Josiah was really quiet in the other room just now, and then he said, “I count eight bluebirds.” I joined him, and he pointed out not only eight, but more than a dozen, in the branches of the sycamore and the walnut, on the ground beside the shop, in a patch of yellow aconite. And all the while someone else–house finch, perhaps–was singing a spring song. Spring is on its way. Listen for the things the morning birds are telling you, feel it in the breezes, even on a chilly day. It’s coming.
1. The great cloudowl, one morning last week, that flew above us in the morning sunrise, grey feathers spread above the coming sun, magenta belly borne by the sun rays rising.
2. Pretzels with creamy pub-style horseradish
3. My incredible students. Students Council sells singing serenades for Valentines Day, and all day Friday, my classes were briefly and beautifully interrupted by wandering minstrels singing love songs.
4. The Emergency Women’s Shelter. Volunteers staff a 40-person shelter in St. Mary’s church social hall all through the coldest months of the year. This is a web, a safety net, a community basket.
5. Bluebirds waking into spring.
May we walk in Beauty!
My friend Sue asked me to weave some poems and bloggy bits together for a talk at her church this morning. The concept is Longing and Belonging: Creating a Culture of Care in Community. Here’s what I put together.
Culture of Care: Longing and Belonging
Good morning–I’ll start with a poem:
Take a breath
in the silence
of the room
of this moment
watch how the moments flow over you
when you release your grasp
on the one ahead
watch how the space of this room
takes shape around you
watch how your breath
blooms into the air
Feel the vast spaces within you,
waiting for you to enter
and experience who you are
in your deepest self.
Listen for the whisper
of your own voice
in the echoes of your dreams.
Stretch your hands up and out.
Draw in deep breaths.
Stretch and stretch.
You are larger on the inside.
First, I want to point out that I am a poet, not a preacher; not a theologian, but a dreamer. As an English teacher, I teach students to create a strong and arguable thesis, to develop careful supporting details and evidence, and to conclude their argument with a discussion of the implications and applications. When I approach questions that deal with inner landscapes and spiritual ideas, however, I am less likely to work in the realms of supportable arguments and more in the world of metaphor and image, spinning ideas of different colors and textures together to make a whole web. It’s less linear, and more circular–like a web. Some of what I am going to share today is prosey bits I’ve pulled off my blog, some is poetry–mine and others’–and some is connective tissue, more lines drawn to hold the web together. So, let’s speak of longing and belonging.
One of the phrases that Sue offered me for this morning was to consider how communities create cultures of care. Let’s draw a bright asterisk of shining strands with that one, the foundation strands of the web, anchored in human relationships of listening well, of speaking truth, of the deep desire for connection, of belongingness, and of knowing that we are beloved children of the Creator of the One Who Made Us.
Since we have just come through Valentine’s Day, here’s a little Valentine poem about the web of community:
To all my Valentines,
you and you and someone else:
we draw these webs between us,
made of chocolate and sunlight and tentative smiles
and the toothy grins of our children
and the hope of helping out a little bit
and seeking our roots and our sources together
and following traditions
and breaking traditions
and going a little bit wilder
and dancing until the chickens come home to roost.
When your heart goes skipping through windows,
you’ll know one of us is thinking of you.
One of the books I am reading at the moment is Matthew Fox’s Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God. While he finds whimsical and imaginative images as well as historically and theologically-based ones, I am pretty sure that he does not include Spider in his list. I hope no one here is too arachnophobic. But if we’re to spin out this metaphor into a strong web on this asterisk of community care which we have placed into the room, we have to place The Holy One at the center of the web, spiralling outward, still making the world, watching her strands, feeling the way the energy of the web shifts as breezes blow past and events occur along its lengths. And we, too, are spiders, spinning our own smaller webs among the spaces between us, emulating the one who Spun it all into being.
We live in a woodsy area, and we just can’t keep all the critters out of our old house. One morning, I walked in morning darkness into the kitchen, and right into a spider’s web. I wrote a little poem about it. I don’t think I knew at the time that I was writing about God.
