To paraphrase the thirteenth apostle,

is it in fact not I who live,

but the universe that lives in me?

When my eyes sense light,

does the universe not see?

When my ears feel vibrations,

does the universe not hear?

When I use language and solve problems,

is the universe thinking?

Is my sadness its sadness,

my joy, its joy?

If I see the obvious—

that I’m an expression of the universe,

an “incarnation of all eternity”—

does that truth set me free?

Inspired by, and quote in the next to last line from, The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts

Holy Land

Something in me yearns for desert,

for the bare side of the mountain,

satisfied more by cactus flower

than by rainforest orchid.

I feel kinship with open sky

and warm dry sandy soil

where each life is occasion for joy

and even rocks and tumbleweed speak.

I’m intrigued by beginnings—

foundations, definitions, axioms—

and bored by endless theorems

that follow because they must.

I need to keep it simple,

nothing unnecessary.

The less I know,

the better.


What is this thing offered to the faithful

to replace mortality, the life we know?

Is it constancy like a portrait,

motionless throughout eternity?

Or is it somehow a series of beginnings

without endings?

Don’t we know that

hidden inside every beginning

is a necessary ending,

that we can’t avoid endings

without foregoing beginnings?

If we’re lucky (or God is good),

we won’t get our wish,

lest our victory,

in the greatest of all ironies,

be swallowed up

in final death.

Yo, Hafiz,… Dude

[thunderous applause,

of one hand clapping]

Check it out!

[applause subsides]

Here’s what I think, Hafiz:

I love the way you own the stage.

You sing, you dance, you play your magic flute,

and sometimes even laugh and roll in the fields.

And your singing—your singing—always on pitch,

never fails to surprise me with its bright, rowdy,

tender sounds, making ordinary things new.

From your cupid’s quiver of metaphors

you pull God, sometimes as love,

sometimes as beauty,

sometimes joy,

the beloved,












the hidden,

a child playing tag, everything.

I love your enthusiasm for this dream.

And I love the way you tease orthodoxy

till it sees the error of its ways.

But I confess I still don’t get the God thing.

I don’t see the need for the extra name, the attribution;

it seems unnecessary, forced, and therefore false.

But don’t get me wrong, Hafiz. I’m a huge fan of yours.

You most definitely rock. You rule. You kick butt.

You are indeed the “prettiest mule in town.”

Inspired by, and quote in last line from, The Gift, Poems by Hafiz, the great Sufi Master,

Translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Spreading the Good News

OK, I see I’m one with the universe;

I really do. I’m aware of my connections

in time and space, and I know I’m not as

separate as my mind makes me out to be.

But my wife doesn’t know that.

My boss doesn’t see it. And neither do

my creditors, the IRS, or street evangelists.

They all act like I’m as separate as can be.

Can somebody please tell them?


(Death to Self Reborn)

If I see I’m image-made,

will I die while living;

struggle to maintain my self

or give up more than willing?


“I need something bigger.”

So I offer myself, inches taller,

and the mountain, sky, humankind.

“OK, not just bigger, but

something that can provide comfort,

assure me everything will be all right.”

But everything isn’t all right, is it? I mean it

already isn’t and therefore can never be.

Or else it is, without preconception.

Why long for what can no longer be,

or what by faith always is,

when each moment comes

pure and unnamed?

In the Wild

If druthers were dragons (or wishes were horses),

I’d live in those spacious, transparent places

that make up nearly all the universe

but are seldom occupied.

I’d stretch out my arms between good and bad,

right and wrong, this belief and that, you and me.

In that quiet, wide nothingness between pigeonholes,

I’d remain a novice, absent desire, eternally a virgin.

I’d lie down between electrons, constellations,

where no tame thing encumbers experience,

where there are no dogmas, no knowns,

no words, no letters to kill the spirit.

Religious Art

(Martha’s Rocking Chair)

In the afternoon’s bright paneled light,

in a niche beyond human reach,

sits an antique rocking chair.

