Spirituality, Imagination, and Pole-Dancing

I think often, and occasionally pontificate, on the spiritual practice of creativity; the places they mutually inform and intersect, the artesian possibilities of art-making. It has been for me a means of keeping a few useful items on my mental table, known to topple over from time to time. It means reading. Lots of reading. Further, it means writing about and because of what I read.

Some of the best stuff gets a chance to percolate, and then regurgitate back onto the page. In the process, some of that wordy goodness forces its way into me. Into who I am becoming. Why I am becoming. And for whom.

Two prevalent ideas in American society are mutually exclusive: spirituality and capitalism. They are the philosophical bed-mates of spirituality and profitability (otherwise known as the New Age Movement or the Christian publishing industry), or sex and time management (although it would be fun to explore the correlation). 

Even as one who writes about this stuff quite regularly, when the best considerations come along, it behooves me to sit back and let them have at it. Besides, what follows provides much of my reading fare these days and finds its way into my own words anyway. Part of that fare is a weekly email from a website called Brain Pickings. It is dedicated to those things that titillate, inspire, educate, and sometimes enrage.


Today’s offering, excerpted from Ursula K. Le Guin’s book, Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000–2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week contains a stimulating quote that makes this point.

In America, the imagination is generally looked on as something that might be useful when the TV is out of order. Poetry and plays have no relation to practical politics. Novels are for students, housewives, and other people who don’t work. Fantasy is for children and primitive peoples. Literacy is so you can read the operating instructions. I think the imagination is the single most useful tool mankind possesses. It beats the opposable thumb. I can imagine living without my thumbs, but not without my imagination.

I hear voices agreeing with me. “Yes, yes!” they cry. “The creative imagination is a tremendous plus in business! We value creativity, we reward it!” In the marketplace, the word creativity has come to mean the generation of ideas applicable to practical strategies to make larger profits. This reduction has gone on so long that the word creative can hardly be degraded further. I don’t use it any more, yielding it to capitalists and academics to abuse as they like. But they can’t have imagination.

Imagination is not a means of making money. It has no place in the vocabulary of profit-making. It is not a weapon, though all weapons originate from it, and their use, or non-use, depends on it, as with all tools and their uses. The imagination is an essential tool of the mind, a fundamental way of thinking, an indispensable means of becoming and remaining human.

Good stuff, right?


Because I knew some excess debt-stress would be great for my spiritual development I took a master’s degree. In Spiritual Formation and Leadership. You know, ’cause…why not, right? It was the altruistic alternative to nautical knot-tying or selling chain-link fence. In truth, it was three of the best years of my adult life. But, already, I digress.

One of the courses necessary for graduation (the only one with the word leadership even attached), offered no small consternation for me. The required texts were bent on forcing spiritual practice onto corporate America like pole dancer nipple pasties (yes, I note that collective groan). I swore to the nipple gods that, should I read one more shitty leadership book that culls its guiding principles from some guy who made millions building chairs, I’d learn pole-dancing myself while reading it aloud in the village square.

For leadership, give me Desmond Tutu, Ernest Shackleton, Rosa Parks, Ghandi, Maya Angelou, or Martin Luther King, Jr. any day over these assholes. For imagination, give me the spiritual practice of creativity, art-making divorced from some lesser ideal. Teach me the riches of poetry for its own sake. Take me to the canvas because, in its pulsating emptiness, I find my fullness. Stuff words in my mouth and place me on a stage where I can act out my inadequacies. Drop me on a dance floor so I can shake out my sins and sweat out my aggression. Let our imagination provide the deus ex machina to our profit-lust, the perceived non sequitir of truth and beauty over pragmatism and effectiveness.

Lead me to beauty because the water’s good, not because it enhances my time management skills.


One Stop Shop Blog Hop

So, this is part of a fun blogger’s initiative called a “Blog Hop.” Here’s how it works. I was invited by writer/poet friend, Lesley-Anne Evans, to join what amounts to a writer’s pyramid scheme. The rules of the game? Tag three other bloggers, all of whom will answer four questions about writing and the writing process. We post two weeks after the previous crew. Therefore, every two weeks, the number of bloggers posting grows exponentially!