All night the spider
spins her careful message,
stringing the gossamer web
across the kitchen:
You are not alone.
Fine strands connect you
to the Universe.
you belong in the net
of all that is.
Perhaps the spider had other ideas about the meaning of that event.
Before belonging is longing. The writer Starhawk says that the glue at the center of the universe is love, is desire, is the longing for connection. The Creator gives us a clue in the very structure of the atom, of particles whirling around a central core, continually seeking their source, longing toward center, drawn outward in the spin, but longing always inward. And in the center of our own human atoms, our individual webs, is that very craving for connection.
And sometimes that feels like a design flaw, doesn’t it? This deep longing we carry within us, that seems to be imprinted into the very strands of our DNA, when unfulfilled, leaves us feeling awkward at best, and cut off and isolated at worst.
The 12th century Persian Sufi poet Hafez writes of this longing in this poem. (This is a Daniel Ladinsky translation.) He also offers a way to respond to the sometimes overwhelming desire to be loved and noticed and accepted:
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise
Someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a
Full moon in each eye that is always saying,
With that sweet moon language, what every other eye in
This world is dying to hear?
So there, at the end of the poem, is the beginning of the answer to how to deal with the pain of the longing for belonging: To offer the words that everyone else is longing to hear. Build our own connections.
Contemporary US poet Martha Collins writes similarly in her poem “Lines”:
Draw a line. Write a line. There.
Stay in line, hold the line, a glance
between the lines is fine but don’t
turn corners, cross, cut in, go over
or out, between two points of no
return’s a line of flight, between
two points of view’s a line of vision.
But a line of thought is rarely
straight, an open line’s no party
line, however fine your point.
A line of fire communicates, but drop
your weapons and drop your line,
consider the shortest distance from x
to y, let x be me, let y be you.
What would our webs look like, were they all made visible? Connecting point to connecting point–what lines are drawn between ourselves and those who have gone before, between ourselves and others in the world today? Between ourselves and the planet? And God?
As we circle the lines of our webs outward, line to line, we move from the deep longing to offering belonging to others. The principal of the public elementary school where my fifth grader attends (he happens to be a Messiah College grad) taught his students the South African Zulu greeting, “Sawabona,” which means, “I see you.” The response is “Sawabona shikhona,” which seems to mean: “Because you see me, I am here.” Our ability to look at each other, to catch and hold eyes, is one of the possible keys to belongingness. What a powerful tool to offer to elementary students, a script for belonging and connection in each spoken greeting.
My good friend Gloria, a professor in EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, often signs off from our typed online conversations, “I See you,” capital S. It is neither a flip nor a throwaway greeting, but a deeply honoring gift, acknowledging our belonging to each other. What is this longing for belonging that we have encoded within us but a desire to be truly seen and cherished? I See you. How simple. Like Moana, we can look into the burning rubble of each other’s pain and say, “I know your name. I know who you truly are.”
Here’s a poem I wrote after a wonderful evening with a group of my college friends, a group of people who have offered each other an unconditional and unwavering belonging, love, tenderness:
Sit with your beloveds in a circle,
and feel the truth of how your hearts
are woven together
every bit as real as that basket
under the hall table
where a fine cat is purring.
You will hear the echoes
of the ego towers that have fallen,
see the memory of rubble in the eyes.
Say out loud, “I see you.”
Say, “I witness.”
Weave the new strands together.
See how your stories
are one singular tale.
Feel the starlight
making a net around you,
a silver basket reflecting your own.
When we build conscious webs of connection between ourselves, in churches, in classrooms, in families, in friendship groups, among strangers, we participate with the Creator in a mystical act of creation. We mirror the invisible webs of energy and force that surround us, that are built into the very structure of the created order. One of our greatest scientists–Albert Einstein–said that in the end, of all the natural forces present in the world, the greatest is love.
