Tree of Life 001



 The promise is not to be

Perfect, but to grow until

Complete; the goal is to rise,

A trembling and unopened

Bud upon a trembling stem,

Blossoming beyond dark skies.


The command is not to be

Flawless, but to bleed until

The wound’s bled out and swab-swirled

And cauterized and clean-healed

And all fresh-skinned and covered

Over in the other world.


The problem is not to be

Good or better, but to be

Forgiven, pardoned, set free,

Liberated from the grim,

Gray, daunting, paralyzing

Struggle with necessity.


The good work that was begun

Goes on day by day by day

And stops not until the end,

When, stepping through the portal

And pushing the veil aside,

We meet our eternal Friend.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *


Poet's Corner 001

The Firebird XXIX

Asleep in the Cave 001


I had expected, even hoped, to be dashed upon craggy rocks and instantly killed at the bottom of this narrow ravine.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself falling slowly and ever more slowly until I seemed to be floating like a feather down into the darkness.  The blackness grew thicker as I descended, so that at last I was able to see nothing of myself or of my surroundings.  And yet the air itself became curiously lighter, warmer, and more pleasantly fragrant as I drifted deeper into the chasm.

Down, down I floated for a long, long time, until at last I came to rest upon something.  What this something was, I could not tell.  It was neither soft nor hard, though it felt quite solid and firm.  I lay on my back in utter darkness thinking, This must be how it feels to be a body at the bottom of a grave or a lifeless stone on the ocean floor.  Not an inch did I stir.  Looking back I cannot say for certain whether I was or was not able to move; I only know that I never did.  So intense was the quiet inside me that it was almost frightening.  No longer could I feel the pain of the wound in my heart.

Gradually I entered into a state I can hardly describe, absolutely motionless and unmoved.  I did not know whether I was alive or dead, awake or asleep.  Indeed, I did not know whether I would be able to discern the difference between waking and sleeping, since I could see nothing with my eyes.  I could, however, feel the soft movements of the fragrant air, and they led me to suppose that I was lying in a large, open chamber of some kind.  If my sense of the passage of time had been confused while I floated on the ocean, it now failed me altogether.

Eventually a small point of light appeared within my field of vision, so small and faint at first that I could not be sure that I was actually seeing anything at all.  It grew until it became a small glowing orb, but still I could not make up my mind whether the sensation were real or imaginary.  Perhaps it is a dream, I vaguely thought.  Perhaps I am dead after all.

The orb of light continued to grow, yet curiously it did not illumine anything around it.  Except for the bright globe itself, all was complete blackness.  But as it swelled in size I began to notice changes in its appearance.  No longer did it seem to be of a single hue but variegated, and the colors within its sphere were constantly moving, shifting, and forming new patterns, like a kaleidoscope.  In time these patches of color, blurred at first, began to grow sharper.  At length they focused themselves into shapes that remained constant, though as yet I could not tell what they were.

At last the circle of light grew so large and clear that I could no longer doubt what I was seeing.  I seemed to be looking down, as if through a big round picture window, upon a huge underground cavern.  The whole scene was softly lit.  Sparkling stalagmites and stalactites stretched from ceiling to floor, some creating massive ribbed and fluted columns of many colors, others taking the form of pearly curtains and screens of the most delicate and lacy design, so that the place resembled nothing so much as a grand cathedral.  In the very center of my field of view and, as it were, directly below me, was a large rectangular slab of stone.  Upon the slab lay a body.

As I looked, I became convinced that the body was mine.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

The Firebird XXVIII

Death of the Sparrow 001


“Rise,” came the voice of the small gray bird at my ear.  “Be comforted.”

“What comfort can I have?” I sobbed.  “I have lost everything.  What can I do?”

“There is only one thing to do,” he answered.  “You must continue your journey to the place of the rising sun.  There is no way back and no other way forward.  In this you must find comfort.”

In spite of my tears I raised my head and laughed.

“Comfort!” I cried bitterly.  “That is no comfort!  Don’t you see?  I cannot continue this journey!  I have neither the courage, the strength, nor the wisdom.  I have proven to you and to myself that I am not good enough!”

