Monday, December 22, 2014

Our Nativity Rose

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung,
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung 
O Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispel with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere…
                from Es Ist Ein Ros’ Entsprungen, 15th century German hymn, 
                translated by Theodore Baker

How do we lay hold of the beauty of Emmanuel?

How do we rise above and see beyond the solidity of matter, the dynamism of energy, the logic of reason, the insight of intuition, the sorrow of the soul, the occupation of our intent? Do we embrace our need, our doubt, our trust, our scope… our nativity all in a moment?

Flush with the Word and His word, do we grip confessions like polished banisters that segregate mineral cathedrals into naves and vaults, locked expressions of faith: fa├žade and genuflection? Or do we let go the exhaustion of anxiety from the pursuit of our most earnest desires and feel it slide from our shoulders onto the floor like winter air pouring down from clerestory skylights?

We look up and feel it caress our head and chill our feet until we are baptized afresh, as though suddenly kneeling in a soft, bracing snowfall of joy and light, our ears and face aglow like the rose, the heat of our blood rising to meet our spirit. And there in our nativity, a rosy bloom of love and hope radiates from the manger, His tiny translucent hand reaches out, beautiful in form, and we cannot do else but grasp it in our own. Then a holy pain from His palm to ours ascends within us, His blood rising to meet His Spirit in our very being.

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel… until the Son of God appears.
Rejoice! Rejoice!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

A Son Never Forgets

In days long gone by you tilled the soil and sand,
Got a long row still to hoe on the land.
Well, your grown kids and your grandkids and their babies ever yet,
You old rascal, Dad, they will always care, and a son never forgets.

I sailed to Treasure Island once with a rogue named Long Tall Jim.
We plundered caves with Sawyer, gutted fish with old Huck Finn.
We surveyed the West with Lewis, canoed the C’lumbia with Clark.
We hunted with Daniel and Davy and Captain Jack, who hid in the dark.
Well the sun was always rising then and now it ever sets,
You old rascal, Dad, you were always them, and a son never forgets.

You drove us down the Topsy Grade to see what might be there,
Along this rocky stagecoach road: wrecked cabins of pioneers.
When you sailed us to Buck Island you found an arrowhead on the shore.
I was so amazed, John Wayne himself could not have dazzled me more.
What fate came to that arrowhead I can’t now recollect,
But it’s fixed upon my memory ‘cuz a son never forgets.

One day the fire came and some tough years burned away.
They burned right through our souls, didn’t they?
But you, ever the Fire Chief, stood tall to protect,
You old rascal, Dad, you were always there, and your son never forgets.

Now we’ll plot one last adventure asleep in our easy chairs.
Dream of camp in cold October, track down the stealthy deer.
Young brother Mike like Robin Hood will bend his trusty bow
And launch an arrow into the cloudless sky to see where it goes.
Yes the sun was always rising then and rises still I ‘spect,
You old rascal, Dad, you were always there, and your sons never forget.

For Jim Paxton,
words and music by his son Ken

Saturday, October 11, 2014


This might have happened to me. I don't remember but I do list a bit.

"The procedure only takes two minutes to engage the other persona. For about ten minutes your perceptions, responses and thoughts will be in your chosen alternate context."

"But I thought you said the whole experience lasts thirty-six minutes. That's what's written in the brochure."

"It takes a minimum of sixteen minutes to dis-engage the persona and reinstate full control to your psyche. The distribution of response times across the normal population indicates a possible maximum of twenty-nine point eight minutes so we use a buffered target for disengagement."

"Sounds like a lot of precise nonsense. It can't be any more serious than the virtual holographic environments on the Starship Enterprise."

"You signed the release. Did you read it? This is not game technology. Do you think we would spend the time to screen everyone to that level before allowing them to participate in the PersonaChange? You know how much trouble I would get into if they discover I let you try this without the proper psychoanalytical profiling?"

