When I recently received a note from a blog reader Scott thanking me for posting earlier entries on Robert Lax’s poetry, I decided it must be the right time to read S.T. Georgiou’s The Way of the Dreamcatcher which has been sitting on my desk waiting to be read for a month or two at least. I still don’t remember exactly why I bought the book, though I suspect that Amazon suggested it since I had purchased several of Lax’s poetry books there five years ago.
It didn’t take S.T. Georgiou long to remind me why I had liked Lax so much when I first encountered him in 2005. The preface provides a succinct summary of three traits I most admire in Lax’s work. The one Lax is best known for is his spirituality,
In looking back at our meetings, what especially stands out for me, aside from Lax's emphasis on the transformative and renewing power of love, is how much the poet was spiritually "ahead of his time" — a major reason he had so impressed me, and inspired my course of study. Long before it was popular to draw wisdom from various faith traditions and learn about Yoga, Zen, Sufism, and Kabbalism, the future hermit was actively engaged in a wide array of spiritual exploration.
Though Lax was born and raised a Reform Jew, his uncle, Henry Hotchner, was a high-ranking Theosophist who over the years had exposed his nephew to diverse ways of spirituality. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism had intrigued Lax, but his growing interest in Christianity, (prompted by early Franciscan influence), and his deepening friendship with fellow student Thomas Merton while at Columbia University in New York, led to his eventual baptism in the Roman Catholic Church. Lax felt that he could be perfectly faithful to Christ while learning from other traditions. His inter-religious aspirations, extant long before Vatican II. distinguished the sage. He was a committed peacemaker who understood that the very fate of the earth depended on the world's major religions engaging in regular and sincere dialogue. Like the early Church leaders, he understood that Christ the Word (the Logos) is accessible in seed form in both non-Christian and pre-Christian belief systems. How Christ works outside of Christianity Lax treated as a sacred, unspeakable mystery. In this way he emphasized the absolute freedom of God, who, in his divine work of providence and redemption transcends all limitations. For Lax, all inner roads grounded in wisdom and compassion ultimately led to the apophatic core of the Heart.
though as you’ve probably figured out if you’ve been here many times before, it’s the idea that “all inner roads grounded in wisdom and compassion ultimately led to the apophatic core of the Heart” that most appeals to me.
I’m really not sure I ever noticed Lax’s concern for the environment in his poetry when I read it the first time, but perhaps I did subconsciously because it’s certainly one of my major concerns:
The poet-sage was also intensely concerned about the welfare of the environment, and this decades before the "Green Movement" of the early 1970's and the current eco-crisis. He felt there to be a profound sympathia (a deep and abiding inter-relationship) between the macrocosm (the universe) and the microcosm (the human being). Since the time of Genesis humanity had been given the most holy task of stewarding creation, and this through love. To best balance heaven and earth, Lax felt it important for every caretaker of the cosmos to be as healthy as possible, hence his lifelong interest in prayer, meditation, diet, and exercise — concerns that would become socially popular from the mid-70's on.
When I re-read some of Lax’s poetry and read another book coming this week I’ll watch closer for these ideas in his works.
I remember, though, I was originally attracted to Lax by his poetic style, not his ideas per se.
Lax also seemed to have anticipated Minimalism, the modern art movement of the 1950's and 60's which emphasized purity, clarity, and elimination of non-essentials. His sparse verse — ascetic and mantra-like melded well with his philosophy, "less is more." Even as a budding poet. Lax had strongly believed that basic elements in both art and life help to shape one's meditative clarity. Superficiality and excess are consequently jettisoned, leaving the aspirant to better focus on the divine Source of All, the Fount of Life and Light — certainly sound advice, especially in our depressed financial times. The worldwide recession is forcing many to re-evaluate their values and priorities, particularly in terms of worldly goods. Such reductionist concerns hearken to Lax's perennial plea to "slow down," "relax," and "simplify."
Lax's devotion to the minimalist ethos ultimately centered on the holiness of the moment. He believed that if the seeker welcomes each moment with the fullness of love, he or she "takes care of all time." Like the power of a single word, each moment is meant to be nurtured and cultivated slowly, gently, that its seed might wholly blossom in the hearts of those receptive to it.
That last idea of focusing on the moment takes on added significance since I’ve read more Buddhist literature since I first read Lax. However, I was really attracted to his minimalist style because it reminded me of William Carlos William. In a later discussion, when asked which modern poets have most influenced him, he replies
But the name that comes most clearly to me is William Carlos Williams. His words are so well chosen, so visual, so rhythmic, and resonant. He an economy of expression that is not tight-fisted. His words are liberating. He flows. He’s musical. I remember him saying something about how vital poems are for the health of mind and body...
Even later, he talks about Haiku, another personal favorite and my entrance into Eastern thought:
“With regard to literary influences, Haiku showed me how minimal text can have maximum effect.”
Although I occasionally got the feeling that S.T. Georgiou is trying to pigeonhole Lax into the Catholic faithful, it’s a revealing book, one where I got a different perspective on Lax then I got from reading three of his poetry books. I’ll have more to say in the next few days.