Haiku as a Meditative Practice

haikuIn the spring of 2015, I learned about Haiku from my 7-year old granddaughter Xylia.  I was so taken by the art form that I dedicated a page on this website to it.  Each Haiku I post is followed by the exhortation

Write a ‘holy sentence’ every day … none of us has a lock on truth and insight

I follow Franciscan Richard Rohr’s daily meditation that he posts every day from the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico.  This week, Father Rohr focused on “Myth, Art and Poetry.”  He concludes each week’s meditation with a summary on Saturday morning that includes a ‘practice’ to encourage and help travelers like me to better understand the week’s thoughts and to incorporate them into our daily lives if that is what we choose to do.  This week’s ‘practice’ is Haiku.

From Richard Rohr’s daily meditation on Myth, Art and Poetry ….

“In The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris writes, “Poets understand that they do not know what they mean, and that is their strength. . . . Writing teaches us to recognize when we have reached the limits of language, and our knowing, and are dependent on our senses to ‘know’ for us.” Haiku is a short form of Japanese insight poetry, a simple way of communing with nature. As with writing and reading other poetry, haiku can open the heart and mind to non-dual consciousness and to immediate encounter with Presence.

“Creating haiku requires discipline and conciseness, focusing on just a single moment or movement and a couple juxtaposing elements. A haiku is a little sliver of concentrated reality. There’s no room for parenthetical, extraneous material–all the if’s, and’s and but’s. You must leave space for the imagination to fill in the gaps.

“Here are two different translations of a frog haiku by Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694):

  • An old pond
  • A frog jumps in–
  • Sound of water.
  • (Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite)

  • pond
  • frog
  • plop!
  • (James Kirkup)

“I invite you to try writing a haiku as a way of being intimately present to reality. Don’t worry about making a perfect poem or following the rules. Many English haiku poems consist of 17 syllables in three phrases of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. But however the words emerge, let the process of creating the poem break you open to a deeper knowing, beyond definition and description to experience.

“Find somewhere you can sit undisturbed while paying close attention to something in nature–a flower, tree, sunrise, rock, rain. Observe the object without words or analysis. Experience being here, in this moment, in this space. Listen for the essence of being, communicated wordlessly to you.

“After some time in silence, jot down a few words and phrases. Play with the way the words sound, speaking them aloud, rearranging them, letting go of unnecessary words. Allow the poem to flow from your unmediated encounter of God’s presence within nature.”

I invite you to share your Haiku with Xy and me on this website.

Gaspar and the Perennial Tradition

E.S. KraayBefore I wrote a single word to any of my books, I had a core concept clearly in my mind:  what is this book about?  In the case of Gaspar, Another Tale of the Christ, I began – and finished – with the conviction that truth is universal, it is the same in the east as it is in the west.

For those of you who have read the book, you will understand that concept.  Gaspar’s story begins in ancient India, moves through the Fertile Crescent to ancient Ireland, returns to Rome and concludes in ancient Judea.  When his journey ends on Golgotha, he knows, as I know that truth is universal.  When Gaspar meets Yeshua on the Mount of Olives, he asks, “What have you learned?”  Yeshua replies,

“I have learned what I have known all along.  Truth is love and love is truth.  A man can love himself.  A man must love himself and a man must love all men on the earth as he loves himself.  That is truth, Gaspar.  There are seven directions and it is true no matter which direction you choose to follow.

“I have been East to you Kanheri, and it is true there.  I have been South to the source of the great river that feeds Egypt, and it is true there.  It is true to the north where winter never ends and where the ground is ever white with snow and ice.  It is true to where the sun sets far beyond the Pillars of Herakles.”  He points to the night sky.  “It is true where men live on distant stars deep in the heavens, and it is true at the very core of this world we inhabit.”  He places his palm upon his chest.  “Most importantly, it is true here, deep inside you where dwells your immortal self.”

I was inundated this week with the Perennial Philosophy.  Four years ago on my Vitruvian Man website, I wrote a post entitled Confluence of Faith, Aldous Huxley and Ruth.  It was about the Perennial Philosophy, man’s continual search for truth.  This week at Mass, we heard the beautiful story of Ruth throughout the week.  It reminded me of that post and drew me back to the Perennial Philosophy and my belief that truth is universal.

This morning, Franciscan Richard Rohr posted a brilliant meditation The Perennial Tradition.  It brought me full circle.  As Fra Rohr writes,

This larger and constantly recurring wisdom has been called the Perennial Tradition or the Perennial Philosophy. No one group owns this content, but most of us own parts of it, and for me the goal is to honor and include as many parts as I can, so that I can be truly catholic. We see this same inclusivity in Jesus to an amazing degree. I see this as the clearest indication that one practices “the true religion.” A true religion is precisely one that can teach you how to recognize and honor God everywhere, and not just inside your own group symbols.

For those of you who have read Gaspar, Another Tale of the Christ, I hope this message came through to you loud and clear.  For those of you who have not yet entered its pages, I invite you to delve into it and the Perennial Philosophy that will indeed make this world a better place to be.