"Ok, ok, it's a big deal. I'll be good I promise. Now you've got me scared. What happens if takes thirty point two minutes?"

"Nothing, don’t worry, the margin is at least five minutes. The original study found there was no risk of sublimation before thirty-six minutes exposure."

"Subli-what'n? Never mind, I don't want to know. If we keep dissecting this, I'll never go through with it. What are my choices?"

"Normally you have none. The screener picks one for you. It's too risky to let people select their persona. They don’t understand the science involved and get all wound up in wanting to be Joan of Arc or Albert Einstein, or Hitler or some other horrifying monster. The point is to let you experience being someone else, not to act out your little private fantasies of fame, romance or tyrannical conquest. The entire time is programmed such that the range of stimuli is well within the average person's self-control. I'll give you two possibilities to pick from. These are real people, not historical constructs, but I think they provide plenty potential to explore regions of another person's psychodynamic experience. The first one was submitted by a former submarine captain in the Soviet Navy, who is an executive at the St. Petersburg Stock Exchange now. Do you get seasick?"

"That's ridiculous. I'm not going to get seasick from climbing around the hay loft of some ex-sub jockey. Anyway, I don’t have motion sickness problems. But how can I appreciate the perceptions of someone else expressed in a language I don't know, especially when it sounds like a tape recording played backwards?"

"Look, if I understood all this I'd receive the Nobel prize for medicine. Trust me, the brain stores all the sensory impressions your selection experienced throughout his life up to the time of his psychological download. They tell us that language will not be a problem. Your experience of the donor's memories and ideas will be associations which are universal whatever the words and alphabets used."

"Well, I guess working through the adrenalin rush of an underwater game of cat and mouse with a US Navy attack sub at my heels does sound pretty good."

"You may just as well experience the thrill of riding a ferry across the Volga when you’re too small to see over the gunnels. Or maybe you will relive the rapture of selling short a million shares of Yukos oil stocks and seeing your fortune in rubles quadruple. We can’t dictate the memories you’ll have as this other person, only that they’ll occur through the context of their thinking, their instincts, their training, their prejudices, their loves."

"Yes, well thanks. I read the brochure you know.  What's my other choice? Hey, do you have a profile for Phineas Gage?"

"I thought a bit of culture might do you some good. Uhm, the memories stay with you, you did read that didn't you? Your mind is not replaced or turned off, just put in its place, you might say. While imagining you’re the other guy, your own tape recorder is still running, whether it is forward or backward, however yours might function. So, I thought this submission from a classical musician would do you some good, if you have the guts to try it."

"How do you expect me to stay awake? That stuff makes my brain goes into a catatonic state."

"Well, that's interesting. Studies have proven that for a normally functioning cortex, classical music stimulates higher order thinking. Helps the old synthetic synaesthesia, if you know what I mean. Doesn't do much for the brain stem, though, which may explain your response. Do you know what syneasthesia is?"

"So tell me about this classic musician"

"Synesathesia is the experience of one sensation at the stimulus of a different one. A color is brought to mind by a sound you hear. That's the big excitement in what you are about to undergo. The associations of this other person can be completely different from yours."

"Oh, so whereas I get pretty jazzed when I smell a rose, ol' Captain Nemo might be barfing all over the place?"

"Yes, and I've never heard it put that elegantly before. You have a real knack for this you know. I don't think you will be struggling with staying awake as this musician. He's from India, plays the santur, a hammered dulcimer, constant striking of strings with little hammers, gotta be a lot of intensity there. 'Course you get a bonus in experiencing Hindu beliefs as well. What do you think?"

"Used to play the drums myself. Do you have any blues musicians? They really know how to live. How about old cowboys? There was this guy in my hometown called Rattlesnake Pete. He must’ve had some real adventures. Scared the bejeebers out of me just to look at him, still wearing his six shooters, SKs, ten gallon hat and a beard down to his belt."

