Hold It All

Month: October, 2016

Saluting the Ātman

Dear Sunil,

Thought I’d share one of my recent reading binges with you. I read a book late spring called American Veda, about how Indian thought has influenced the USA (from Thoreau and Emerson through the Beatles and beyond).   In that work, I read a few pages on Christopher Isherwood, a British novelist and pacifist who came to the US in the late 30s (he was best friends with the renowned poet W.H. Auden). He couldn’t stomach NYC so he moved to Los Angeles where, through the acquaintanceship with a couple English expats (one of whom Aldous Huxley, who wrote the dystopian novel, Brave New World, and a spiritual classic, The Perennial Wisdom) he met Swami Prabhavananda, who was a member of the Ramakrishna Order in Calcutta (did I ever recommend  The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna? [am i too parenthetical?]).

So I’ve read several of Isherwood’s books and translations with the Swami of some Hindu classics.  I  offer you the following passages for your perusal and enjoyment.


If I had to use one single word to describe the atmosphere of the Gospel narrative, it would be the word Now. The majority of us spend the greater part of our lives in the future or the past—fearing or desiring what is to come, regretting what is over. M. shows us a being who  lives in continuous contact with that which is eternally present. God’s existence has no relation to past or future; it is always as of now. To be with Ramakrishna was to be in the presence of that Now.  Isherwood, Ramakrishna and His Disciples, 279

Narendra, who became Swami Vivekananda: Ever since our first meeting, it was the Master alone who always had faith in me—no one else, not even my own mother and brothers. That faith and that love of his have bound me to him forever. The Master was the only one who knew how to love and who really loved. Worldly people only feign love to gratify their own self-interest.  Isherwood, Ramakrishna and His Disciples, 216

We spend a very small proportion of our time thinking logical, consecutive thoughts. it is within the reverie that our passions and prejudices—often s terrible in their consequences—build themselves up, almost unnoticed, out of slogans, newspaper headlines, chance-heard words of fear and greed and hate, which have slipped into our consciousness through our unguarded eyes and ears. Our reverie expresses what we are, at any given moment. The mantra, by introducing God into the reverie, must produce  profound subliminal changes.  These may not be apparent for some time, but, sooner or later, they will inevitably appear—first in the prevailing mood and disposition of the individual; then in  a gradual change of character.  Isherwood, Ramakrishna and His Disciples, 107

Read the rest of this entry »


Dear Yehudit

So, this month, in addition to reading Dorothee Sölle (superb!)
I am also reading a lot of Nawal El-Saadawi

Egyptian novelist, physician
Thorn in the side of patriarchy

She reminds me of you
You both remind me

of the Quakers’ enumeration
of three states of being

worth cultivating:
boundless happiness

absolute fearlessness
and constant difficulty

Here’s Nawal…
“You cannot be creative in a system that is very unjust, like the system we live in, unless you are a dissident. Because when you are creative you are for justice, for freedom, for love. It’s by nature like that. You feel that you want to do something. You cannot accept injustice. You become angry, if this injustice is happening to you or to others. If you are walking in the street and you see children who are begging, beggars, who are starving, they are dying of hunger, what do you do? You become furious. You want to change the system that created this hunger. You discover it’s not national only, it’s international.”



–from novel-in-construction, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris

Worth Reading

Dear Irina,

Here are some books that may speak to a few of your questions, interests,  and enthusiasms.  I’ll send more later on if you want….



Daniel Berrigan, Isaiah: Spirit of Courage, Gift of Tears. This Jesuit priest was a formative influence on me my senior year in college. His commentary on the biblical prophet Isaiah has many lines worthy of meditation, like this: “It cannot be said too often that the works of justice, the vocation of the Servant, are the preeminent form of honoring and glorifying God. They are true worship.”

Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. Buddhist teacher’s practical wisdom for working with fear and developing compassion. She observes, “Just as alchemy changes any metal into gold, Bodhicitta [awakened heart] can, if we let it, transform any activity, word, or thought into a vehicle for awakening our compassion.”

James Cone, Martin, Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare? Comparative study of two African-American leaders in the freedom struggle. In this riveting study, Cone stresses, “We should never pit them against each other. Anyone, therefore, who claims to be for one and not the other does not understand their significance for the black community, for America, or for the world. We need both of them and we need them together. Malcolm keeps Martin from being turned into a harmless American hero. Martin keeps Malcolm from being an ostracized black hero. Both leaders make important contributions to the identity of African-Americans and also, and just as importantly, to white America and Americans in general.” Read the rest of this entry »

He Would Have Preferred That She Just Spit on Him

He’d been home a couple of months
Against his better judgment
He said yes he’d come
To his fraternity’s party

Before he left for Iraq
He never drank alcohol
Even with his fraternity brothers
And at the gathering he wouldn’t drink

He suspected he wouldn’t last long
Little things unnerved him
Like seeing so many people
Casually fingering their cell phones

He was hanging with three friends
Talking about baseball
When he was over there
He’d daydream about being in the stadium back home

Now he had no interest whatsoever
To go downtown to a game
His peripheral vision indicated
Someone was approaching

Turns out, a woman his age
Named Stephanie
“Hey, Stef,” Brandon said
“Meet Drew”

Both smiling, they shook hands
Brandon: “Drew just got back from Iraq”
Stef: “Oh really? How cute!”
Drew looked across the room and pointed