The goal is simple – to connect writers who blog in a tighter community and hopefully, enrich others looking for answers to their own writing questions.   Lesley-Anne is a gifted writer and poet who spends much of her time beautifying neighborhoods, cafes, street corners…wherever really, with poetry “installations.” She also does a fun thing called “Pop-up Poetry.” To see her contribution, click here.  

We begin:

1) What am I working on? 

Light Write, June 26/14
Light Write poetry/photography exhibition, June 26/14

These days, apparently, poetry is the language I speak. I’m learning to speak this language with more weight (as Lesley-Anne would say!), clarity, and authenticity. But also, simplicity. The degree to which my language learning translates into quality production remains to be seen. But, like my poetry, I’m a work in progress.  

I’m pleased and proud to be an active participant in the process of broadening the literary/artistic voice in the Yakima Valley. This is a valley of varied, often harsh, beauty. Many poets, writers, artists, and musicians have stepped up to sing her praises. Recently I was chosen as one of thirty-four poets to contribute poetry for a mixed media art show featuring the work of local photographers. The event? Light Write. Read more about it here.

A snapshot of my work and process will soon be available on an exciting new Facebook chat room, Altarwork.  Alongside finishing a new EP with my son, Calum as producer, I’m working on a book of sacred prayers, poetry and liturgy, listening for a book of poetry to emerge with the working title, The Beauty of Wasted Space and helping my wife in her own process of writing a novel.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Piper Renee-Richmond and I at Light Write
Performing at Light Write with Piper Renee-Richmond

On one level, I’m not so sure it does. However, as a poet, I am deeply influenced by old school poets. But, I seek to bring their influence to my own emerging voice, all the while writing in more contemporary genres. It gives a certain “traditional non-conventionality” to it.

I am an advocate of language for its own sake. The beauty of the words themselves brings a joy that predates the images and meanings derived from those meanings. But I also love the challenges offered poets from adapting ideas and thoughts to preexisting forms. It’s my tip of the hat to iambic pentameter, triangle poetry, Haiku or sonnets!

3) Why do I write what I do?

My words here will echo every other writer I’ve ever heard who’ve answered this question. I write because it is a compulsion. That compulsion might be out of anger or frustration surrounding some issue about which I need to weigh in, usually for my own conscience! More often than not I write because I’m inspired to ‘word up’ what I see in the world around me. My experience of that world yields a seemingly endless supply of emotional detritus needing to find its way out. When it does, I’m either writing and/or composing.

For me, poetry is contemplative prayer. It is as much a spiritual exercise as it is literary, and one of the primary ways by which I connect to my center and to the Sacred Center of all things. What is most freeing about this arrangement is how seriously and, at the same time, laissez faire, I can take my approach to the art. At least right now, it grows from much that is yet un-mined in my spirit. If you’re okay with it, I am too.

4) How does my writing process work?

Assuming the process actually does “work”, it differs depending upon what I write. It has also changed. In terms of poetry, it is becoming more about less. It was at one time a game of output. Now, it’s more about input. I read much more poetry than I ever write.

Composing prose is more an act of ‘pin the tail on the donkey.’ I chase around an elusive gem that needs to be caught, tamed just enough to stay on the page, and released back into the world for the consumption of other hungry readers. I have discovered that writing works best for me when I simply barf up whatever is bubbling in my literary stomach and then ‘read the leavings’ for anything substantial, worthy of further consideration. I’m not generally an outline kinda guy!

Well, that’s it for now. Thanks for listening! For the next stop on the blog hop, I’ve tagged the following stellar individuals.

Seymour Jacklin is one of those delightful serendipities. A fellow ex-pat, he is becoming my friend alongside his considerable skill as a poet, blogger, editor, educator, and story-teller. We’re also mutual fans and players of Celtic music! Hear him play right…here.

