Friday, March 27, 2009

sweet surrender

Have you ever heard of a sea which flows from fire?
Have you ever seen a fox become a lion?
The sun can transmute a pebble,

which even the hand of nature can never change,

into a gem.

I am that precious stone,

my Sun is the one by whose rays

this tenebrous world is filled with light.

(Nasiri al-Khusraw)

28 march 09, Singapore

I’m back safely tucked away at St Mary’s Singapore, taking the long way home. John Wong is so kind and funny: I said to him yesterday how anxious I was to get home and he said, “Cyprian, how many times do I have to tell you? You are home!” Indeed when I arrived back here the other night he greeted me with, “Welcome home.” And I am awfully comfortable here.

The few days in Sydney were good fun. I stayed with Martin Low, another Franciscan friend of Leonard et al here in Singapore. He and old Brother George live at the Asian Center in Ashfield, just east of town, a neighborhood that was quite ethnically mixed as evidenced by both the folks walking around and the markets and restaurants: Asian and Indian, Bangaladeshi, Korean, and even a Polish market on one corner. George and Martin installed me in my room, acquainted me briefly with the trains, gave me a map of the city and left me to my own devices. I wandered around all day Tuesday, arriving at the Circular Quay, which is right on the harbor and gives an immediate view of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, two of the most famous landmarks of this beautiful city. Then I wandered up into the City Centre, found St Mary’s Cathedral, to which I returned three more times, dozens of caf├ęs and fruit stands, besides all the marvelous architecture. I also took the Manly Ferry north out of the harbor, about a half an hour ride. From there it is a quick walk across the Corso, a wide mall filled with shops and restaurants, and then to Ocean Surf Beach, which may as well have been the coast of California with all the volleyball nets and surfers. Wednesday I wandered back downtown again, mainly to meet an old acquaintance, a Jesuit named Richard Leonard, for lunch at a place under the harbor bridge. He is the superior of the Jesuit house there in north Sydney and also well known for his work in cinema. As a matter of fact he does reviews for the Australian Bishops Conference and for the Jesuit-run America magazine. We did talk about films a bit, mainly comparing note on “Slumdog Millionaire,” which I treated myself to in the theatre some time ago and “Doubt,” which I saw on the plane. He has reviewed both of them recently. As President Reagan said about his encounter with Pope John Paul: “We met and exchanged ideas, and his, obviously, were much better than mine.”

Wednesday night was my event for the Asian center back in Ashfield. We had gone back and forth trying to decide what for me to do there and wound up listing it as something like “Liturgical Spirituality and Meditation-Spirit, Soul and Body: The Universal Call to Contemplation,” but Martin really wanted me to do liturgical music with them. Basically what I did is write out a list of mostly liturgical songs that have substantial theology behind them and therefore possibly (probably) long introductions. As a matter of fact, I have been wondering what to do with my talk for NPM this summer, and now I have figured it out. For example, the introduction to “Streams of Living Water,” once I talk about John 7:37, Ezekiel 34, John 2, and Romans 5, usually takes upwards of five minutes; the introduction to “Lead My From Death,” even longer. It worked out well, a nice crowd and they bought up every CD I had brought down with me.

Thursday before leaving I took one more trip into the City Centre, another visit to the dancing light of St Mary’s, and a tour of The Rocks, the area right on the harbour that was first settled by the white settlers in the late 18th century, and was saved by environmentalists etc. from destruction some years back. And then off to the airport. It had never occurred to me (distances are terribly relative by now) that the flight from Sydney to here in Singapore would be almost eight hours! I’m definitely taking the long way home.

Yesterday morning, as arranged, I had a good long session with Nawaz Mirajkar (check out his website: at the Temple of Fine Arts, which is basically a school of Indian music and dance. When I was passing through between Bangkok and Jakarta earlier this month, (on Ash Wednesday, as a matter of fact) Leonard and I had lunch with Farid at a well known vegetarian chain restaurant named Anna Lakshmi. Next door to it was this school and Farid was keen for us to visit it. We met the director and she gave us a tour of the various studios and introduced us to different teachers. One of them was this Nawaz, who almost immediately upon meeting me said, “I want to make music with you!” He is excited about the idea of mixing tabla and guitar; we both mentioned Zakir Hussein’s album “Making Music” with John McGloughlin and others as being our favorite album ever. And so we set this meeting up via e-mail. We had a great session together; he, like out friend Steve Robertson, studied with Zakir himself, and he is as good a musician as any one I have met. I got to try a few new pieces out with him. I was a little tired, and the swollen hand thing that always happens in Singapore was operative, and the Collings was rebelling in a new environment, etc, etc, and yet, somehow I managed to drop into the moment and we had some pretty exciting selfless moments going places together musically. At one point I wasn’t able to sing because I was laughing with delight at what he was playing, a kind of a fluttering Persian technique on the low drum (bhaya). We talked about doing something either live or in the studio together, even the possibility of something in September back here in Singapore, but it is a long way between here and California, so we’ll let it go for now and see what the Universe has in store. I definitely know what I want to do with this new album now.

Then we visited Farid’s wife who is in the hospital with a good case of denghy fever, a mosquito born illness more common now than malaria. Leonard also treated me to a session with his chiropractor. Then last night we had a nice gathering at a very hip restaurant called “Raw,” run by a guy named Xavier from Puerto Rico and his partner, near St Mary’s. It’s a low key artsy co-operative kind of place. When John asked him about vegetarian offerings, he simply told us that he would take care of us, so Leonard just asked him to bring us whatever he thought. So he did. It was much more like a party at someone’s house than eating out. About 16 of us gathered, folks I have met and spent the most time with here. It was a nice way to end my time rather than trying to greet them all separately.

And I fly out this afternoon. I admitted to the oblates when I was giving them my presentations that I actually don’t end things well. I was referring to talks––that they usually end with dot-dot-dot… rather than, “And so…” I think it’s better that way, resisting the tendency to wrap things up and tie them in little bows, like a raga. John Main writes about his visit to Gethsemane in 1976, at which time he gave a series of talks to the monks there about meditation, but even more importantly, it was then that he discerned that he was to spend the rest of his life leading people in meditation. This trip has been interesting for me, work-wise, because I had a similar moment in 2004-2005, as I finished my tenure filling in for Mark at Holy Cross, knowing that from then on out I wanted to concentrate on this: Universal Wisdom and the Universal Call to Contemplation, through music and meditation. I have been resistant and reluctant even doing any work in liturgy or liturgical music because of this, that I want to keep my energy focused there. There are only so many hours in the day, days in a week, weeks in a year, years in a life––and we should make the best use of them. Already there are concerts and recordings, besides composing and practicing, retreats and conferences besides studying and writing, and all of that aside from the hours needed to devote to spiritual practice itself. All that to say that, I think that on this trip the work has stayed close to that center, and I can feel it sinking deeper roots as I gather broader experiences. I still am mystified as to where it all is leading, how long to continue to travel and work in this way, but I feel good, and I feel even more plugged into the anima mundi, the soul of the world. Certainly it will be good to have a little of the other kind of stability now, the solidity of the cell both in the woods of the Santa Cruz mountains and with the brothers in Big Sur.
… There’s nothing that binds me and nothing that ties me to something that might have been true yesterday. Tomorrow is open and right now it seems to be more than enough just to be here today. I don’t know what the future is holding in store. I don’t know where I’m going and I’m not sure where I’ve been. There’s a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me. My life is worth the living, and I don’t need to see the end.
You’ll have to figure out where that comes from.

dot-dot-dot. . .