There it waits for the coming of the likechild,

for that part in us that’s light enough,

still given enough to imagination,

to leap to its seat

and rock,


in that small space

that opens

to the whole world.

Your Mote, My Beam

After our Greek guide showed us

the rocky island created by Poseidon

when he turned a Phaeacian ship to stone,

Christians among us noted that Greeks

recount mythology as though it were history.

The pot

calling the kettle.

Using Protection

(Safe Theology)

Four times in the last seventeen years

Harold Camping predicted the end of the world.

He keeps making the same mistake—

claiming something that’s easily tested.

Most Christians know better.

Our long-time preacher friend

accepts that there was an Adam and Eve,

a mythological pair in a mythological garden,

a story he can safely claim is true.

Tennessee innkeepers play

“And He walks with me and He talks with me,”

but it’s an inner place where no one suggests

you can see Him walk or hear Him talk.

A guest of the inn, an entertainer turned singing pastor,

does George Beverly Shea proud before breakfast

when he belts out “How Great Thou Art”

with sentiments that can’t be denied.

Every week congregations recite creeds

affirming beliefs as far removed from observation

as the Psalmist’s east is from the west,

nicely tucked behind walls of the unknowable.

The Reverend Canon Brian Mountford,

vicar of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin

validates theologies of aesthetics, morality, and community,

welcoming atheists into the conversation about meaning.

And the judges have reached their decision—

the safe theology award,

the metaphorical God award,

the stick-to-your-feelings award,

the show-Mr-Camping-how-it’s-done award,

goes to….      

Winter Solstice

Long night transcended,

star’s return trimmed as Christmas—

earth’s nativity.

When Time Shall Be No More

Just an FYI:

without time, nothing happens,

in case that matters.


“How can you know right from wrong,”

asks my very smart Christian friend,

“if you have no God to tell you?”

“But I don’t know,“ I say,

“right from wrong,

or anything else.”

It’s knowing that’s on the cross,

very savior from the hell

of contradiction,


of the fruit

of Eden.

“For as in

knowing all die,

so in not knowing

shall all be made alive.”

“Therefore take up your cross,

sacrifice knowing, be forsaken,

and follow me.”


Therapist’s advice:

lower your expectations

so life’s not so small.


Paradox and grace--

this atheist’s substitutes

for mere miracle.

The Good Samaritan

When my new Episcopalian friend

wanted to illustrate Jesus’ point,

he tried “the good Muslim” and

“the good Republican”

or “Democrat.”

But he knew he’d hit pay dirt

with his last suggestion:

“the good atheist.”

Take that,

priests and Levites

(Moses, Aaron, Samuel,

Ezekiel, Ezra, Miriam,

John the Baptist,

Matthew, Mark),

an atheist as

the model for


I didn’t know whether

to be honored or insulted;

what is for most an oxymoron

became for this man an

instructive paradox.

It almost makes me want

to share the Eucharist with him

if only,



if only

his precious

church would

let me.

“So bright... so beautiful... ah, Precious.”

“Master betrayed us. Wicked. Tricksy, False. We ought to wring his filthy little neck. Kill him! Kill him! Kill them both! And then we take the precious... and we be the master!”

Gollum in The Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

“Anything Can Happen If You Let It”

Those who think

the universe couldn’t have happened

without an intelligent designer

obviously haven’t seen

Mary Poppins.

A Leisurely Walk


“It’s a perfect stroll,”

she said, about my walk.

Taken by surprise, temporarily freed

from protocol, I said, “Yeah. It is.

It’s a perfect stroll.”

And it was—what can I say?

It was one of those mornings,

one of those moods, that translates

necessarily into a walk that’s without will,

without intention, without effort.

It’s true I once read whole books about walking—

when I was exploring theater in college—

about how to push your knees back,

about using your toes to walk faster,

about looking back to feel fear.

But I’ve also read Jesus

and Thich Nhat Hanh and Krishnamurti

and remember something my Dad said when I was a teenager,

so I know the perils of discipline, the value of surrender,

the wisdom of losing one’s life.

