has gotten darker still, but it hasn’t changed as much as some might imagine. In many ways Mediterranean Europeans have more in common with their Mediterranean African neighbors than with their fellow Europeans further north. By crossing the Mediterranean, have we switched races yet? How much change in skin tone constitutes a change in race? What is the definitive border? Can we mark it on the color wheel?

We can keep going south, across the Sahara into central Africa. And though we keep asking the same questions, the answer keeps eluding us. Where is the clear dividing point between the races?

There is no such racial borderline. The only time that border exists is when we don’t look for it. In truth, there is no race, only a spectrum of human appearance. The idea of distinct groups of people that we divide into races is an artificial cultural notion built on assumption and sloppy observation.

A question to take with you into the day: If we are not a world of black people and white people and every other race, but simply people of varied appearance, what does that mean in our day-to-day lives? What does that mean to the tensions in Ferguson?

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Afghanistan & Turkey (Persia) (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Aug 22 2014


Even our masks reveal us.

No responses yet

Aug 20 2014

Mary Oliver – Can You Imagine?

Published by under Poetry

Can You Imagine?
by Mary Oliver

For example, what the trees do
not only in lightning storms
or the watery dark of a summer’s night
or under the white nets of winter
but now, and now, and now – whenever
we’re not looking. Surely you can’t imagine
they don’t dance, from the root up, wishing
to travel a little, not cramped so much as wanting
a better view, or more sun, or just as avidly
more shade – surely you can’t imagine they just
stand there loving every
minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings
of the years slowly and without a sound
thickening, and nothing different unless the wind,
and then only in its own mood, comes
to visit, surely you can’t imagine
patience, and happiness, like that.

— from Long Life: Essays and Other Writings, by Mary Oliver

/ Photo by Marco Arment /

From the towering redwoods and ancient yews, to the forgotten blades of grass beneath our feet, plants are our teachers.

I’ve often contemplated how the plant world embodies such pure life and beauty, without the constant anxiety to be somewhere else. Wherever it has purchase, a plant lives out its purpose with unrestrained green joy.

They find a patch of earth, a place of sun, and settle into the long rhythm of days and years, quietly becoming themselves.

surely you can’t imagine they just
stand there loving every
minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings
of the years slowly and without a sound
thickening, and nothing different unless the wind

Perhaps we can imagine it. With the sweep of the wind and the turning of the year, perhaps we can even imagine they dance.

A bush upon a windswept bluff leans into the stream of air and itself becomes the fulfillment of the landscape. A sapling seeking sunlight beneath a canopy of elder trees reaches out for that golden touch and, over time, becomes the pathway of its own seeking.

surely you can’t imagine
patience, and happiness, like that.

Perhaps we can.

Mary Oliver, Mary Oliver poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Mary Oliver

US (1935 – )
Secular or Eclectic

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

« Prev - Next »