He was starting to reply – saying something about someone who had all strength and wisdom and power – but suddenly I was on my feet and in a red rage.  The bird fluttered up from my shoulder and hovered above my head.  I stooped and scooped up some loose pieces of rock that lay at my feet.

“Get out of here!” I shouted, hurling a handful at the birds.  “Get away from me!  What do I want with you anyhow?  I know that you hate me!  That’s clear to me now!  Not that I blame you for it.  But I want you to go!  Go away!  I am not fit for your company!”

There was a great rustling and fluttering of wings as they all beat a hasty retreat before my mad onslaught.  But they did not go far.  Instead, they flew in cautious circles round about the rock, not far above my head.  This, of course, only infuriated me all the more.  As if crazed with anger, I hurled rock upon rock after them into the air, trying madly to drive them off.  So blind, so careless was the fit into which I had fallen that it came to me as a shock when one of my missiles actually found its mark.  In the next moment I saw the sparrow plummet from the sky to the dark rock several yards in front of me.

Instantly my anger dropped away from me like a loosened garment.  Chilled in the grip of a sudden and naked horror I stood dumbfounded, feeling as if I had been pierced to the heart with a knife of frozen fire.  In the shock of the moment my knees buckled under me.  I fell and scraped my arms and legs against the rock.  Then, scrambling to my feet, I ran to the spot where the tiny bird had landed.

What was my surprise when I reached the place and found not the sparrow stretched lifeless upon the ground, but the beautiful young lady who had given me the basket of apples!  Her rich golden hair spilled unbound over the bare blackness of the rock.  Scattered nearby lay the fragments of her circlet of spring flowers.  The light in her fair eyes was gone, and she lay on her back with her right arm twisted unnaturally beneath her body.  All down her right side the kirtle of pure white linen was stained with dark blood.

“What have I done?” I cried, flinging myself upon her and tearing my hair with both hands.  “How could I have been so cruel and hateful?”

For a long time I lay there, weeping and wailing uncontrollably, gouging my cheeks with my nails, trying frantically but unsuccessfully to rouse her.

At last, black with despair, I got up and cast about for a way to destroy myself.  Not far away I saw huge cleft in the rock, a yawning chasm slicing straight down into the depths of the earth.

Without another thought, I cast myself down into it.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *


Nerd 001

     Levin replied, “It seems to me that [these new institutions] are useless, and I cannot feel interested in what you wish me to do …”

— Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina


* * * * * * * * * * * *


Have you ever been called a “nerd”?  If so, take heart:  you are not far from the kingdom of heaven.

Not all nerds are Pilgrims, of course.  But it would be fair to say that one can’t very well be a Pilgrim without also being a nerd.  In an important sense, pilgrimage and nerdiness go hand in hand.

Just what is a “nerd” anyway?  If you’ve never heard the term adequately explained, you may be interested in what Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary has to say about it:


     nerd \nerd\ n [perhaps from nerd, a creature in the children’s book If I Ran the Zoo (1950) by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel)]:  an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; esp:  one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits.


This definition is instructive on several different levels.  Let’s dismantle it and examine its component parts.

We can begin by noting that the epithet “nerd” is most often employed as an insult.  If this weren’t already obvious from the snide tone in which it’s generally applied, one might be led to the same conclusion by the dictionary’s use of the negative modifiers “unstylish,” “unattractive,” and “socially inept” to describe the “nerdy” individual.

There’s an important corollary here.  The compilers of our dictionary are apparently working on the assumption that stylishness, attractiveness, and social aptitude are good and desirable attributes.  If “nerds” are frumpy, ugly, and socially “out of it,” it follows that “non-nerds” are the opposite – that their “coolness” is measured in terms of trendiness, good looks, and sophistication.

“Slavish devotion” is another quality that leaves the “nerd” open to derision.  No surprises here.  In a society that prides itself on skepticism, cynicism, urbanity, street smarts, and high-browed contempt, “devotion” (let alone “slavish devotion”) to anything but self is usually looked down upon as foolish and naive.  Most of us are above that sort of thing nowadays.

