Some years, the messy beds out front have been filled with crocus by now, and windflowers were beginning. Even though I’ve been panicky about a spring come too early, I think perhaps my sense has been skewed. These two yellow crocus are the first in our beds, though on a drive through a residential neighborhood, we saw some yards just filled with crocus. I am always excited when they overflow the beds, but I have never seen them spill so carpet-like across the lawn. The aconite, at least, have begun to spread. When they go to seed, I will sprinkle seeds along the front bank and hope they come up there next spring. I think crocus spread underground. I will have to look that up.
Meanwhile, let’s spread beyond our bounds just a little bit today, shall we? Breathe in, breathe deeply. Hold it for a brief second. Breathe out. Expand. Send your breath and your roots and your seeds outward, beyond the tidy pathways that block growth. In. Hold. Out–Grow. Expand. You belong in the wide open spaces. What joy you bring to others as they see how you carpet your vast new green places.
Gratitude List: 1. I keep getting chunks of the work done. 2. This is show week. I’m tired already, but also excited to be part of the energy, and I love being part of something like this with my child (he’s on sound; I am singing in the pit). 3. I am applying for a writer’s thing this summer. There is very little chance that I will be chosen, but the daydreaming about it is giving me lots of energy and helping me to hold onto this piece of my identity with more intention. 4. How stretching and breathing work together, literally and metaphorically. 5. It’s 6:15, and the sun is coming up!
Three years ago, I ran a couple of my short poems through Google Translate to see what would happen. From English to Pashto and back again. From English to Pashto to Hindi to Javanese and back again. How does meaning become fractured through the algorithmic translation process? Last week, I tried it again. I started with:
Long have I longed for and dreaded this moment of darkness, belonging to silence, sure of my shadows.
Then I ran it through Sinhala —> Tajik —> Swahili —> Malayalam —> Pashto —> back to English
Here is what happened. Look how it pulled a rhyme in there for me (afraid/shade), and the meaning has definitely shifted, but I’m really happy with it. I added punctuation at the end for clarification. I actually like it better than my original. I’ve been waiting a long time. Don’t be afraid. At this point: Dark, In silence, I believe in shade.
Then I tried Mr. McConnell’s famous Truth: Nevertheless she persisted. Ran it through Punjabi —> Bangla —> Hmong —> Kyrgyz —> Tamil —> English Ended up with: The reality is, however, there is more. This changes the meaning a little more than I really want to, but it is an interesting end.
I tried a third, another of my tiny poems. This time, that fifth line changed anger to sex. Hmmm. Take a deep breath. Find the place inside you that remembers how truth feels; remember that there are kinds of anger that are more effective than blind outrage.
Tamil —> Javanese —> Cebuano —> Hindi —> Kazakh —> English
Take a deep breath. Find a place in your stomach The cruelty of truth is considered; Remember Sex is scary It was very effective Especially the blind.
Ah, well. I like putting the essence of meaning outside of my control for a moment and seeing what happens.
In Creative Writing classes, many of the exercises I have students do are to encourage us to move behind that space in our brain that controls the meanings. Part of the reason for this is that is helps us to discover hidden wells and springs of words and ideas within ourselves that we didn’t know were there, like finding the secret room in your house in the dream. At a basic level, it helps us learn that there are a thousand ways to say a thing, a thousand hues of meaning. Giving up control in the immediate moment, as with an exercise like this, helps us learn to take control, to refine and define our meanings.
Gratitude List: 1. Singing in the pit for our school’s musical. It’s a rather big commitment, but I love it. 2. Yesterday after I dropped a Big Boy off for tech prep for the play, I had a couple hours just to be by myself. I went shopping, of all things. Hit the Goodwill pay-by-the-pound bins, and A.C. Moore’s going out of business sale. I bought Small Boy a stack of canvases for painting–half price. 3. The Small Boy hasn’t painted for months, but at the moment he is creating a marvelous abstract cloud-like scene with watercolors. Hmm. Now he is adding some acrylics on top of that. Experiment, Kid! 4. Silver hair. When I see photos of myself now, my first awareness is of a middle-aged, grey-haired, gnome-like woman. I’m okay with that. No, I’m actually happy with that. I like being middle-aged, and I like having unicorn hair. 5. The way the sun casts shadows in the bosque across the road when it slides up and over the opposite ridge in the mornings. All those tree-shadows!