When this stranger applauded my empty ramble,

it struck home, engaged my heart, brought my life together.

It made me wonder if it might be worth a lifetime

to do nothing more than model,

periodically, a perfect stroll.

But soon I realized what I had just done.

I had turned my mindless meandering into an ideal,

my aimless amble into a worthy purpose,

my leisurely walk into a perfect stroll

to be remembered and repeated.

In one swell swoop I had unlearned everything.

I found a new discipline to occupy my mind

and cleverly reconstructed my lost life.

Well done, mind. Well done, self.

But you didn’t go unnoticed!


It hasn’t escaped my attention that even this poem

including this stanza, is another attempt to save my life.

Remember that childhood game where the first person

to say something loses? Let’s try it. Starting now.

Starting right...now.

People of Faith

If faith is the willingness

to live without knowing,

then every a-theist

is its poster child.


When you preach the love of Jesus

as “the love of Jesus,”

it’s no longer the love of Jesus.

When you tout Buddha nature

as “Buddha nature,”

it’s no longer Buddha nature.

When you personify what you hold dear

as “Yahweh” or “Allah” or “Krishna,”

it’s no longer what you hold dear.


When we see

the illusory nature

of our separate selves,

we become one with everything.

Eternal Life

Not death and rebirth,

not death and resurrection,

not death and reincarnation,

but endless dying.

“Those who lose their lives...will find them.”

Matthew 16:25

“Resist Not Those That Are Evil”

Krishnamurti might suggest that those

who want to follow Jesus’ advice

start with themselves.

Don’t resist your pride

by pursuing humility.

Don’t resist your hate

by pursuing love.

Don’t resist your anger

by pursuing reconciliation.

Don’t resist your violence

by pursuing nonviolence.

Don’t resist your self

with more self.



without choice,

then act, without intention.

The Unpardonable Sin

I finally figured out what it is—

that oversized, outrageous sin

against the human spirit—

it’s the persistent,



of words.

Shiver Me Timbers

Misanthropes ply seas

of words like pirates intent

on plunder, mayhem,

positing too much—

like gods and ultimate truth—

causing division.

As the Deer Pants for Water

When in a mystic mood I walked the woods

as a friable undergraduate at Messiah College

(our church’s answer to a liberal arts education),

I sometimes recited the first words of Psalm 42,

yearning with the poet king, whose dalliances

suggested he was very good at yearning,

for someone he and I called God.

I used the King James version, of course,

(“if it was good enough for the Apostle Paul,...”),

a translation that can still sing for me today:

“As the hart panteth after the water brooks,

so panteth my soul after thee, O God.”

The metaphor still says something

to this self-professed atheist.

Having lived long enough to notice

that suffering comes from desire and hope,

I’m not keen on yearning anymore, for God or truth

or love or holiness—for any ideal state of affairs.

So what is this panting that goes beyond desire,

that’s as strong as our animal need for water,

that seems essential to my survival?

It’s my enduring need to live in the world as one,

unfractured by thought into endlessly warring parts:

soul, mind, and body, life and death, hope and fear,

natural and supernatural, miracle and mundane,

believer (person of faith) and non-believer,

God and creation, sacred and profane,

good and evil, you and me.

Perhaps we all need the same thing—

feeling home in the universal wave,

deep calling unto deep,

countenanced by

the only living

(why say it?)


God as Figure of Speech




is just

a word,

a metaphor,


a kind of shorthand,

an algebraic placeholder,

a vessel for all we hold dear,

then arguments about

his existence



But If we forget,

even for a brief moment,

then our deeply held values,

our stone-etched rules for living,

are upstaged by a golden calf

that must be worshiped

and defended


Hat Trick


Humans are masters

of illusion—they pull them-

selves out of a hat.

Original Sin


Paintings are illusions.

Photographs are illusions.

Every piece of music is an illusion.

(If Vivaldi’s “Spring” were literally so,

I’d be playing it from January to mid-March.)

