Olivier Messiaen, my favorite 20th century composer, a true mystic, actually envisioned being among the angels, often by putti…
Awakening from finally a Sunday afternoon nap
having a hard time actually getting up, from
weakness? From being an
empty lead weight? From mental
inertia at not being able to go
right into the kitchen and grab a cookie, or have the
institutional cup of tea set out in one of the
china cups with blue flower rims, honey and milk on a
round silver tray, the Sunday afternoon
pick-me-up (the actually
everyday afternoon pick-me-up) totally
gone out the window during this whole month of
cutting the food umbilical, weaning from
Earth as Mother, Life as Tit, for just one
month out of the year, every year of our
life, until we get
good at it? Or
One month being castaway on a
desert island from dawn to sunset
with no refrigerator?
A band of deprivation running through our year!
And that band has
entranceways to the Garden, actual
Gates open in the
Unseen for us for all the
fasting we have done, cheerfully or
submissively, a Gate that
engulfs us during our
doing without, so that its
sparkling energy of openness
actually surrounds us in the
air as we
forgo the pounding
demands of our stomachs and
titillating appetites on the
lunch counter of day, like a
drunk’s fist insistent on the
greasy Formica of some
downtown Sloppy Joe’s.
The beginning of the Fast is a mercy.
The middle a forgiveness of sins.
The end, freedom from the Fire.
No one said it was supposed to be easy.
No one said it had to be
enjoyable. (I’m from California!
Everything’s supposed to be
The coal miner’s face as he
goes down in the cage with the
other miners, sons and
grandsons of miners, maybe
born coal-blackened, is not the face of someone
enjoying himself, but he knows one
truth in the total array of this creation, and that one
is all-embracing in its
human implications, and it is the
grimness of one side of our life, like the
side of the moon no
light ever touches, pitted and
scarred, and it is
not all of life, but it is the
bleakness of hardship, it is the
sore muscles and short breath of human exertion,
this band of the fast that
imposes itself like iron through the lighter
fabric of our life, and shows us a
truth, and I
have to endure it, and there is
reward for enduring it, almost
palpable during enduring it,
uphill or not, as in the
uphill exertion of actually
getting up from my nap, pulling my
trousers on and waiting another
hour to break the fast.
Not easy or fun
working all week, through the day,
bicycling home to lie down for an
hour in a kind of
body-wrack trance, then somehow
get up, until the
sunset breaks it all with that
first taste of date, that
first sip of water,
that first physical taste of the
Garden on the tongue, the strange but
total sense of well-being and the
simple surge of energy that
goes through the body from just eating
and unclenches the mind and gives it light,
and makes everything
have more light around it, and
be less grim.
By day we side with unfortunates –
stark landscapes, the vast
distances between stars.
By night we are laughing at the
feet of the Bacchanal, rolling in
pink velvet, eating
grapes off their stems until their
wetness glistens our
beards and chins.
Gratitude releases us from the Fire.
Habits are a mercy.
Hardship is having to face
goes against the
After a moment of drought –
By day we side with the unfortunate,
those who have little, and it makes us live
in a stark landscape, our energy spent
doing small things, and we give
up small comforts, existing in the wide spaces
between stars, in a geometry of light.
Grim during the day, color comes into our faces
when we enter the gentle Bacchanal of night.
Then creation’s natural feast lets loose its floods
which circulate in streams in the body’s beds,
day’s darker starkness enters brighter moods.
Our hearts are open, brightness frees our heads.
There is a tightness in fasting that makes us wait
in daily patience at God’s Garden Gate.
25 Ramadan (from Ramadan Sonnets)