"No, these are your two choices. They are brand new. All the others are already in the master files and any use of their profile is tracked. These are preliminary bios. They have not had the full screening so I can't tell you everything you are going to experience. That should put a little spice into your insatiable quest for adventure. Speaking of staying awake you will be lightly sedated to attenuate the effect of unexpected emotional responses, and to prevent reaction to the restraints. Here slip your arms in here will you?"



"You're going to be all hooked up. Swallow this and be grateful we don’t use an IV. You can't be thrashing about and ripping things off… you'll end up a psychotic wreck… so you best behave."

"How many of those sticky thingies you gonna weld on my neck and face anyway?"

"Almost done. Just be grateful this is not ten years ago when we had to shave each sticky thingie spot. Remember, normally you have no choice. Someone like you… they would probably match up with an old pteridologist, a geek who studies ferns twenty hours a day. They have liability concerns you know. Did you decide?"

"Let’s get going. I vote for Captain Nemonov."

“I'm ready. The lights will go out. Are you ready? If so push the green button by your right hand."

"What's the red one for? Makes me smaller or bigger?"

"Emergency stop."

"Oh yeah, we have those on the machines at work. Kinda spooky to see it here. Why do the lights go out?”

“All the visual stimuli come from the persona. Your brain can’t process parallel sets of reality.”

“Lights go out, I go to sleep.”

“That’s not going to happen. When you’re ready…”

“I know… well, here goes the green mushroom."

After twelve minutes, small violet lamps lighten the dark room like a pre-dawn sky.

“The session is over. Relax and let your mind adjust to its normal state.”

A glazed look in the open eyes but the shallow breathing begins to subside and the pupils start to focus. Suddenly, “You didn’t tell me he lost his leg down there!!” …wrestling against the constraints.

“It’s all right! You’re all right! Look: two legs. Relax!… relax, now. Breathe deep and let it out slow.”

Lights coming up halfway.

“Oh, man… torpedo came loose and crushed his leg! They had to amputate it above the knee and the wooden leg they gave him never worked. He always had pain.”

“Here, swallow this.”

gulp… “What was that?”

“It’s an antidote for the sedative combined with something for traumatic memory. Should keep you from having phantom pain.”

“Phantom pain? It aches! Feels like a sledge hammer's worked over my leg.”

“Takes a few minutes. Try to rest a bit more.”

“Ok, all signals are flat-lined, looks like you’re back to normal.”


Removing the sticky thingies.

“Don’t get your shorts in a knot. Everything is fine. There, you’re good to go, admiral. Now you can write the next expose on the politics of Soviet naval high command and win a Pulitzer. Off you go, quick, before anyone catches us in here.”

A syncopated cadence echoes down the hallway: ka-dup, ka-dip!... ka-dup, ka-dip!... ka-dup, ka-dip!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Camping in a Tent

Me and my parents, and the
          dog, not the cat,
Even my big sister,
          can you imagine that?
We’re off to go a-camping,
          camping in a tent!

Roaming endless forest
          roads of endless dust,
Dodging hell-bent log trucks
          hell-bound they be or bust,
We hope to go a-camping,
          camping in a tent!

Faces blasted in the wind,
          me and Lady, not the cat.
Wind up the window, quick!
          another hell-bent truck attack.
We are long from camping,
          camping in a tent!

The trees give way to pastures
          green up to the sky,
Cattle guards give teeth a-rattle,
          cattle stare you in the eye.
They’ll never go a-camping,
          camping in a tent.

At the farther edge of nowhere,
          homestead cabin, tumbled down,
Its walls of sod all crumbled
          its hand pump rusted brown,
Folks here left off camping,
          camping in a tent.

We stop, before the plunge, a vista
          lying before us,
Across the miles shines a lake!
          across a million miles of forest.
We’ll starve before a-camping,
          camping in a tent.

