What Else Would You Expect

“St. Francis Statue” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

As I have mentioned here frequently of late, I have been reading a lot of Franciscan theology. My interest in all things theological waxes and wanes. And yet on some level it is always there.

Poetry and theology are after all the two ways I think about this world. And though I may be biased, they remain in my mind the two best ways to think about most every thing.

In my early 20s, I formally studied theology. For the last three decades it has been more informal. I can say the same thing, now that I am thinking about it, about poetry as well!

If I had kept every theology book that I ever dipped into over the years the house would be even more full of books than it already has been. (Though I have gotten better about letting go of books. Much better).

I say all this by way of explanation for anyone new to me or to ClimbingSky and who may be wondering why I am posting these days about prayer or St. Francis.

If someone believes or does not believe as I do for the most part matters little to me. I feel about them usually like I feel about those who say they do not like bourbon. It is only their loss. I am no missionary. Nor have I ever wanted to be one.

What does irritate me quite a bit are those who say they arrived at the conclusion that there was no God, or that all religion is just bullshit, etc. when they were in 8th grade.

I feel the same about these people as I would someone who said they had read Shakespeare in 8th grade and had concluded that he could not write. Or, that they studied science in 8th grade and have concluded that Global Warming and Evolution are bullshit.

For these people I have only… lack of respect. And that is really all they deserve. Adolescent insight is after all hormonal not intellectual.

If you are of this latter group, and you have stumbled onto this blog for reasons of poetry, feel free to move on. For those who stick with me, thank you.

For longtime followers, and I know there are a few, rest assured that I will continue to weave rather randomly between topics poetical and theological with a few stops in between to talk politics or art or music or Westerns or books or sports. By now, what else would you expect.

On Prayer

“Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

I have been thinking about prayer of late.

I used to attend a Lutheran church where one of the pastors insisted that any event held at the church required a prayer. It was her view that something going on at church needed to have a “Christian” component to it.  Though she never said so explicitly, it was apparent that she believed that someone (especially and ordained clergy person) saying a prayer did something that changed any event from secular to sacred.

Needless to say, it was an idea that I had no time for. And still have no time for.

To my mind she was making two mistakes.

First, she was making prayer the pre-eminent “Christian” component. Certainly it would be better to insist that the event somehow feed or help the poor, take care of children, take care of creation. That would be closer to the heart of what it means to be Christian than someone standing up and giving a minute-long list of requests asking for God to help and support in some way.

Second, and most importantly, she was making the mistake of confusing prayer with the act of  talking rather than listening.

There is an old saying: if you are talking you cannot be listening. I respectfully suggest that what passes for prayer in most churches involves lots of talking and very little, if any, listening. It is hence not prayer at all. It is merely the petitioning of desires and grievances.

Prayer is letting the heart and mind rest in silence so you can actually hear what God has to say. For I do believe that God speaks to us.

Prayer requires quiet and solitude. It requires letting go of the very desires and grievances we associate with most so-called prayer.

Most of all, it requires us to shut up and listen!

I suppose that is one of the reasons church music makes me restless. You enter the church and there is a prelude playing until the service starts. The service is people talking or singing. Moments of silent reflection are but a moment, at most. And when it is time to leave, there is more music.

And when the music is dreary and boring… it is better to skip the service altogether and to go outside and listen to God in nature, or to read and hear God in poetry.

It is better to do almost anything than to stand in a group of people and talk.

Music Monday

I have not done Music Monday for awhile.

I am still listening primarily to live recordings of the Grateful Dead. It has become for me a form of prayer. Hearing the same songs done in different ways over different years. Especially Jerry’s guitar solos which are as holy to me as Lester Young’s saxophone solos and Duke Ellington alone on the piano. There is in the way all three play their instruments a “slowed-down-feminine-beauty” that I have heard nowhere else.

I have said here before that I do not much like most hymns or sacred music. It would be more accurate though to say that I “loathe” them. Nothing makes my worship experience less meaningful than the boring sound of an organ or people forced to stand and sing some dreary hymn.

But I do enjoy hearing crowds sing “secular” hymns at concerts. It should be the same experience, but it is not. Maybe it is because one is spontaneous and rooted in joy, the other rooted in… expected decorum.