The called themselves The White Rose. A group of young people, propelled by their deep desire for justice, their faith, their profound belief in doing what it right. They began writing pamphlets, an underground newspaper of sorts, detailing the reasons for their resistance against Hitler and the Nazis, and leaving them around their university and town for people to find and read.
Three of them, siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friend Christoph Probst, were arrested on February 18, 1943, and sent to the guillotine on February 22, less than a week later. They were all under the age of 25. At the trial before their execution, Sophie appeared with a broken leg, apparently sustained during torture. The defendants were not given a chance to speak, but Sophie called out: “Somebody had to make a start! What we said and wrote are what many people are thinking. They just don’t dare say it out loud!”
On the back of the indictment that pronounced her death sentence, Sophie wrote, “Freedom!”
Her last words, apparently recorded by a guard present at her execution, were: “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
This poem inspired the name of the White Rose (Die Weiße Rose):
I Have a White Rose to Tend (Verse XXXIX) by José Martí
I have a white rose to tend In July as in January; I give it to the true friend Who offers his frank hand to me. And for the cruel one whose blows Break the heart by which I live, Thistle nor thorn do I give: For him, too, I have a white rose.
CULTIVO UNA ROSA BLANCA… (Verso XXXIX)
Cultivo una rosa blanca, En julio como en enero, Para el amigo sincero Que me da su mano franca. Y para el cruel que me arranca El corazón con que vivo, Cardo ni oruga cultivo: Cultivo la rosa blanca.
Gratitude List: 1. How my students are present for each other. Yesterday, two in particular ministered (I just can’t think of a word that says it more clearly) to another student who was in pain. Natural, appropriate, immediate responses. The kids are all right. 2. Black History Month Chapel at my school yesterday. These young folks are educators, incredible teachers, wise souls. I’m so proud to know them. 3. All the birds! Yesterday as I was walking out of school, a group of nuthatches were angrily scolding in the maple tree at the corner of the parking lot (nyerk! nyerk! nyerk!). I noticed that they were hollering at a robin. Looking closer, I saw a junco sitting on a branch next to the robin. Then a downy woodpecker began shimmying up the main branch, and in front of her, a bluebird was murmuring along with the nuthatch racket. All in one tree! That was incredibly amazing in itself, but. . . 4. . . .just at the moment, the two people on campus that I knew would appreciate such a sight happened to come along, from two different directions. One a teacher and one a student. So I could share the amazing sight immediately with people who also experienced the wonder. 5. Speaking of birds, there’s a glorious red-bellied woodpecker out there right now chipping away at the suet block. 6. The examples of so many people of courage: Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, John Lewis (whose birthday was yesterday), you.
I had a couple long conversations with Thor yesterday. I reminded him that my success rate for waking up in the morning has been 100%, so he doesn’t need to check whether I am still alive. I told him to wait until the alarm goes off. And here’s the thing: He did not wake me up last night.
Gratitude List: 1. The doves are getting all amorous out there in the weeds and the vines. Sure sign of spring. 2. During my lunch watch yesterday, at least three students came up and told me about book series that they love. 3. I correctly identified that Araucana hen in the FFA quiz in chapel yesterday, even if I missed the one about the cultipacker. 4. Friday. It’s Friday 5. How the kids in Speech class support each other. Some powerful stories were told.
May we walk in Beauty!
I’ve been really circumspect about not discussing the Democratic political candidates here. From the early days of 27+ candidates, I have been mostly sitting back to watch what happens. It feels to me like the more we citizens fight about our candidates, the more unruly the whole process becomes, the ore tarnished all the candidates become. When a nominee rises to the top, I don’t want them to be muddied and bruised by the Dem rivals. But this most recent candidate is causing me no little angst, and so here are a few thoughts, Andy Rooney-style:
I have not been particularly vocal about my candidate choice in the primary, and I’m still keeping all the doors open, with the exception of one candidate. I think it’s best, in general, to avoid jumping into the negativity and back-biting tornado. Still, when you line them up on a debate stage, you can sing Sesame Street’s teaching song “One of these things is not like the others. . .” with a pretty clear view of the one that “just doesn’t belong.” If he wins the nomination, I don’t know how I will be able to vote.
