“Found” Poetry

“Found” poetry is a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning. The resulting poem can be defined as either treated (changed in a profound and systematic manner) or untreated (virtually unchanged from the order, syntax and meaning of the original).

The following is a “treated” poem I’ve derived from lines in a sixth grade speller published by Rand McNally in 1930. The book was used by students in the Northumberland Boro Schools.

The house situated on the hill was destroyed;
(It was thoughtful of you to take a receipt for the kerosene);
The men worked industriously in the torrid heat.

The funeral was postponed until after Independence Day.
The preacher talked about heaven.
He acted stubborn, but he did a thorough job.

We sent the flowers purely out of friendship.
The woman was wearing mourning;
She gave a sigh of pity.

I Wrote A Poem Once While Sleeping

I wrote a poem once while sleeping,
Each line flowing into the next, flawlessly fitting,
As easy as knitting (remembering Grandma).
It was as if I could not stop, I could not fail.
Although the words were like building blocks,
As if I were erecting the world’s greatest skyscraper,
It was not about architecture.
It was not even about substance.
It was, dare I say it?
Poetic.
Truly rhythmical, imaginative and melodious.
Not epic. Not really. But not the least bit commonplace.
I was soaring. Becoming one with the atmosphere.
Unstoppable. Insatiably gluttonous for words.
Dining on the abstract. Gobbling up the abstruse.
It seemed as though I could write forever.
And then the alarm went off.

My Next 30 Years

As many of you know, I spent 37 years drinking and getting high. (See my About page.) My addiction cost me a great number of things. When I first got sober, I heard a fantastic song on a country music station that I quickly made my “anthem.” It’s by Tim McGraw. I changed a few lines to fit the song into my recovery (which I show in italics), but for the most part it is right on the money. If you are struggling with addiction, consider getting help. Contact your local AA, NA or CA hot line and ask where you can attend a meeting. You too can end an era, turn a page, and start your life anew.

I think I’ll take a moment, celebrate my age
The ending of an era and the turning of a page
Now it’s time to focus in on where I go from here
Lord have mercy on my next thirty years.

Hey my next thirty years I’m gonna have some fun
Try to forget about all the crazy things I’ve done
Maybe now I’ve conquered all my adolescent fears
And I’ll do it better in my next thirty years.

My next thirty years I’m gonna settle all the scores
Cry a little less, laugh a little more
Find a world of happiness without the hate and fear
Figure out just what I’m doing here
In my next thirty years.

Oh my next thirty years, I’m gonna watch my weight
Eat a few more salads and not stay up so late
Drink a little lemonade and no more beers
Maybe I’ll remember my next thirty years.

My next thirty years will be the best years of my life
I’ll get closer to my family and find my one true wife
Spend precious moments with the ones that I hold dear
Make up for lost time here, in my next thirty years.

Meditation Can Help Us Experience The Presence of God

Since the time of the desert fathers in the third and fourth centuries, Christians have practiced meditation as a way of experiencing and responding to God’s presence in their early lives. The desert fathers were Orthodox Christian hermits, ascetics and monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century A.D. These mystics have left a body of writings that contain trustworthy and encouraging insights into how meditation can help us experience the presence of God in our lives. A hermit said, “Take care to be silent. Empty your mind. Attend to your meditation in the fear of God, whether you are resting or at work. If you do this, you will not fear the attacks of the demons.”

Meditation is defined as “the action or practice of meditating.” To meditate is to spend time in quiet thought for religious purposes or relaxation. I’ve heard it said that to meditate is to “do nothing.” Yeah, you say, but we’re always doing something, right? Yes. Meditation involves focusing one’s thoughts. It means to ponder over or reflect on something. Meditation implies a definite focusing of one’s thoughts on something so as to understand it deeply. Attention and focus are hard to come by. So many distractions, both from within and from without.

Distracted by email, cell phones, the ping of a new text message, bad news on television, and the stresses of work, of relationships and family, it is easy to be overwhelmed, stressed and miss the extraordinary gift of being alive. Our bodies’ break down under the onslaught of stress – insomnia, anxiety, depression, and all chronic disease is made worse by unremitting stress. What matters most in life is the quality of our experience, the ability to be awake to what is real and true in our lives, for the difficult and the happy times, to be awake to each person we touch, to our own experience, to the moment we are in, to the simple, sweet, and alive gifts of a smile, a touch, a kind deed, the breeze on our skin, or a firefly flickering in the early summer night.

Pain is inevitable. Loss is inevitable. Death, illness, war, and disaster have always been and will always be part of the human condition. Yet within it, I wondered as a young man, was there a way to understand suffering in a different light, to break the cycle of suffering? These are some of the ultimate distractions we face. They will rob us of the present. Steal our current experiences from us. You see, there is a way to be more awake, to see things as they are, to notice life as it is and to savor it, to love it, to wake up with gratitude, lightness, and celebration for the magic of life no matter what our circumstance. Life is always there, and the trick is simply to notice.