Kelly Belmonte is a recent friend, having met online as mutual admirer’s of one another’s work. She’s a wonderful writer and a deep soul. But, rather than just tell you, you need to go and discover more about her right…here.

Paul Bowman and I began a friendship journey in 2008 when sharing a cohort in an MA in Spiritual Formation and Leadership from Spring Arbor University. We’ve since graduated from that program and are supportive of each other’s quest to spread salt and light through words to a thirsty world. Find out more about him, his writer-wife and gorgeous kids right…here.  


If the next blog hop posts aren’t up by July 14, please check again in a few days.  Thanks for playing along and your support of online writing!

Your valley-scented breath

Last evening I had the honor of participating in a local effort, here in Yakima, featuring the work of 30 poets of which I was one. We each were assigned a photograph, also by local artists, and tasked to produce a piece that was representative of that photo. It was a fun affair and drew many poetry/photography/art enthusiasts who drank local wine and beer and otherwise supported a great cause: The Yakima Light Gallery. The name of the event was Light Write

The event

The following was my offering (image not included for copyright reasons, and so as not to infringe upon the Gallery’s intention to gain physical viewers…at least until after September!).


Your valley-scented breath

Your valley-scented breath, raspy, wind-dried and whiskered,

blusters loudly, secrets untethered from your mountain mistress,


haughty and aloof. Your nose, veiled and distant,

thrust shamelessly into the virgin air,


undrapes an impish, powdered face,

intruding on the lesser ones.


Lacking restraint, you choose to hold back nothing.

Instead, winking impudently, you shrug in brazen withdrawal


and tilt the globe to burnish your burnt, brown breast –

glacial bosom, alive, rising above the depths


of the hot belching earth, quivering in silence but

creased with ten thousand yesterdays. Dug deep


into your dark maw, full of old light and new promises,

there boasts a hardscrabble domain. You wear pitted patterns


like a tiara, dousing noon-day heat in cowboy spittle.

There’s a mischievous glint in eyes drawn tight against


a yawning sky where your introspections crouch,

petitioning their release from dusty shelves.


As the choir of stones sings the well-worn songs,

a valley coos, relaxing on your grizzled lap.


An untidy blouse of wayward blue

billows out willing, mottled, stretched across


the scarred loom of your ancient back.

There, there it is we shall walk.


There, where sallow cheeks of star-burnt faces

hide themselves behind the paint of the green years.


Silly fool! What lips have you to kiss these wandering feet,

still too soft, that bleed at your touch?


So, cough up your tumbleweed tales of

desperado dances and roughneck rambles.


Let your thin, dry tongue trace lightly in meandering lines,

the long-forgotten stories of mound-bellied earth,


unaccustomed to such attention. Only then would you

blush and turn the other cheek.

©Robert Alan Rife, May, 2014

The event 2

 The Poets 

The poets



Poetry: rebuilding the world through the un-wasted beauty of redemptive syntax, cont.

When, as a boy, I was expected to be cleaning my room, doing homework, weeding the garden or any of a host of other chores, I would more often than not be listening to music in my room. Or, perhaps I’d be teaching myself to sing like Robert Plant or Burton Cummings or Dan Fogelberg. I might have been writing music once I got to Junior High School or touring as a musician by the time I was a senior in High School. Suffice it to say, art, music, poetry – literature in general has shaped my life and provided many hours of delight and avoidance. It’s the mirror into which I’ve learned to see my own face. It’s also the looking glass through which I’ve learned to see others.

Music and poetry can become for all of us an answer to our disheveled hatreds, our worn out prejudices, our tired judgements and our need for a language with which to say, I see you.

Traveling light in serpentine winds

Traveling light in serpentine winds

this haughty craft, held aloft, sequestered

inside hints of journey’s end.


Earth’s edges, blunter now but rippled and dented,

provide the places safe to sing

the bawdy songs of youth, sung too soon, before

the second hand is wasted on the whirling clock.