“Hey, I’m going over to see Jordan”
He said politely
So he could get leave and get way
The fuck away from his fellow Americans

–from novel-in-process, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris

Note to a Friend Who Surprised Herself Last Month by Reading Ten Various Historical Critical Political Theological Books about Jesus

Dear Flannery

Son o’ God
Messiah Numero Uno
Christ the King
Son of Man
Son of Mary and Joe
Champion of the poor
Pre-incarnation of Che
Founder of the Church?
Believer in the Reign of God
Summoner of the Kingdom
Embodier of that Kingdom
People pray to him
People talk to him, but not in Aramaic
People cheer in his name
People killed in his name
People burned the Talmud in his name
Russian pilgrims trudge through the snow repeating his holy name
Aryan Jesus
Yiddish Jesus
Fundamentalist Jesus
Vedantist mystic Jesus
Taoist Jesus
Feminist Jesus
Resurrected Jesus
Jesus on the Rez
Jesus saves
Jesus dies for us even the pagans in Paraguay?
Jesus Logos
Jesus cousin to Socrates
Jesus knows your sins (and loves you anyway or will damn you if you don’t genuflect)
Jesus like no other
Jesus the one and the only
Jesus the Cosmic Christ
Jesus superstar
Jesus storyteller
Jesus Torah Jew
Jesus not one jot not one tittle
Jesus in the Warsaw Ghetto
Chagall Jesus
Kazantzakis Jesus
Is there a Flannery’s Jesus?
“Who do you say that I am?”
Who do we say that he was?
Who do we say that he is?
How much does it matter?

That we can tell each other next Thursday
Russian Tea Room, 5 p.m.
You bring your Tolstoy
I’ll bring my Dostoevsky
We won’t get to the bottom of this


from novel-in-process, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris

Max’s Ire

Dear Bella

I receive daily or weekly emails from Algemeiner, the Forward, Chabad, Mondoweiss, Jewcy, ZNet, and Tikkun,  which gives me interesting spectrum of opinion on what’s going on.

I thought I’d share this with you since tikkun olam is a big part of your life;  I received an email from Rabbi Lerner and I asked  Max to offer a comment on the opening paragraph:

Lerner:  Though the first day of our 30th anniversary celebration (Saturday, Nov. 12) will largely be devoted to developing understanding and strategy for the coming years as we face a centrist President who will herself be facing immense pressures to satisfy the agendas of the 1% who have largely funded her political career, and to abandon the trajectory and idealism revealed by the near-successful Bernie Sanders primary campaign, we will also spend much time the second day (Sunday, November 13) honroing [sic] everyone who has been engaged in social change activism at some point in their lives on the second day of the conference, with special attention to a few whose lives made major contributions to the healing and transformation of our world–by giving them the Tikkun Award.

Max: That is an undifferentiated stream of consciousness that betrays a willful suppression of the truth.  In other words, false consciousness and lying to self and others. He knows as well as anyone that Clinton never adopted the trajectory and idealism of the Sanders’ campaign, so there is nothing for her to abandon, not to even get into whether the Sanders’ campaign was what he makes it out to be. As far as awards go, I’d give the Weasel Word of the Year award to Lerner for anointing Clinton a “centrist.” Tell that to Netanyahu.  At least he’d have the sense to laugh.  Clinton will be facing immense pressures to satisfy the 1%. Beautiful. James Baldwin would rather call it going where her blood beats, and has for her entire political career.  Lerner should be ashamed, but of course he’s not, and that’s the real tragedy for liberals like him.

I’ve invited Max to join us in the sangha on Saturday mornings, but he’s not interested in the least.  One of these days, the three of us should meet up.  He was a dear friend of Henry’s.

Barukh hashem,


–from novel-in-process, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris

Ten Minutes Sitting in Mini Cooper, Laclede Avenue, Writing Five Texts of Appreciation for Five Friends While Waiting for Cami

I appreciate that you
call me “Marcos,” that you 
share your brilliant,
broken soul with me
that you are motivated
by the state of the world 
beyond yourself to care

I appreciate how almost
thirty years ago we
went to Guatemala,
accompanied by your
beautiful bodhisattva
boyfriend, Lago Atitlán, 
Tikal, Hotel España, and 
“the closest thing to a
Nazi state in the 
Western Hemisphere”

I appreciate our table at
Northwest, how you
manifest brightness
when we are together, 
that you feel the wide
deep soul of yourself
and the world

I appreciate how almost
ten years ago you
hosted an event for me
in your communal living
room, November 2006,
it was a joy to see you
living your D.C. life
Namaste forever 

I appreciate your
willingness to get up
early—on a Sunday no
less-and visit with
me—ah, you just pulled 

Colloquium with Cami

Cami and I are taking turns each month sharing something with each other.  Last month I did a session on Gurus, Teachers, and Mentors, and this weekend she shared the following reflections for our writing and sharing together:

Sunday, October 23rd 2016- Northwest Coffee

Writing Prompt: How has photography been a part of your life?  (3 min.)

Reading of first 4 quotations on photography

Writing on one or all of the photographs you brought along  (20 min.) Read the rest of this entry »

From Cami Kasmerchak, Two Years ago, 10.23.2014

Scan 32


Scan 33

Gratitude for Lindsey

As we are two weeks into our Epistolary Ecstasy class, I asked Lindsey if I could post one of her lovely letters she’s sent me over the last four years.  I am grateful for  her encouragement, example, and  accompaniment.