This is harder than it sounds, because it requires us to be patient with ourselves, to love ourselves, even all the ugly, petty, small thoughts. It requires us to create calm within the chaos through non-judgmental awareness. Most of us have no clue how to do this. We know about wrong, and blame, and consequence, and fear. We know how to wallow in self-pity. To let our emotions tell us what’s so, as if they were factual. Emotions are nearly the farthest thing from the truth. Emotions lie. Emotions keep us distracted, stuck, telling us this experience is just more of the same old crap. Everything begins to look the same. Our tolerance goes out the window. We have no capacity, at that point, to accept what is happening to us. We tell ourselves this current experience cannot possibly mean anything different from the last time we went through it.

The point of meditation, of doing nothing, is not an end in itself, but a way to calm the mind, to see the true nature of things, and reduce the impact of suffering while increasing love, kindness, wisdom, fearlessness, and sympathy. From that stillness life becomes richer, your actions more clear, your words more direct and powerful, and your capacity to be fully engaged in life enhanced. It is not a retreat from life, but a way to go fully into life and cultivate your own power and happiness.

The benefits of meditation have been well proven by science. Mediation reduces chronic pain, blood pressure, headaches, anxiety and depression. It helps you lose weight, lowers cholesterol, reduces heart rate and breathing, increases sports performance, boosts immune function, relieves insomnia, increases serotonin, improves creativity, optimizes brain waves, helps in learning, focuses attention, increases productivity, enhances memory, and more.

Sounds good. But what do I do? The good news is that all you need is a few minutes and a place to sit and be quiet (you can do this anywhere). You don’t need fancy equipment or a “yoga” room addition to your house. In fact, the only thing I would recommend you start with is a cheap egg timer from the dollar store. Meditation will feel nearly impossible to accomplish at first. You won’t last but a minute. Your mind will wander. Within seconds you will be somewhere else, planning out your day, wondering if you left the oven on, realizing you forgot to put the garbage at the curb. So get your egg timer, turn the dial to one minute and just let go. Think of nothing. Listen to your breathing. Feel your body. Keep doing this once a morning for a week. Try adding a minute the following week.

Here are some simple instructions for mindfulness mediation you can try yourself.

  1. Sit in a comfortable position. Try to sit in the same place each day. Avoid positions that you might fall asleep in.
    a. The back is long and supports itself.
    b. Shoulders are relaxed downward, the neck is long, and the chin is pointing neither up nor down.
    c. The face is relaxed.
  2. Begin to breathe (preferably through the nostrils). Feel the belly rise, the ribs expand, and the slight movement in the collarbones and shoulders as the breath moves upward. Feel the exhalation.
  3. Focus on one aspect of the breath.
    a. The movement of air in and out of the nostrils.
    b. Or the lifting and falling of the belly.
  4. Watch that one aspect of the breath.
    a. When the mind wanders, gently bring it back to the breath and the aspect you have chosen to watch.
    b. Do this as many times as you need to.
    c. There is no such thing as a good or bad meditation. (Good and bad are judgments, events in the mind – just note them and go back to the breathing.)
  5. Start with 1-5 minutes and then increase the time until you can sit for 30 minutes.

One of the most common misconceptions about meditation is that it’s about making your mind go blank. I don’t know where this idea originated, but it’s pervasive and long-lasting. I think it may take at least another generation or two of spiritual practice before that notion goes to the scrapheap of ideas that it deserves to rest in. Certainly, in meditation we want to reduce the amount of thinking that goes on. Most of us are plagued with thoughts that arise seemingly without cause.

When meditation brings us to the point where self-talk ceases, the mind is anything but blank. Instead it’s full — full of an awareness of sensations, feelings, emotions, and images. Guess what the Buddha calls this? Mindfulness. We need to get our mind so full of experiencing the present that there is not room for inner self-talk. You know, that dangerous generating or reinforcing of unhelpful emotions. So, no, it’s not contradictory to say that meditation isn’t about making your mind go blank. Meditation can help us to reduce, or even eliminate, inner self-talk for periods of time. Meditation is about developing mindfulness, or “mind-full-ness.”

I dare you to give this a try. I believe it is the first step to clearing out the clutter and making room for God. It is through a disciplined meditation program that we can learn to start hearing from God. Good luck. Oh, and have fun.

What is God’s Real Name?

I have been calling God “God” since I learned to pray.  As I got older, I used other “names” as well. For example, Heavenly Father, Almighty God, Father God, Lord, The Great I Am, El Shaddai. All of these names certainly identify God as “the” God. The Great Divinity. The pastor at my boyhood church often called God King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. I’ve also heard the names Jehovah and Yahweh.

Likewise, Jesus Christ has been called many things throughout the Scriptures. Savior, Emmanuel, The Word, Son of God, Master, Rabbi, Lamb of God, Second Adam, Light of the World, King of the Jews. If we look harder, we find that Jesus has also been called Chief Cornerstone, Prince of Peace, Alpha and Omega, Bread of Life, Bridegroom, Great Intercessor, Counselor, Good Shepherd, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Nazarene, Redeemer, Wonderful.

