Sunday, April 29, 2007

Memento Mori -- the sermon

This morning I delivered a sermon as part of the service at the Unitarian Society of Northampton & Florence in Northampton, MA.

The Order of Meeting looks something like this:

Sunday, April 29, 2007

9:15 & 11:00 a.m.

You are invited to light a candle of joy or concern as you enter.

* Please stand, as you are able. Latecomers may be seated.



Gregory Hayes, piano



Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of [humankind] as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

(Helen Keller)

* HYMN Sing of Living, Sing of Dying # 306


All living substance, all substance of energy, being, and purpose, are united and share the same destiny.

All people, those we love and those we know not of, are united and share the same destiny.

Birth-to-death we share this unity with the sun, the earth,

Our brothers and our sisters, strangers,

Flowers of the field, snow flakes, volcanoes and moon beams.

Birth – Life—Death – Unknown – Known – Unknown

Our destiny: from unknown to unknown.

May we have the faith to accept this mystery and build upon its everlasting truth.

(David H. Eaton)


* HYMN Old Hundredth

From all that dwell below the skies De todos bajo el gran sol

Let songs of hope and faith arise Surja esperanza, fe, amor

Let peace, goodwill on earth be sung Verdad, y belleza cantando,

Through every land, by every tongue De cada tierra, cada voz.


MEDITATION from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche




A Buddhist Parable as recounted by Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

A Stone Jug Wendell Berry


SERMON Memento Mori: Acceptance of Mortality Karen Johnston

and Dedication to Life Regardless

* HYMN Let Hope and Sorrow Now Unite # 412



The sermon and the readings can be found at

which is where I post my sermon-type stuff. I am always pleased when folks who read my poetry read my sermons, but there are plenty of people who read my sermons who don't necessarily need to read my poetry (unless they happen upon it on their own, then the Universe has something in mind around which I cannot fasten my small mind). Perhaps a false division, but one I am not yet ready to give up.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Buddhism Meets Capitalism

I have heard that Capitalism generates wealth,

but does not guarantee that all will eat.

It is also said that Capitalism

tends towards concentration.

Sitting on zafu, I find myself

wishing to emulate profit mongers.

Betraying socialist inclinations,

I covet that focus at which Capitalism excels.

Instead, Monkey Mind disperses

my attempts to be bodhisattva,

reveals my empty striving to not strive.

Oh, that I were a spiritual Rich Uncle Pennybags!

Yes, growing my capital gains, while still being

all about distribution of the Community Chest,

transitioning Park Place into affordable housing,

offsetting the pernicious impact of

Adam Smith, Mr. Monopoly, and their ilk.

Perhaps these hours on the cushion

will dissipate my greedy grasping.

Maybe Monkey Mind will chill

with ole Pennybags.

In place of Boardwalk,

there will be Middle Path for all.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Halibut Point State Park

Journal Entry: April 21, 2007 2:40pm

Lost J. for 30-40 minutes. It was at Halibut Point, a deep quarry with high, sheer granite walls; the quarry abuts the ocean with rocks at the bottom with relatively calm surf, but powerful nonetheless.

It was increasingly harrowing, each passing minute, finishing the whole loop, expecting to see him just around the corner, but each time: not there. Not finding him at the car. Going back to the loop. No one was staffing the Visitor's Center, I carried no watch and had little sense of how much time had realistically passed. Asking passers-by if they had seen a boy with bleached hair and green t-shirt (all=no). Asking the last set with my heart in my throat, tears springing out despite my attempt all along to temper my fears, which M. took as my not caring that we couldn't find him and took me to task. Trying to remember that M. is just a little girl, with her own worries about her lost big brother while I was struggling with my own fears.

What had been beautiful felt all of a sudden dangerous. What had seemed a reasonable response to his angry sculking off became incrementally a neglectful, passive-aggressive reaction.

I was not sure how I would respond when we found him: angry acrimony or relief at his safety, empathy for his own fright that must be happening simultaneously. I feared the former, wished for the latter. I pretty much expected I'd be yelling at him, embarrasing myself and alienating him.

I practiced breathing. Tried a meditative stance: towards M's anxious prattle that increased as time went on and upped my stress level; towards the apocolyptic visions growing in my head of a drown boy or pedofile stranger whisking him away; towards what seemed like the only two options upon our (hopefully) eventual reunion.

Why do we fill Uncertainty with frightful ideas? Such poor design.

When I saw him -- thank God -- from afar, called out his sweet name, he came running. I jogged toward him, hugged him, buried my face in his dirty hair, started bawling. I said something about my relief at his being safe, kept sobbing. Then I sat on a rock nearby, sobbing, sobbing. He said something, I can't remember what it was now, and I replied, "I'm not the one who walked away in anger."

This, of course, triggered his guilt -- "Why do you always blame me!?!" -- and resulted in his spending the next half hour trying to bait me into arguments. It's so much easier to feel indignant than to feel badly. Especially if you are turning 13 next week.

So far, I've resisted. With admirable equinimity, I might add. Today I think I might have matured a bit: I know, deep in my heart of hearts, better than any artificial consequence I could create to soothe my wound at having been scared or to try to teach him about exercising better judgement when he takes space, the best teacher he got from this experience was seeing his mother sob uncontrollably without the distraction of anger.

I hope that vision is a worthy teacher for both of us for the rest of our lives.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Ode to an Irish Girl

Irish girl shows up.

This is lame euphemism.

Lazy too.

One that doesn’t reach halfway

on the road to describing

how she is knocked down

over and over (and, damn it, over again).

She rages



eats (too much)

smokes (too many)

panics more

calls (her sister or her girlfriend or me)


doesn’t drink (anymore)


Each and every time,

she wipes off the gravel embedded

in her already scarred palms

from all of last year’s

last decade’s

last nearly-half century’s

shoves to the ground

which she continually transforms into moments of redemption.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston

Friday, April 13, 2007

The List of My Annoyances

The way I get ham on the weeks you don’t like it

and don’t have any in the frig on the weeks you do.

That I make the completely wrong dinner.

Or the just nearly wrong dinner.

Also the not quite perfect dinner.

Sometimes even the starts-out-as-perfect-

but-ends-up-otherwise dinner.

That I always side with your sister (except when I don’t).

(Which is never, except when I’m wrong.)

That I write poetry.

That I read it aloud.

That I practice in the house.

That I notice your report card says

you write wonderful poetry.

That I love you.

That I tell you so.

That I make you stop in the hallway so I can hug you.

That I kiss the bleached crown of your head.

That I notice you melt just slightly,

in an awkward-13-year-old-boy way,

when I wrap my arms around you.

That wordlessly I remind you

I will always be your mother,

your completely wrong mother,

your nearly wrong mother,

your not quite perfect mother,

your starts-out-as-perfect-but-ends-up-otherwise mother.

(cc) Karen G. Johnston