“The moss grows thickest on the northern side,
          a mark to guide if you’re misplaced.”
Says I, “Thanks, Dad”, and Lady whimpers,
          we’ll end up vanished without a trace.
Worse! We’ll end up camping,
          camping in a tent.

The sun slumps down to blind us,
          forest again hems us inny
If ever I live to see another tree,
          one tree it’ll be too many.
We’ll die there a-camping,
          camping in a tent.

Wait! What is that sparkling like a diamond
          in the pines? There is another! 
The Lake!! The Lake!! The Lake!! The Lake!!
          How much longer? Are we there yet?
We’re going to go a-camping!
          Camping in a tent!

          by Ken Paxton, Aug. 2014

Friday, January 03, 2014

Sling & Cliff

What follows is a proposed 'chapter' in a fiction work about John the Baptist. The working intent is to re-introduce John to the church as a real human being, with the thought that we have lost him as such in the history of the Messiah and the church. John discipled at least four of the original twelve apostles before baptizing Jesus, and may have been related to them as he was to Jesus. He was an extremely important spiritual leader in first century Judaism and in the early church. He was the only Jewish prophet who saw in Christ the coming of the new covenant promised by Jeremiah several centuries before him.

In the spring when the boys were ten, Joseph, Mary and Jesus visited John's family as they did from time to time. John and Jesus quickly found an opportunity to run off into the rocky hills and fields around the village. The late morning sun warmed the earth and scruffy plants of the Judean hills, filling nostrils with the tang of sage and caper berry, the loamy fume of vineyards and the grassy, fertile odor of pastures covered with grazing sheep.

Further up a ridge, John pulled from a shoulder pouch of woven cord a long thin piece of soft leather like a belt with a wide spot in the middle. “Have you used a sling before?”

“I’ve seen the shepherd boys throw with them but I never tried one.”

Smiling, John encouraged him, “Come on, I’ll teach you to bring down the bear and lion, just like King David,” and he proceeded to make a small piles of earth and gravel on top of a large flat boulder. Jesus made some too and then they retreated back about twenty paces.

“Round stones work best, they fly straighter.” From his pouch he produced a smooth rock the size of a small fig, “I got these from the wadi on the other side of the village.” Quickly he set a stone in the middle of the sling, whipped it up over his head and extending his arm gave the sling three more revolutions a little faster each time. On the third one he released an end of the sling. The stone streaked toward the boulder and kicked up dust as it grazed the side of one pile.

“Got it! Look, you grab one end with your thumb and finger like this and the other end you hold between your fingers. When you’re ready, let go with your thumb to release this end of the sling.” He handed Jesus a stone and the sling. Jesus repeated what John showed him but every time he began to swing it, the stone fell out at his feet. John grabbed the sling and showed him again, “You have to start the swing back a little, then when you whip it forward the stone will stay in it,” and he handed it back. Jesus tried again and was able to whip the sling around but his fingers slipped off one end and the stone went flying at John. “Watch out!”

But John was standing well back to stay clear of the sling’s arc and was able to just dodge the stone. “Ah! You’re trying to kill me.” They both burst out laughing. “Your fingers are dusty and slipped.” He gave Jesus another stone. “You were doing fine, try it again just hold on tighter.” Then he ran off. “Wait until I get behind this tree.”

Gripping with white knuckles Jesus started up the sling again, rotating faster and faster. Now he could feel the timing of the stone and the movement of his forearm, similar to throwing. He released an end of the sling and the stone flew far over the boulder and into a nearby gully, scaring up a small cadre of crows.

John ran up, “Let me try a shot.” And before Jesus had any idea what John was about to do, he snatched the sling, seated a stone in it and wound up. Off to one side of the boulder a crow had landed on a close juniper branch. John gave a mighty heave as he sent the stone flying at the bird. The stone crashed into the branch and the crow flew off to another nearby tree scolding the boys with its noisome squawks.

