Most days my study doubles as zendo, as temple, as sanctuary each time I enter after I may or may not burn the incense. Bare feet on the floor, follow my breath, accept my mind as is: wild with thoughts, messages, grievances, and perhaps a moment or two of clarity. My robin-egg blue notebook open on my desk contains the date, time of day, a few words: gleanings from attempted stillness. Several months ago I began a season of Midrash, commentary on sacred text. This time, not the writing reflections on the first Buddhist nuns, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, not the Bhagavad-Gita. No, this time I chose The Psalms, read randomly. The Psalms of the Monastic: said, sung and chanted. And back to Thomas Merton as guide, using his published pamphlet, Praying the Psalms. In preparation I searched for books to illuminate and inspire my imagination. I found several but the one I kept coming back to was Poets on the Psalms edited by Lynn Domina published by Trinity Press in 2008. Domina decided after reading an anthology of essays by contemporary writers who had addressed one chapter of the bible to compile a book of essays written by poets about the Psalms. She invited poets to respond. She was astonished by the variety of responses and reactions. The range of experiences and reactions to the text astonished me, as well. Alicia Ostriker, Carl Phillips, Pattiann Rodgers among a few, write meaningful essays of discovery, both personal and scholarly, regarding the Psalms and it's influences. Diane Glancy's essay, Upon The Floods, tells of her driving for thousands of miles while listening to the Psalms, as part of her migration. She writes, I wanted strength for the unknown journey ahead. She discovered dislocation and disturbance. Her landscape transformed by what she heard as well as what she saw. I became more fascinated by what other poets expressed about the Psalms then the Psalms themselves. I kept feeling a lacking within myself. I downloaded a recording so I could listen to them during my weekly commute over the Chesapeake Bay and back. I repeatedly forgot to begin the recording, choosing silence for the journey over the bay. And there was the small problem of translations. I kept searching for a standard, a translation that I could enter and remain for an extended time. I discovered The Poet’s Book Of Psalms: The Complete Psalter as Rendered by Twenty-Five Poets from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries edited by Laurance Weider published by Oxford University Press. This enchanting book even includes Upon the Translation of the Psalms by John Donne. Now I read different translations and a few lines from a particular Psalm began to enter my poems here and there. I maintained a preference for King James as opposed to Christopher Smart, John Milton,or Thomas Wyatt. Sometimes I enjoyed a translation by Mary Sidney Herbert, perhaps because she was the only feminine voice. I experienced the intense range of emotions: rage, anger, love, grief and sorrow. I was looking for the expression of love and found praise. Throughout my reading, I kept asking myself, where was my faith beyond the love of the poetry? What about devotion? My purpose was to live the text. Nothing less than obsession. I cannot say I have been successful, but I haven't given up. I still read the Psalms weekly. Perhaps I am midway in this season of Midrash, not yet fully immersed.
I raise the window so I can hear rain drops landing on the sill. The house I live in is made of solid brick and keeps weather at bay and bird sounds distant. I’m accustomed to wood and ill fitting windows. I lift the window. It’s good to expose one’s self to weather. Let the heat, dampness or cold in. Feel the breeze, if there is one. It is necessary. Today, Psalm 7. Am I not trying to leave despair behind? My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and come to their end without hope… For my days are a breath. I take a deep breath. And a moment before was reminded that Buddha tells us to embrace our suffering. It is in the fullness of a life where we are happy, returning to loved ones with a gentleness of spirit. I want hope. I believe in a church of trees, a church of ocean, the human condition. Bird call. Hands folded at heart center. Simplicity. Psalms as prayer. Poems as prayer.