Finally, this “slavish devotion” is especially odious when it attaches itself to “academic or intellectual pursuits.”  Why?  For the simple reason that “intellectual pursuits” are not particularly conducive to or compatible with “slavish devotion” to pop culture.  And since pop culture is the standard by which all things are measured, anyone who fails to take a keen interest in it must necessarily be viewed as a moron, if not a public enemy.

If the Pilgrim is not invariably “intellectual” in outlook, it must be nevertheless be conceded that he is often what people today describe as “religious,” and that is something far worse.  After all, the dominant religion of mass culture cannot possibly brook any rivals.  Those who direct their attention to aberrant pursuits like prayer, reading, and scriptural study while neglecting such cultural staples as Twitter, YouTube, CNN, professional sports, and Saturday Night Live can only be regarded as a threat.  They have to be labeled appropriately – as “nerds” – and relegated to the margins of collective life.

In the last analysis, a “nerd” is simply a conscientious non-conformist.  In the case of the Pilgrim, he is someone who chooses remain outside the sphere of the kosmos and the assumptions of the present age – someone who has been radically transformed by the renewing of his mind.

That’s what the life of the Pilgrim is all about.

Pilgrim 2 001

The Firebird XXVII

Weeping 001


“Tell the truth!” said the small gray bird sharply.

As he spoke, he fluttered upwards into the air above my head and flashed his eyes at me terribly.  Small as he was, I cowered before him, awed at the sight.  The outline of his form grew indistinct and began to shimmer and vibrate.  An aura as of fire seemed to glow about his head.  It was as if he were on the verge of some great transformation.  But the transformation did not come.  Instead, he fluttered down and perched quietly on my shoulder again.

“Did you forget us and our gifts?” asked the dove.  “Did you not remember the one you were seeking?”  Here voice was sad and gentle, and I thought I caught the glint of a tear in her eye.

“No, I did not forget,” I answered.  “It’s just that – well, here you all are, obviously quite real and alive, and I hardly know what to say.  But when I was alone and could not see you …”

“What then?” asked the grim raven.

“Why, other things – the things I could see – seemed far more real to me then,” I said.  I felt pleased that I had been able to put my thoughts into words.

“What things?” asked the sparrow, cocking her head to one side and regarding me out of one eye.

“The endless sea,” I said.  “The sun that would not rise.  The sense of dread in my own heart.  The faces and words of the raftsmen.”

“What about my cloak?” croaked the raven.  “Did it no longer keep you warm?”

“And my lamp?” asked the dove.  “Did its light ever go out?”

“And my basket of apples?” chirped the sparrow.  “Did you ever find it empty?”

“Only once,” I said, looking from one to the other.  “At the very end, I gave up the basket to the steersman, and when he handed it back, it was empty.  Other than that, none of these gifts ever failed me.”

“But if they never failed you,” asked the raven, “how could you give them up so easily?”

“It was not easy,” I answered slowly.  “But at the time they seemed less important to me than the saving of my life.”

The dove cooed sadly.  “Did you not see,” she said, “that it was these gifts and these gifts alone that had preserved your life up to that very moment?”

I was tired of attempting to make a defense for my actions.  Even before the birds had come I was already regretting the loss of the three gifts.  Now as they spoke I was smitten with the full realization of my foolishness.  I fell down with my face to the rock and began to cry.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *


Poet's Corner 001



I’ve seen your books and your magazines,

I’ve seen your newspaper articles,

I’ve seen those programs on TV.

I heard the things you said to me,

You tried so hard to set me free

With all your propaganda … 


You exercise manipulation,

You try to indoctrinate the nation

With all your little tricks on Madison Avenue.

Well, now I got some things to say to you,

‘Cause I know just what you’re tryin’ to do

With all your propaganda …


What will you do, my friend,

When you find that you’ve come to the end?

When your lies and your tricks are played out

And your ultimate ending’s in doubt?

You’re gonna see the sky opening wide,

You’re gonna see the Son of Man descending on cloud –

And what will you say when you come to the Judgment Day?


‘Cause in the name of modern practicality

You sacrificed your sense of reality,

You started talkin’ ‘bout the New Morality –

But it’s just another way to say plain indecency,

And now you’re tryin’ to push it off on me

With all your propaganda … 


* * * * * * * * * * *

(Another Levellers song …)


Pilgrim 2 001

Peter therefore seeing [the disciple whom Jesus loved], said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?”  Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow Me!”     