I will think on it some more. In the meantime, here is another Dead song and another Jerry solo.


Monastics, Hippies, and Poets…

“Light Your Lamp” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

This time of year we notice the days growing shorter already in the North Country. Since I am up everyday between 5:00 and 5:30, the later and later sunrises become more noticeable every morning. How quickly summer passes.

I have never been a person who enjoys home improvement projects or yard work. As the years go by I like them less and less. I would rather spend what free time I do have, when not at work, reading and writing.

I came across this quote from Thomas Merton yesterday:

“Monastics and hippies and poets . . . we’re deliberately irrelevant.” ~Thomas Merton

I immediately liked it so much, that I made it my Twitter profile.

My mother used to tell me that our family moved from Santa Cruz, California, north in 1966 because she did not want her sons to become beach bums (my father explains it differently). When she said “beach bums,” I always assumed she meant hippies.

My standard line has always been, if that is what she wanted she moved too late for my brother Paul and I.

Thinking now about Merton’s quote, I see that I am a mixture of all three. Does that make me then three times as irrelevant?

Yeats once said a similar thing in a quote that I now cannot find. He said basically this (much better, of course): everything that is most valuable is counted by the “markets” as worthless. A very Franciscan remark.

We live in a world where everything is a commodity. Our time, our work, our very lives themselves are measured and given value based on a system that reduces everything in one way or another to money. We esteem those who have much wealth as successful and try to emulate them. Entrepreneurs, those who we are viewed as taking big risks for financial gain, are our heroes.

But why?

What could be further from what we really are than mere money?

That is why monastics and hippies and poets are irrelevant. We have seen the truth… and the truth has set us free.

Franciscan Hearts and Minds

“Canticle of the Sun” (https://sosf.org/the-canticle-of-the-sun/)

It is foggy this morning in the North Country. While I have lived in places where fog is relatively common, here it is a rare event. Something to be noted and celebrated.

As I have noted here recently, St. Francis is often on my mind these days. Besides reading Daniel Horan’s excellent The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton. I have been spending time at an excellent site called Franciscan Intellectual Tradition and reading again some of the foundational Franciscan theologians (St. Bonaventure, Duns Scotus).

What was at first merely an “instinctive-guess” on my part that St. Francis would be a perfect anecdote to the madness that is Trump, has become a conviction. The more Franciscan theology I read, the more I am convinced of the world’s need for a Franciscan heart and mind.

Trump is a symptom of world that believes that creation is something to be exploited and taken, that the purpose of life is to accumulate possessions, that wealth equates to virtue, that the “other” is to be feared and exploited, that might makes right.

The Franciscan tradition reminds us, of course, that it is all really just the opposite. Creation is the mirror and image of God and so is meant to be wondered at and cared for. That the purpose of life is to let go of possessions. That wealth equates to the very opposite of virtue. That the “other” is to be cherished, loved, and supported because they are our brothers and sisters. And finally the Franciscan tradition reminds us that in Jesus we see that might actually makes wrong.

How different the world would be if we all had Franciscan hearts and minds.

Good Fortune Continues

“Summer” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

My good fortune continues. Yesterday I received word that two more of my poems have been accepted for publication. This time in Emerald Coast Review, to be published in October.

Last fall I vowed I would begin sending my work out for publication. So far seven publications have taken me up on my offer. I have also put together two chapbooks and one book manuscript that I have sent out. I am waiting to hear back on those.

Here is a list of what has been published so far and what is awaiting publication:

Awaiting Publication


A Place to Write

(photo by m.a.h. hinton)

My second-storey office is on the northwest corner of our house. In the winter, when the trees are bare, I can look out over yards and houses toward the wetlands and wild park that that surrounds our neighborhood.

This time of year, with the trees in full-dress, my view is more inward: a locust tree, our yard, and the big room where I write and read.

Here is poetical draft about my summer view.

by M.A.H. Hinton

a red rock
from Sedona

a shell
from Padre Island

out my second-storey window
a locust tree
and birds
coming and going
at the feeders

along the back fence
the new daisies
planted last year
draw my eye
like they always do

like snow
like a summer day