Category Archives: Matters of Faith


Latest painting. The cosmic theme continues. If reality is a thought burning in the mind of God, how could we describe that?


Opening Prayer 4 of 4




I don’t know if Opening Prayer is going to be my last book, and maybe that’s the best way to proceed. It seems that I have to live the books as I write them, and every lurch forward involves some sort of sacrifice, a giving up of what I no longer need, assuming I ever needed it to begin with. Last year, I decided to burn my notebooks, starting with a little gray journal I kept when I was 12 and solemnly declared in secret that I was an atheist. The stack was almost two feet high — Big Chief notebooks, school folders, loose-leaf binders, fancy little Moleskines, you name it. I’d already dredged through the lot when I wrote a memoir a while back, and I knew that the entries were mainly just grousing and existential agonizing, familiar stuff to most writers. Still, it represented a lifetime of diligence, a sense of self. I started burning the oldest one first, then the high school pieces, then college. After 20 minutes, I still had most of my adulthood left and the ashes were filling up the fireplace, so I put the rest in garbage bags and left them on the curb for the weekly trip to the landfill. “Wet garbage” as they say in recycling. Earth to earth.


That was a good feeling, getting rid of all that paperwork. I felt lighter, unburdened. You’ll notice fire as a theme in this book, and I keep in mind that creation depends on some sort of destruction, a tearing apart or reconstitution, as in cooking, carpentry or religious conversion. To be reborn completely, we have to die completely, no fudging. I’m 65. I’ve given up being a writer several times, and I keep trying to reach the silence that makes a place for language, that allows it to be understood, and a language that points to silence. At times, I think I’m making real progress. Then something happens.

Opening Prayer 1 of 4

The next four posts will be taken from the preface of “Opening Prayer,” my third book of poetry. I’ll be explaining what  I’ve been trying to write over the past four decades as a poet and how the three books follow, for better or worse, the development of a spiritual career.




Over the years, two themes have emerged in my writing. The first is how we make a living — money, work, business, corporations, and everything we mean by “trade.” The second is the inner life, which in my case has included poetry, painting and a religious conversion. Their ongoing development, including their complex, uneven marriage with one another, is much of what this present book is about.




I wrote my first book, The Glass Children, when I was trying to lead the ideal writer’s life, at least my notion of what that was. I lived on day jobs and little grants, delving inward to escape relationships or any responsibilities whatsoever beyond a dedication to the page.


When I stand at the brilliant edge of the roof,

There is always the man who continues forward

Without hesitation, slipping smoothly out of my skin

And I’m lost, watching the back of his head,

His strong arms spreading open as he steps

Soundlessly over the edge.


That seemed like a kind of courage at the time, but I was trying to make a religion out of art. Why not? Like so many young writers, I wanted to astonish. Beyond that, I felt there was something at the very core of things that I could reach if I only wrote well enough. At times, transcendence made a brief appearance. The book’s last poem, “In New York the Women Are Dreaming,” served, I thought, as a grand prelude, a kind of announcement of a new life, but the poem’s energy, a feminine energy, was all the greater from being checked, contained and forced inward. The book began with an image of limestone caves and ended with an emergence not yet achieved. Art was a beautiful shell. I was listening to music I couldn’t hear.


Inner Seed

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This started as a catastrophe but eventually found its way, perhaps with a little outside help. Who intercedes for us?



Here’s what used to look like a wounded bagel, condition now stabilized. The orange is actually Indian Yellow, a beautiful color that I’m still trying to adopt. We might need just a bit more Alizarin red here.

I’m trying to depict a conversion, a turning toward something unexpected, a grace of light blue.  Originally, I was thinking about the narrative of before and after  — I was lost and now I’m found. But that seemed too simple. I remember what Joan Didion said: “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

Aside from the portal at the center, I’ve left just a few edges here. While I was painting this, I was thinking about all the discussions in art classes and art books about edges, how to “steal” the edge, either from the figure or from the background.  But I was also thinking that mystics see beyond the edges. That’s a part of what they do.  I’ve been reading The Night of the Confessor by Tomas Halik — excellent book — and he says “Love is the only force that unifies things without destroying them.” Yes, I thought. That’s what’s I’m trying to do here and with other paintings these days. Unify things — soften the edges — without destroying them. Be on nodding terms with what I used to see.