Were it anything more than salvageable

solitudes, trapped in their dusty orbs,

such voices might bloat to consume me,

dine on my liver with older words,

rich but thick and unchartered.


So then, forage I shall for colors unmuted,

songs yet without voice, paths full-trod, seen with

eyes withholding nothing but a flute and a scalpel.

One to begin, the other to end

the sharper edges of this catastrophic

beauty – this undulating goodness.


I think I’ll take a walk.

Till Breaks the Dawn

scottish shepherd









Till breaks the dawn

(Text ©2013, Robert A. Rife; Music: Bonny Banks and Braes)

Till breaks the dawn from eve to morn,

there walks the Lord in shimmering tide.

He leads me now, in hope reborn,

and in his bosom I, safe, abide.

* * *


With tender voice, he calls my name,

no other voice my confidence has won.

Till dark of evening brings the same,

abides he here till breaks the dawn.

 * * *

Oft have I left my Shepherd’s side,

to roam alone, in valleys of pain;

‘tis then he calls, his crook, my guide,

and brings me to his side again.

* * *


How low and still, he bids me stay,

and feast upon the hills, a son.

When dark of evening calls my name,

abides he here till breaks the dawn.

Picture: www.jeanneisley.com

Shout Your Hosanna!

 A little late I suppose but still worthwhile I hope. This is a hymn text I wrote ten years ago for Palm Sunday.


Shout Your Hosanna!                                                                    

Music: Trad. Gaelic Melody (Morning Has Broken); Text: ©2003, Robert Alan Rife

Shout your Hosanna! Sing with elation!

Watch the Messiah humbly ride forth.

Loudly proclaiming, “Love rides victorious

into the city, Jesus is Lord”!


Shout your Hosanna! Jubilant voices!

Palms wave in blessing, enter the King.

Incarnate wonder, sits on a donkey,

let no one silence praises we sing.


Shout your Hosanna! Come, son of David!

Soon to be offered up for us all.

Power and glory, once were Your garment,

soon to be broken, Savior of all.

“The Poet”

This piece by Kate Harris comes from a favorite blog of mine, Art House America, and is just too rich not to share here in my own little creative corner of the cyber world. I hope you glean as much from it as I did…and will for some time to come.


“Not simply because it reminds me of those happy, familiar sparks of gladness in my own heart, but more because it reminds me that the job of the poet — of the artist — while weighty and significant on a grand scale, is really first and foremost a work of invitation. The poet is one who toils and works and feels and sorts through all manner of things seen and unseen and then welcomes others in, beckons them, calls to them, “Come and see what I can see!”


     This invitation echoes a greater invitation by the first of all creators who begs us to see as He sees, to love as He loves. The poet, the artist-prophet, mirrors Him as closely as anyone — seeking to see rightly and truthfully, to give proper expression to that vision, and finally to invite others in to those experiences such that they might be changed. It is a worthy endeavor….The poet is one who gives us new eyes to see, who helps us make sense of what we experience, and who invites others to see more deeply into what it is that their experiences mean.

In the delight and joy of those who ever strive to see and tell, R


Photo: Steve Garber

Psalm 1:1-3, a litany of confession








Photo found at www.awesomestories.com


In humility and faith, let us confess our sins to God and neighbor.


©2008 by Robert A. Rife

Kyrie eleison, eleison;

Christe eleison, eleison;

Kyrie eleison, eleison.



Lord, have mercy, have mercy on us;

Christ, have mercy, have mercy on us;

Lord, have mercy, have mercy on us.


Psalm 1:1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,

God of holiness, goodness and light,

forgive us for our wanton disregard

of all that is good, acceptable and perfect: your perfect will.

Forgive those times we willingly submit

to that which is beneath our humanity and less

than your expectation, design and desire for our lives.

…or take the path that sinners tread,

Lord of grace,

many have walked the easy and dark road of hate, sin and neglect.

Forgive the ease with which we, too, walk such roads.