John 21:21, 22


* * * * * * * * * * * *


In recent times a great deal of ink has been spilled and a lot of hot air spouted on the theme of community and corporate life, both inside and outside the church.  As a necessary corollary, so-called “rugged individualism” has been given a very bad name.  We are constantly told to “Come Together,” “Celebrate Community,” promote “Team Spirit,” and look upon “I, Me, and Mine” as dirty words.  Speech has been altered and ancient hymns edited (e.g., from “Be Thou My Vision” to “Be Thou Our Vision”) to reflect the correct viewpoint.  Oddly enough, all this is being done at a time when “selfie” is one of the most commonly used words in the English language:  the Oxford Dictionaries named it “word of the year” for 2013, and its frequency in everyday parlance has only increased since then.  Is it possible that we’re protesting too much?

It’s time someone pointed out that there are two sides to this coin.  Certainly community is essential to kingdom life.  We have already said that the true Pilgrim places a high priority on koinonia and fellowship.  “You fill up what is lacking in me, just as I supply what is lacking in you” – or, to use Dante’s terminology, “I inyou as you inme.”[i]  This kind of spiritual sharing and intimacy is one of the primary principles of the Pilgrim way.  But having said this, it’s vital to pause and add that koinonia and community are not the same thing as “collectivism.”  The Pilgrim knows that any kind of “community” that places the group ahead of the individual and asks him to sacrifice his soul to the interests of the corporation is nothing short of a deadly fraud.

“It is like looking at pictures which are too near or too far away,” said Pascal in his Pensees.[ii]  “There is just one indivisible point which is the right place.”  For the Pilgrim, that one indivisible point is the place where the value of the individual and the claims of the community can be held in reasonable balance.

Eradication of the individual personality and enforcement of a group-based identity are hallmarks of totalitarianism in all of its various forms, including fascism, communism, the military, and religious cults.  Tyranny establishes itself through the implementation of three classic steps to total control:  1) disintegration of the individual; 2) creation of a collective conscience, plus re-indoctrination; and 3) self-criticism and full integration into the system.[iii]  In Mao’s China, for instance, the theory of the “mold” became fundamental to the Party’s approach to mass education:  “The point is to press man in a mold, placing him there periodically, to ‘re-mold’ him systematically.”[iv]  Similarly, in Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia there was no room whatsoever for dissent or deviation from the “norm.”  And we all know how the People’s Temple, the Children of God, the Alamo Christian Foundation, and the Church of Scientology, to name just a few, have cultivated “group-think” as a way of holding members to a rule of strict conformity.

All of this reflects a dangerously misguided conception of human nature.  Important as fellowship and sharing may be, the fact remains that man originated not as a member of a community, but as a distinct individual.  This is brought out rather strikingly in the first chapter of Genesis, where every other type of living creature is said to have been created en masse.  But not mankind:


     Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.”  So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind … Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind:  cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind;” and it was so …

Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness …”


Unlike the other animals, man in the beginning was not made to be part of a herd.  In contrast to all other species, he was created as a single individual – Adam.  Only afterwards did God say, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  And at that point He brought onto the scene not a community of people, but another individual.  What’s more, this second individual was not simply a copy or clone of the first one.  By no means was she cast in the same “mold.”  On the contrary, she was in almost every way Adam’s opposite number.  Herein is wisdom:  for oneness is not the product of sameness.  Only in the coming together of the opposites, differences, divergencies, contrasts, and complementarities represented and symbolized in male and female does the true unity of inyou-inme fellowship have a chance to flower.

Meanwhile, you and I live in a society that seeks relentlessly to press us into its ever-hardening mold.  Commercialism, advertising, television, technology, pop culture, professional sports, entertainment, news media – these ubiquitous manifestations of conformist propaganda are working round the clock to transmute the unique individual into the standardized mass man or woman.  The Internet has compounded the problem on a geometric scale.  Armed with our “mobile devices,” we have willingly and almost worshipfully granted it the power to keep each and every one of us locked into the same thing hour after hour, day after day, and year after year.  There is no longer an inch of ground left to genuine solitude or original thought.  “America voted … ,” Ryan Seacrest used to say, apparently assuming that everyone in the country tuned into American Idol with religious regularity.  He was absolutely right, of course.  Modern people always do as they are told.