The Search for Truth

I spent two years writing my story of a man’s search for truth, published in August as Gaspar, Another Tale of the Christ.  If someone told me, “You have never had an original idea,” I would agree with her.  Ideas are like stories and songs and paintings … they have always existed.  They float around somewhere waiting for people to pull the thoughts together that already exist and to share them with other people in words, notes and paint.

I love books.  One year ago, my friend Father Charlie asked me if I would do the book purchasing at the Redemptorist Renewal Center’s bookstore.  I answered with an enthusiastic ‘Yes!’  The only thing I can think of that is better than being surrounded by books is to be surrounded by puppies.

I have introduced some new books into the Children’s shelf.  Traditionally, it was stocked with books about Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Saints and Bible stories.  That is good.  Still, I believe God inspires writers to tell stories to children beyond ‘Bible’ stories, stories that are easy to read that carry valuable lessons for young people.  With that thought in mind, we’ve expanded the Children’s shelf to include other spiritual books like God’s Dream by Desmond Tutu, The Tiny King by Taro Miura and The Three Questions by John Muth.  They have sold well.

My idea to include books like this was validated this morning as I read Franciscan Father Richard Rohr’s summary of his weekly meditations.  Fra Rohr by the way is the most popular author in the bookstore.  We sell more Rohr books that any other author and by a significant margin.

Douglas Wood and Jon MuthOne of the books on our children’s shelf is Old Turtle by Douglas Wood.  Mr. Wood followed with a sequel titled Old Turtle and the Broken Truth.  Fra Rohr uses the story this morning to sum up his weeklong message on ‘Oneing,’ God’s plan to create unity out of multiplicity.  His summary of the Old Turtle story is so perfect, I’ve decided to pass it on.  I know you will enjoy it as much as I do.  I hope it encourages you to purchase this beautiful book for someone you love.


Douglas Wood and Jon J. Muth


Rest: The Broken Truth by Father Richard Rohr, OFM

A wonderful children’s book, Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, written by Douglas Wood with watercolor illustrations by Jon J. Muth, tells an imaginary story of how the world came to be so fragmented when it is meant to be whole and how we might put it back together again.

In a far-away land that “is somehow not so far away,” one night a truth falls from the stars. And as it falls, it breaks into two pieces—one piece blazes off through the sky and the other falls straight to the ground. One day a man stumbles upon the gravity-drawn truth and finds carved on it the words, “You are loved.” It makes him feel good, so he keeps it and shares it with the people in his tribe. The thing sparkles and makes the people who have it feel warm and happy. It becomes their most prized possession, and they call it “The Truth.” Those who have the truth grow afraid of those who don’t have it, who are different than they are. And those who don’t have it covet it. Soon people are fighting wars over the small truth, trying to capture it for themselves.

Richard Rohr
Richard Rohr, OFM

A little girl who is troubled by the growing violence, greed, and destruction in her once peaceful world goes on a journey—through the Mountains of Imagining, the River of Wondering Why, and the Forest of Finding Out—to speak with Old Turtle, the wise counselor. Old Turtle tells her that the Truth is broken and missing a piece, a piece that shot off in the night sky so long ago. Together they search for it, and when they find it the little girl puts the jagged piece in her pocket and returns to her people. She tries to explain, but no one will listen or understand. Finally a raven flies the broken truth to the top of a tower where the other piece has been ensconced for safety, and the rejoined pieces shine their full message: “You are loved / and so are they.” And the people begin to comprehend. And the earth begins to heal.

Old Booksellers

As I worked my typical Friday shift in the Redemptorist Center bookstore today, a young lady — well, she is younger than I am — came in with her book and asked if we would consider carrying it in our bookstore.  I told her I would do the standard ‘check’ I do for all books

  • Is our vendor carrying a large quantity — if he is, it means the book is selling.
  • How is it doing on Amazon — certainly not the end-all indicator, but it is worth a look.

The vendor was carrying a ‘substantial’ quantity at their site, the ‘secondary’ site, which I have figured out is where they store all independent and self-published books.  It was doing ‘OK’ on Amazon.  Having played the game, if an author is under a million, he or she is at least in the top 20% of books sold.  As I researched her book, she told me how most people don’t understand how difficult it is to write a book.  That stopped me in my tracks.

“Lady,” I said more harshly than I intended, “I’m working on my sixth novel.  I understand how ‘difficult’ it is to complete this compelling task of love that we call writing a book.”

I think I set her back on her heels, unintentionally.  In the final analysis, I told her — and I did — I would order several copies from our vendor for our shelves.  She was most appreciative.

How shameful is it that I cannot recall her title of her book or her name?  I will post it tomorrow!  She is absolutely right.  Very few people know how difficult it is to write a book, particularly all of those people with such great ideas that ‘never got around to it.’ 

Bless the hearts of all those people who do have the courage to do it, and then have the courage like my new friend to personally go from bookstore to bookstore selling their wares.  A final thought …

Here’s one of the greatest compliments I have received in recent years …. A lady was passing by the ‘new book’ display and picked up Fra Rohr’s latest offering Silent Compassion. “That’s his latest book,” I commented.  That led to a lengthy conversation.  She bought the book.  Before she left the store, she said to me, “You remind me of the old booksellers — she was 75 if she was a day.  When you see someone looking at a book, you can lead them down the road to other books.”  That made my day.