Startled by the sudden harmful intent of John, Jesus warily queried “Why did you do that?”

 “I didn’t hurt it.” John replied defensively.

“You could have. The crow has done you no harm.”

“Stupid crow!” spat John and he fired another stone at the bird. This time he was on the mark and the crow fell in a burst of feathers to the ground. Struggling to its feet, it tried to fly away. It was clear its wing was injured.

Jesus started to walk toward the crow and turned around. John skulked off. “John, wait!” but John kept going. He tried to pick up the crow, thinking to take it back to his father, but it huddled back, threatening him noisily with its large black beak. Jesus slowly rose fearing it was doomed if it did not recover the use of its wing.  

He found John perched on a small cliff and sat next to him. With their feet dangling over the edge, they looked across the nearer reaches of the Judean wilderness. Out of the corner of his eye, Jesus noticed John staring hard at the barren wasteland, a small crease between his eye brows. Jesus scanned across the wide space of brushy wadis, dusty plateaus and successive treeless ridges disappearing into the haze as they wore down and east towards the Dead Sea.

Jesus: “What do you see?”

John: “I’m sorry. Maybe I can take it home and help it get better.”

Jesus: “Maybe”

John: “What do you see?”

Jesus: “Not much” with a smirk.

John: “I see this” and he held up a hand full of pebbles and earth.
They both chuckled. “It’s making me hungry… and thirsty.”

His smile fading quickly, Jesus resumed a concerned gaze, “More than that.”

John: “Boring?”

Jesus: “Exposed.”

They were quiet a few minutes  and then Jesus began reciting from the prophet Isaiah:
“Let the wilderness and thirsty land be glad,
let the deer rejoice and burst in to flower.
Let it flower with fields of asphodel,
Let it rejoice and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon is given to it,
The splendor too of Carmel and Sharon;
These shall see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.”

John continued,
“Strengthen the feeble arms,
Steady the tottering knees;
Say to the anxious, ‘Be strong and fear not.’
See, your God comes with vengeance,
With dread retribution he comes to save you.”

“Then shall blind men’s eyes be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then shall the lame man leap like a deer
and the tongue of the dumb shout aloud;
for water springs up in the wilderness,
and torrents flow in dry land,
The mirage becomes a pool,
The thirsty land bubbling springs;
Instead of reeds and rushes, grass shall grow
In the rough land where wolves now lurk.”

“And there shall be a causeway there
Which shall be called the Way of Holiness
and the unclean shall not pass along it;
it shall become a pilgrim’s way,
no fool shall trespass on it.”

Then they recounted together the last stanza:
“By it those he has ransomed shall return
And the LORD’s redeemed come home;
they shall enter Zion with shouts of triumph,
crowned with everlasting gladness.
Gladness and joy shall be their escort,
and suffering and weariness shall flee away.”

A large flock of blackbirds crossed their view in the distance, rising and falling like a speckled cloud. Jesus dropped a fist sized rock. It broke the stillness of the morning air with an almost rhythmic crack as it skipped down the cliff face until it joined the rubble pile at the edge of a rushing creek.

John: “Let’s flee!”

John started loping back across the ridge and Jesus jumped up to chase him. When they reached the slope that led back to the village road they both ran faster and faster down the increasing decline.

Back in the village Zacharias and Joseph strolled along to stretch their legs. As they passed the last house they could see in the distance a small cloud of rising dust descending the hill that rose where the path swerved east to go around it. A large flock of sheep crossed it at the foot of the hill. The shepherds and their dogs herded them toward the pastures along the west side of the ridge where the olive orchard provided some shade near a spring.

Zacharias’ old eyes could make out little detail, “What is that coming down the hill?”

“All I see are arms and legs flying about but I believe that’s our boys,” Joseph replied. “I’ll be surprised  if they don’t end up crashed on one of the boulders they are leaping over.”