Speaking of Andy Rooney, I am getting so tired of grumpy old white men running things. Just tired. Tired. And I’m getting grumpy–like those old white men.
I can get behind a woman who can speak the truth about the Old Boys’ Club right to their faces. Call them out. Stand up to them. Call the bluff on their obfuscations. Such a woman empowers other women. I feel intense gratitude for people who don’t let the boors hide their bad behavior under a veneer of Good Old Boy bluster.
Stridently calling out bad behavior is not the same thing as being mean. Sometimes you have to be strident to be heard above the bluster and the big money.
I laughed out loud at the Elle article by R. Eric Thomas. Google it–you know how.
Can someone tell Bernie that pointing at people comes across and hostile, and emphasizes all the negatives of the grumpy old white man persona?
Some of you are older white men. I have no quibble with you, per se. I just want to try something different in the White House for a while.
Dear Sweet Thor, I know I said that I love the sound of your happy chirpy morning purr, and I do. Thing is, “morning” is the operative word in that sentence. It resonates a little differently at 3:30.
I love the way you pat my face so sweetly with your paw, but again, what is sweet at 5:30 only startles and annoys me at 4:00. The same is true of whiskers in my face, of walking up and down my body with your needle-fingers, of licking my hands. Please know that, no matter how much you lick my hands, I will not be petting you before the alarm goes off.
So far in my life, I have a 100% record of waking up in the morning–not always on time, I grant you, but usually–so you do not need to check on me every fifteen minutes from 3:30 onward to make sure whether I am still alive. Further, rolling over, stretching out my legs, yawning–these are not signals of my imminent awakening. They usually help me get back to sleep, unless, of course, someone is trying to wake me up.
One more thing, small dude: While I work hard at being culturally competent, I am never going to sniff your butt. You can stop offering. Especially in the night when I am trying to sleep.
See you in the morning, Sweetie.
Gratitude List: 1. Boy has been writing poems. “Who assigned you that prompt?” I ask. “Oh, I just decided to write a poem for fun.” Heart is melting. 2. Stretching and breathing. In-spir-ation. 3. Last night, I looked back through my New Orleans 2003 journal. I need to get back into doing watercolor sketches. 4. Carving spaces for myownself 5. All the little signs of spring.
Today, during the quiet moments between things, make a conscious effort to breathe deeply, down into your roots. Feel your spine straighten and your branches extend out and up.
Gratitude List: 1. The sweet little chirpy purr of a small cat who is happy that his human is awake. 2. Homemade soup 3. Making little changes to routines 4. The intense excitement of a small boy preparing for a competition. You’d think he was flying to California, with the seriousness of his planning and preparations. 5. Breath.
Soon, soon, soon, say the dawn birds. Soon, say the breezes scuttling down the ridge. Soon, says the sunlight slanting springlike through windows.
Gratitude List: 1. Meeting a new friend 2. Soon comes Spring 3. That day of rest was just what I needed 4. I am beginning to live into the sense of being caught up 5. Big salad for supper last night. The boys ate theirs with chopsticks, so I did too.
Gratitude List: 1. Yesterday I did a challenging thing, and it helped me to open a new space for my voice to live. 2. No school today. 3. The slant of springlike sun pouring down the fields. 4. The neighbors are removing their bamboo this morning, and it’s kind of exciting to watch. (I’m hoping all the little animals and birds are finding their way out quickly.) It gives us a chance to see how the digger works. 5. The quiet room of space between breaths.
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.
Gratitude List: 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. The last bit, about the bread that makes me weep, is there as a possibility to weave in, if I feel like I need something more, but at this point, I am not planning to include it.
Culture of Care: Longing and Belonging
Good morning–I’ll start with a poem: Take a breath Sit down in the silence of the room of this moment in time
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, knowable, unexplored, 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. Remember, 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:
Admit something: 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.
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.” 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.
Gratitude List: 1. Contemplating Longing and Belonging, and the Web upon which we all live and move. 2. Deep sleep. Somehow, at this point of middle age, sleep has become a regular visitor to this list–perhaps because it’s not so regular in real life 3. How dreams teach me about myself 4. Artistic processes–whether it be collage or poetry or doodles, or simply seeing and listening 5. All my Beloveds. You’re in my heart, on my web. I cast a line from me to you today. Take hold.