A year or two ago, I wrote a piece on my blog about how my church’s celebration of World Communion Sunday brought me into connection and community on a day when I was feeling a deep disconnect with US Christians. I feel a strong bond with the people of my church, but it had been a week of US Christians doing and supporting some pretty terrible and unjust things, and I was angry. While I have no problem taking communion with my church, I had a memory in my head of taking communion at Ephrata Mennonite Church, when we would file through the little room behind the pulpit, sit with the pastors and bishops, and answer the question, “Are you at peace with God and man?” I wasn’t feeling at all at peace with many men, and quite a few women, too. I wanted nothing to do with a wider communion that included people who could glibly support an administration that tore children from their parents and locked them up in detention centers. Even within my own beloved community, I wasn’t sure I could see through my rage to participate in a symbol of unity with Christians everywhere.
I’m pretty sure it was the bread that made me weep. The cup was on the table, but there was no bread. (Truth be told, I was already in tears by that time, from the moment of the offertory song: “She’s got the whole word in her hands.”)
“Today’s bread comes from all around the world,” they said. But where was the bread? It was not the lack of bread that made me weep, but the bringing of it. As they spoke of pita, and the Syrian people who have been caught between warring fronts for seven years, a mother brought her children and pita to the tables, children who have relatives in Lebanon, Syria’s neighbor and a country healing from its own civil war.
Then while a mother and her child brought tortillas, the bread of her homeland Honduras, to place upon the tables, they reverently recalled to us those from Central America who have suffered, whose children have been torn from parents’ arms when they come to our borders seeking safety.
And then while a father from Indonesia brought his son with steamed Indonesian bread for the tables, they spoke of the tsunami and devastation.
They reminded us of Puerto Rico and of hurricanes and of how it feels not to be believed when you tell your terrible stories, and a grandmother and her small one came forward with a baked loaf like we eat in the United States.
I thought perhaps I couldn’t take Communion today, I who want nothing to do with so many who call themselves followers of Jesus. I thought perhaps I shouldn’t. Perhaps the anger would keep me away from the table. Until the table was filled with bread and tears. Until grief stepped in to the place of anger, and I, too, felt like I could belong at the table.
When they are babies or small children, each child at my church is held and blessed by one of our pastors, and told: “You are known and loved by God.” You are known and loved by God. You are known. You are beloved. Whatever your word for that great and unknowable–but personal and tender–Mystery, know this today and always: The One who is the Source and Cause of all being, all Beauty, all Knowing, all Making, loves you. Knows you. As intimately as a painter who cherishes the tiny green dot of color in a painting, which she knows is there, which she placed there with purpose. You are deeply and singularly beloved. You are Seen, capital S.
There is a moment, in the baptism story of Jesus, when the Spirit of the Holy One appears in the form of a dove and speaks to those gathered, saying, “This is my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.” My prayer for you, for me, for all of us in this coming year, is that our significant dawnings and discoveries may be accompanied by the absolute shining certainty that we are the Beloved Children of the Universe. That the One who watches us, who wings above us, who blows through us, who shines light into our confusion and grief and fear, the spider at the center of the web of all that is, is well pleased with us. It is one of my most deeply held beliefs that this is true, although it is sometimes hard to hold onto. You are Beloved. I am Beloved.
I’m going to end with a poem I wrote one Thanksgiving as I was pondering the building of tables instead of walls. We are all the travellers and pilgrims. Like Moana and her people, we wander. And like Moana, we carry within us and upon us the maps which will bring us home to each other. And we are all of us the home, holding within us webs that reach outward to draw each other in.
Blessing for the Visitor
May you who wander, who sojourn, who travel,
may you who make your way to our door
find rest for your tired feet and weary heart,
food to fill your bellies and to nourish your minds,
and company to bring you cheer and inspiration.
May you find comfort for your sorrows,
belonging to ease your loneliness,
and laughter to bring you alive.
And when your feet find themselves again upon the road,
may they remember the way back to our door.