…or sit in the seat of scoffers;

Holy One,

if we stay long enough in places less than

our creation, our calling, our creed,

we succumb to skepticism, unbelief and eventually

cynical denial of truth, beauty and goodness.

Guide us away from such horrifying places and open our eyes

to the glory of life-giving love encased in the tenderness of grace.

2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.

Lord, you are all our delight and the one in whom we revel and rejoice!

3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,

which yield their fruit in its season,

and their leaves do not wither.

In all that they do, they prosper.

Let this life yield its fruit in us, O Lord;

revive all that is dead in us, restoring us to greatness in your name.


Singing together:

Lord, have mercy, have mercy on us;

Christ, have mercy, have mercy on us;

Lord, have mercy, have mercy on us.


Kyrie eleison, eleison…

When a song knows you

On that rare occasion when comes a song that catches in your throat and your moistened eyes lift; your heart swells and your tongue cleaves in silence to the roof of your dry, gaping mouth, one can only listen…

Music has wafted its way through the corridors of this boy’s life without either asking permission or signing a release form. At any given moment a particular song or sonata or ambient guitar piece has bored a hole into the otherwise forbidden regions of my soul where God doesn’t even like to go. And it stays. It stays and plays, disturbing the water leaving manuscripted ripples of memories repressed or forgotten, faces attached to long lost friends, pieces of time squandered and scattered on the floor.

I don’t mean to sound sullen for music has also drawn, even driven me, by the Spirit into all manner of delightful wilderness as well. It leaves its mark gently, but insistently, borrowing from what it knows will always push my heart into the deep end where my affections direct my thoughts and together, meet my will.

And I am changed.

It does seem a little more than mere serendipity when just the right lyric encased in the perfect package of notes, irrepressibly good and right, finds its way to my hungry ears. There is that moment of instant recognition. Someone knows this, has felt this before me and I am not alone. At these times a kinship is unveiled. Someone is already walking with me along pathways I had thought previously untraveled, and soothes me in the knowledge that they’re only unknown to me. Others have traversed these waters, even successfully, and been found by God, waiting on the other side; the same God you may have inwardly chided for his conspicuous absence, barely perceivable as you stumbled and groped along.

I remember the first time I ever heard Bridge Over Troubled Water. It occurred to me how duped I had been into believing I had already heard the best song ever, which at the time might have been the Thomas, the Tank Engine theme song. I was seven years old and nothing would ever be the same. I begged my parents to purchase the album (now extinct flat, black disc-like things with countless grooves magically holding music).

The next similarly visceral encounter was my discovery of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring by…well, I had no idea then. Cliché as it might be among the classical music elite, no one can deny, in good conscience, the genius and mystical profundity of the piece. To this day it shatters me every time I hear it.

I was captured again when, on a drive from Calgary to Cranbrook, B.C., I encountered Bach’s Wedding Cantata and the opening Kyrie of Schubert’s Mass in Ab for the first time. To say I was captivated would be an understatement of hyperbolic proportions. I had to pull the car over, so spellbound was I at the unforgivably beautiful refrains. My love affair with this music continues unabated.

You may think it trite by comparison but, lately, my descent into a blubbering, snotty mess has been evoked by a simple little song, We Were Better Off, by Elenowen, a barely known duo. It has taken its place among those selections added to Rob’s warning,-this-one-guarantees-tears-so-avoid-public-places playlist. Go ahead, listen and tell me what you think. I dare you to do so without at least a hint of connection. If you feel nothing at all, you’re either at the pre-coffee stage of your day, a grumpy pragmatist, or a zombie (no pressure).

Music, like the people with whom we share it, comes at the most unexpected times. And, when it does, my self-imposed melancholy is banished if only for a moment as the notes probe places left unexplored and I am placed under God’s laser-specific microscope. Now that’s theology. If I were to say at those times that I now knew this song, it is then God reminds me that, in fact, it is the song that knows me.

Da signe al fine.