John and Jesus recklessly let gravity pull them down the slope ever faster, jumping over  rocks and bushes, dodging trees and clefts in their trajectory. Almost every step required some subtle re-direction to avoid disaster. They smashed through thorny clumps of acanthus brush and acacia trees, leaving welts and scratches to tend later. Some footfalls fell square on a boulder requiring them to leap from it, not knowing how to manage the next landing. It felt as though they could launch into flight if only they had wings. They laughed and yelped out of sheer exhilaration. Nearing the bottom of the hill they headed for the trail and realized too late that dozens of sheep blocked their way back to the village. Slowing not a bit John plunged into the flock now frantically scattering in every direction before him. Jesus chased him right through the pandemonium.

Dogs barked furiously not knowing which way to direct the sheep, shepherds cursed waving their arms wildly, and the sheep leaped all about with wide-eyed baying. John continued to race to the village but Jesus stopped, becoming aware of the mess they had made. He began to herd some of the scattered sheep back toward the shepherds. In a little while with the help of the dogs the shepherds once again gathered together their flock.

John, no longer hearing Jesus behind him, turned and watched. Then he continued on toward his home and encountered the two men.

Zacharias: “John, do they need your help?” Zacharias found that John responded to this gentle form of remonstrance more positively than a direct comeuppance.

John: “Yes, father” sighing he turned and went back.

After they had collected the flock and moved it to the spring the shepherds counted off the ewes and lambs. Staring at John one of them angrily shouted, “There is a lamb missing.”

One of the shepherd boys John had seen previously with the flocks pulled Jesus’ arm and yelled at them both, “Come on we’ve got to find it!”

They looked for a long time and were getting worried. Then Joseph and Zacharias walked up to the boys. Joseph carrying the lamb asked, “Is this what you’re looking for?”

The shepherd boy yelped in delight and took the lamb in his arms and ran back to the flock, “Father we found Gideon!!”

The shepherd still irritated nodded to Joseph and then glared at John and Jesus.
“This lamb fell off a small bluff into a stream a week ago and the water carried him into a small canyon. I knew he was going to die. Jacob, my son here, jumped in struggling downstream toward the rapids. When the water took him under, I thought I was going to lose him too. I lost sight of both the lamb and the boy. I can’t swim, neither can Jacob…” his voice broke a bit and he paused, “I had to climb out and go around the wadi. When I got to the other end I climbed down to the stream and there he was wading to shore with the lamb in his arms. The lamb’s mother was killed by a wolf when it was a new born. Jacob was able to get it to drink milk from a small pouch and kept it alive.”

John said, “I’m… I’m sorry. How can I repay you?”

The shepherd was quiet, surprised by this turn of heart. He looked at John and Zacharias, who had come up behind the boy and put his hands on his shoulders, and realized this was the son of a priest.

“You can teach my son the Torah. We observe the Sabbath when we can, attend synagogue even less, but he has no time for the lessons. You’ll have to teach him in the fields”

Zacharias smiled and squeezed John’s shoulders gently, “He’ll be there tomorrow. The Lord blesses those who believe His word.” They left and with Joseph and Jesus returned to the village.

“John, when we get back to the house your mother needs your help.”

“Yes, father, but I must go to the miqveh first. Come on Jesus,” and the two of them scampered off.

Joseph gave Zacharias a quizzical look as they proceeded back to the village.

“John has not brought uncleanness into the home since he was old enough to understand. Which means he visits the miqveh almost every day.” Zacharias smiled and rubbed the back of his neck, “I used to worry a lot about him, like you do about Jesus, but he is strong and seems invincible. I think his angels must be fierce, he is always outdoors. He is a bright boy, too. He respects the Law and studies hard.”

“Yes,” Joseph replied, “as does Jesus when there is time. There is much to do in the shop and he’s become a very productive helper.”

“They are good lads, Joseph. Would that I could live to see their day.”

“We have our time Zacharias. We have our time with them.”