Read John Bunyan’s book and you will find that this is not the Pilgrim way.  Christian set out for the Holy City entirely on his own, with neither wife, child, nor friend.  Why?  Because that is the only way anyone can ever really respond to the Master’s unique call upon his life.  “What do you care what others are doing?” said Jesus.  “You follow me!”


[i] Paradiso, Canto IX, line 81.  Italian “m’intuassi, come tu t’inmii.”

[ii] #21.

[iii] Jacques Ellul, Propaganda (New York:  Vintage Books, 1973), 313, footnote 6.

[iv] Ibid., 309.

The Firebird XXVI

Birds in Flight 001

I awoke to find myself lying unharmed upon a shelf of the rock.  The storm had passed and the raging of the sea had subsided.  Above me the stars were once again visible in a deep blue sky.

I searched the water, but not a trace could I see of any of the raftsmen.  Gone, too, was the man with the young face, the old eyes, and the scar across his chest.  Here and there I saw logs and other fragments of the raft bobbing in the dark water.

All at once a thought struck me and I sat bolt upright.  Crawling and groping frantically along the ledge, I scanned the waves below, straining my eyes to see in the half-light.  At last I gave up and lay back against the rock in despair.  My lamp, my cloak, my basket of apples – all were now lost to me, and I had little hope of ever finding them again.

Now what? I moaned as I lay there staring up at the black pinnacle above me.  And as I stared, I became aware that something was moving up there on the very peak of the rock.  At last, as my eyes came into focus, I realized what I was seeing:  four birds strutting and preening against the dark background of the star-studded sky.

I was up again in an instant.  “The raven!” I said under my breath.  “The dove!  The sparrow!  And …”

Even as I spoke, the smallest of the four came fluttering down to perch upon my shoulder.  It was the small gray bird with the eyes of burning blue.

“Oh!” I cried.  “I’m so glad to see you!  You’ve come back to help me at last!”

The bird said nothing in reply.  Instead, he merely sat staring at me out of deep and unblinking eyes.

After a moment he chirped loudly.  At his signal the other three birds leapt lightly from the topmost point of the rock and began descending to us through the clear air.  The sparrow came with the quick, darting, flitting movements of its kind.  The dove glided gracefully on soft rose-colored wings.  But the raven soared, wheeled, and swooped in a majestic arc, then circled the rock slowly several times before coming to rest on a narrow ledge just above my head.

I clapped my hands in delight.  “This is wonderful!” I said.  “Is it now that you are going to restore to me my cloak, my lamp, and my basket of apples?”

They all regarded me out of still eyes for what seemed a very long time.  At last the raven spoke:

“We have come to hear you give an account of the treasures we entrusted to your care.  Do you mean to tell us they are lost?”

“Wh-why, yes,” I stammered, taken aback by her response.  “They were lost in the storm when the raft was wrecked upon this rock!”

The dove cocked her head and looked at me quizzically out of one eye.  “Raft?” she said, in her soft, silvery voice.

“Yes,” I replied.  “A raft with several men aboard.  They were rowing back to land, and I – well, I loaned them the use of my cloak in exchange for passage.  It was for a good cause.  To warm a sick man.  Or at least I thought he was sick at the time.”

“But what made you think of seeking passage back to land?” chirped the sparrow.

Words failed me at this point.  It had all seemed so obvious and logical when I was alone in the sea.  Everything the raftsmen said had made complete sense to me at the time.  But now as I sat facing the four silent birds, all of my reasons for doing what I had done escaped me.  I could not for the life of me think of anything sensible to say in answer to the sparrow’s question.

“I cannot tell,” I said at last.

* * * * * * * * * *


Books 001

“Technology cannot put up with intuitions and ‘literature.’  It must necessarily don mathematical vestments.  Everything in human life that does not lend itself to mathematical treatment must be excluded—because it is not a possible end for technique—and left to the sphere of dreams.”

                                        — Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society