In the Old Testament, when “God” is used, it is typically a rendering of the general Hebrew word for God, “Elohim.” When LORD GOD occurs, it is a rendering of a dual name for God “Adonai YHWH.” This is the origin of the name Jehovah. It is actually a hybrid name, combining the vowels of Adonai with the consonants of YHWH into JeHoVaH or YeHoWaH. The “a” in Adonai is changed for reasons of Hebrew pronunciation.

I have heard it said that the Jews were afraid to speak the name of God aloud. In Jewish thought, a name is not merely an arbitrary designation or random combination of sounds. The name conveys the nature and essence of the thing named. It represents the history and reputation of the entity being named. This is not as strange or unfamiliar a concept as it may seem at first. In English, we often refer to a person’s reputation as his “good name.” When a company is sold, one thing that may be sold is the company’s “good will.” The Hebrew concept of a name is very similar to these ideas.

Because a name represents the reputation of the thing named, a name should be treated with the same respect as the thing’s reputation. For this reason, God’s Names, in all of their forms, are treated with enormous respect and reverence in Judaism. The most important of God’s Names is the four-letter name represented by the Hebrew letters Yod-Hei-Vav-Hei (YHVH). It is often referred to as the Ineffable Name, the Unutterable Name or the Distinctive Name. Linguistically, it is related to the Hebrew root Hei-Yod-Hei (to be), and reflects the fact that God’s existence is eternal.

The books of the Old testament were originally written almost totally in the Hebrew language, with some sections in Aramaic. Neither language contained any vowels, only consonants. The Jews knew what vowel sounds were to be used in the pronunciation of the words based on the construction of the sentence, the context, and their excellent memories. Since very few people could afford to have their own written copies of even small portions of the Scriptures, huge amounts of Scriptures were committed to memory.

In the 8th through the 10th centuries, after the birth of the Messiah, a group of Scribes know as the Masoretes added a system of vowel points to enable the preservation of the original pronunciation. Their version of the Scriptures is known as the Masoretic Text.

The Name by which God revealed Himself to the patriarchs and to Moses was the Hebrew word for “I AM” or “I AM THAT I AM” — meaning something similar to “The One Who exists by His own power.” This Name was spelled with the Hebrew equivalent of “YHWH,” and was considered too sacred to pronounce. This four-letter word is also know as the tetragrammaton, which means “four letters.” When reading the Scriptures, or referring to the Sacred Name (HaShem), the Jews would substitute the word “Adonay,” which means “Lord.”

So, is it mandatory or not for us to call God by a “sacred name?” When you see the word “GOD” or “LORD” in all capital letters in the King James Bible, it means this was where the name for God, YHWH,” originally appeared in the Hebrew text. When a text contains the name “YHWH” (GOD or LORD), this word applies only to the One True Creator, and never applies to anyone else. So this helps us to understand that Almighty God created the heavens and the earth.

Here’s where it gets interesting. When a New Testament text contains the title “god” or “lord,” it may apply to other lesser gods or mere men. Almost universally, “god” is a translation of “theos,” the general Greek word for deity. Also almost universally, “lord” is a translation of “kurios,” the general Greek word for master. The key point in all of this is that whether we use God’s actual Hebrew name, or refer to Him as God, or Lord, or Lord God, we are to always show reverence to Him and His name.

Christian translators mistakenly combined the vowels of “Adonay” with the consonants of “YHWH” and produced the word “YaHoWaH.” When the Scriptures were translated into German during the Reformation, the word was transliterated into the German pronunciation, which pronounces “Y” as an English “J,” and pronounces “W” as an English “V” — or “Jahovah.” Then in the early 17th century, when the Scriptures were being translated into English with the help of some of the German translations, the word was again transliterated as “Jehovah,” and this error has carried over into many modern English translations.

Jehovah is now recognized by all proficient Bible scholars to be a late hybrid form, a translation error, that was never used by the Jews. And since no one today knows the correct pronunciation of YHWH anyway, there is no need to guess at it. We have the assurance, from scripture, that we only need to call the Creator, “Our Father.”

To this day, some claim that we must call God by a sacred name. They say if we don’t, He won’t hear us. Contrary to their belief, there is and was no command anywhere in scripture given by God to call Him by any sacred name. We do not hear or read God instructing anyone to use the terms ‘Elohim’, ‘Yahweh’, ‘Yashua’, ‘Jehovah’, ‘El-Shaddai’, ‘Adonai”, ‘Ha-Shem’, ‘Adoshem’, ‘Abba,’ or other words to identify God. Love for Him is what is required. Not strict adherence to a sacred name. As our Lord Jesus Christ said, when we pray, we are to pray, “Our Father.” He did not insist on us using a “sacred” name.

Tired

Tired of all this violence, looking for respite,
As a fugitive longs for postponement of the inevitable,
And the faithful searches for confirmation,
And the virtuous maiden dreams of virginal union,
And perfection hopes for outward validation,
And mighty strength tends to want ultimate triumph,
And the sick searches for proper doctoring,
And the lonely fantasize about true companionship,
And the alcoholic envisages freedom from bondage,
And young children build castles in the air.
Although I daydream about quick fixes,
I sometimes see myself dying before all is brought about.

©2015 Steven Barto