Everything we see, hear, and touch

is not what it seems to be.


Figures of speech frolic in the land of illusion—

metaphors pretend to be what they’re not;

hyperboles appear larger than they are;

personification wants to be human.

In fact, every word is an illusion—

“the word is not the thing”.


Some think illusions should be avoided,

but they weave the very tapestries of our lives.

We wouldn’t be human without art, music, theater,

mathematics, science, history, philosophy,

literature, religion and most of all

our sense of self.


But if we’re not content

with the illusory nature of our lives,

if we demand to be substantial and eternal,

if we insist on eating the indigestible fruit of knowing,

then we must also invent gods who are real enough

to inform us, save us, protect us, and preserve us;

and we must defend those gods at all costs.


Why spoil the universe’s consummate gift

by demanding that our illusions be real?

Isn’t it better to enjoy the wild ride

through our hall of mirrors?

Isn’t it more fun to revel

in the playground

of illusion?

Note: The quote in stanza two is from Science and Sanity by Alfred Korzybski.


Commitment to truth

can be measured by how well

one practices doubt.

Wrongful Death


to live life

on my own terms

is to blaspheme against

the human spirit,

for which





Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? [holding up one finger] This.

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.

Mitch: That’s great, but what is the one thing?

Curly: That’s what you have to find out.

One Thing

(The Secret of Life)


pure and simple

without deliberation

without comparison

without interpretation

without registering pleasure and pain

without like and dislike

without hurt and pride

without judgment

without naming

without choice

without you

and me



which is love

which is everything

which is immeasurable

Born Again

(Present Perfect)

Some people want to know

about my “struggles with belief,”

about how I came to be an atheist.

I think atheism is my natural state,

the state in which I was born

and have been reborn.

Mystics have long seen

that it’s not about belief,

not even about what you do.

It’s about who you are—

not who you make yourself to be,

but who you realize you’ve always been.

Two Sides, Same Coin




May your joy

be as deep as your sorrow,


your peace as pervasive

as your discontent,


your faith as sure

as your unbelief,


and your life as rich

as your dying.


“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”


            Mathew 5:3-6




Trying to Get It Right

(For Whom the Warning Bell Tolls)



that I’ve


my three





I’m not sure

which is worse—


running out of time

while I still have things to do


or running out of things to do

while I still have time.

Say What??

Some argue that

to protect our freedom

we have no choice but to accept

the risk of nuclear annihilation.

Consider the Grass

(South Cape May Meadows)

I think Jesus too

must have walked

with arms outstretched,

a gentle openhearted cross

caressed by seeds on fire

with evening sun.



Every moment

the first,


A Fist of Air

Naming the immeasurable

is always in vain—the tighter you squeeze,

the less you hold.

Coitus Interruptus


Conflict breeds self,

and self breeds conflict—

a symbiotic begetting

interrupted only by


Freethinkers’ Last Hope

(and one to get us started)

Can community

be built around shared questions

instead of answers?



and innocence—


Gobsmackingly Simple

To experience

the immeasurable,

simply stop...


A Rose by Any Other Name

When I don’t

identify with ego,

I reside in a place

of many names:

true self,

original nature,

the immeasurable,

universal consciousness,

emptiness, nothingness,

the kingdom of God,

the mind of Christ,

the unconditioned,

Buddha nature,

amazing grace,


the uncaused,

the unknown,

the ineffable,







no self,




Any place

with so many names

deserves another.

I call it home.

Is It Not the Communion?

My separate self

relishes relationship;

my original nature,


“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”


            I Corinthians 10:16

Above My Pay Grade

When I call myself an atheist,

I mean to say that God talk

makes no sense to me,

so I don’t engage in it.

It’s as simple

as that.


Each of us

wants to know we’re OK,

or more than OK, special

cherished, admired, appreciated,

right about the important things,

morally flawless, beautiful

the long expected one,

the perfect sacrifice.


Poetry copyrighted by Dale Bicksler, 2017                                  Poetry Themes