I wrote this a year or two ago, not realizing how extremely similar the title was to Jan Richardson’s World Communion Sunday poem. Clearly, her phrase sank deeply into my psyche. So I added a little dedication to the title to recognize her original.
May your table be wide,
may your arms be laden
with the bounty of harvest,
may your heart be willing.
May your feast be filling,
may your beloved’s eyes
be filled with laughter,
may your table be wide.
May your doors be open,
may strangers be welcome
to sit at your table,
may your feast be filling.
May your heart be willing, may stories flow like wine poured into glasses, may your doors be open. May your table be wide.
Gratitude List: 1. Poets and poetry, especially Jan Richardson’s blessings 2. Anticipating time with my parents and my siblings and my niblings 3. Wind: scouring, releasing, revealing, energizing 4. Pie 5. Open hearts, open arms, open tables
For several years, I’ve been practicing a spiritual discipline that I think of as non-defensiveness. I am not even sure when I first began it. It sounds vaguely Buddhist or Gandhian, and I’m certain those are influences, but I can’t really define where or how I began it as a spiritual discipline. Lately, I’m becoming uncomfortable with the term because it feels so non, so negativizing. And as I try to expand my ability to stay in touch with my feelings, something about the word feels too cold and calculating, too harshly reasonable, too solidly logical.
I think of rage and fury and defensiveness as the vanguard emotions, the frontier responses. They’re out there on the front lines, fighting it out. When I feel attacked, I practice dropping down below the fray, finding the steady place beneath the wild turmoil of the fighting plain (plane). And I have been getting better at that, good at taking that breath, realizing that my instinct is to dash in with my own verbal bombs, and instead dropping down. That dropping down, sinking to center, settling in–that’s the non-defensive posture that I have been learning to take.
I think, however, that there’s a danger of being non-defensively defensive, of sinking into that posture while wearing a mask of cold, hard, untouchable reason. It feels safe to step out of the fray and begin to take apart the arguments with logic. This is the King’s response–to break it down with the force of mind, the sword of reason. It’s not a bad stance, but it needs to be paired with the Queen’s shrewd eye for the inner world, her awareness of the secrets hidden in the chalice, the grail. If I don’t acknowledge my emotions while I drop down, I fail to find the true spiritual depth I’m seeking by not getting sucked into the skirmish.
It’s only by fully acknowledging the feelings that the skirmish brings up within me that I can truly grow from a non-defensive posture. Otherwise, I am just a Tin Man. While I breathe and drop down, I want to tell myself the story of my feelings: I feel hurt; I feel attacked and stalked; this wounds me.
Last spring, in Dr. Amanda Kemp’s course/workshop on Holding Space for Transformation, her emphasis on recognizing and acknowledging your feelings as you interrupt your defensive responses in the heat of the moment really spoke to me. When I mask my inner work with reason, I leave the feelings untended, and the wounds fester underneath my chain mail and my suit of armor.
And, to continue the martial metaphor, it isn’t that I never get into the battle. In these times, I believe that it is of utmost importance that people of conscience stand as a unified and powerful force against the powers that threaten to destroy the earth and the children, that silence the voices of the vulnerable, that exclude and marginalize difference and otherness. But I will not be effective in the big things if I spend my energy skirmishing, if I let myself get distracted from the big story by the little attacks in my individual story. And this big story needs us to be fully-realized humans who are capable workers in the realms of both reason and emotion. So the challenge, in the small skirmishes, is to drop down, but also to feel.
(I acknowledge that the archetypes of King and Queen are deeply gendered. I also find that they’re part of the language of the deep group conscious of my particular cultural background. Certainly, as a woman, I am more than the box that the Queen sits in, and I am more also than the King-Queen binary. I think that the fluid and ungendered realm of the Fool is where we will all be more free, but that’s for another day’s ruminations.)
Gratitude List: 1. Teachers who help me on the path toward wholeness. Thank you. 2. Time off, time out, time between time. 3. Three cats. I think a three-cat house is just about perfect for me. 4. How sleep tosses up bones for the dog of the brain to chew on. 5. That scarlet cardinal shining out in the gray of the morning.
This woman is from a really recent dream/image. I frequently wake up with dream-images in my head, or fragments of song, or a word or phrase, instead of a story. In this case, the central woman is wearing flowing blue robes, and lined along the edges of her cloak are children that she is protecting. She is very much a Mary-figure, and the children are safe in the folds of her cloak. There are dozens and dozens of them. May it be so.
Gratitude List: 1. The ones who protect children. Thank you. 2. The water protectors and earth protectors. Thank you. 3. Core values and deep conscience. We had a lengthy and powerful discussion in a class yesterday about making choices based on core values. My students are wise. 4. Refried beans and tortillas. Weeks ago, Jon made an enormous pot of refried beans, and froze the leftovers in batches. I love refried beans and tortillas. 5. Wordplay.
Gratitude List: 1. Vulnerable story-sharing. From exclusion and silencing to belonging and connection. May we all be safe harbors for people seeking belonging. 2. Rainbows in the weaving 3. People across the US are bonding out asylum seekers who have been kept in detention centers and prisons. You can help, too, by going to IBAEPA.org–the Immigration Bond and Advocacy Effort–to help bond out immigrants who are being held in York County Prison. Good people are doing good work. Thanks to these forward-thinking folks. 4. Balancing the science-mind and the mystical-mind. They inform and express each other, when we stop pitting them against each other. Einstein knew the secret. 5. You. I’ve seen how people come to you, their hearts battered by past exclusions and defeats, their sense of worthiness destroyed by dogma and doctrines, and how you open the arms of your heart, and it’s clear that that kind of refusal will never happen here, in the circle of you. Thank you.
Gratitude List: 1. Heart conversations 2. Wise friends 3. The Makers–they inspire me. Make your stuff. Buy things made by humans. Besides the art and the grace of items made by human hands, there’s a deep problem-solving intelligence that imbues handmade items. 4. My shadow-self. I am learning, again, as I eventually do each fall-to-winter turning, to embrace her. She has things to teach me. 5. Twistings of black branches against a grey sky. Austere, in a quiet and thoughtful sense.
This is going to sound whinier than I mean it to be. It’s just a reality. Kind of funny, actually, when I’ve worked my way to the other side of it.
In summer, troubles just roll off your back. In winter, they stick together and compound each other, like those little fuzzy seed balls that stick to your socks when you walk in the fields. They catch hold of each other and suddenly they’re one big mass, and you can’t really separate them from each other. For example, the car was hit by a deer, and the light switch in the bedroom broke, and the Prius tail light is out, and the kitchen light and the bathroom lights burned out on the same day, and when we did get a new car, the front light was out, and then the water pump starting gasping like it was going out of business. In summer, you fix things and then you move on. In winter, you feel the weight of cosmic fate pounding you down with each little thing. And so many of these tiny things had to do with lost light, it began to feel like someone was making fun of me: “You feeling a little anxious about the shorter days? The loss of light is bothering you? Let’s try this.”
Ugh. Tiny, minor details. Nothing to get fussed about. You fix stuff and you move on. In summer. In winter, you gripe about it, and you feel burdened, and then you fix stuff and move on.
Gratitude List: 1. There is a frog who lives in the springhouse. This knowledge makes me happy. 2. Sun streaming in to the hollow 3. The sleeping silence of a Saturday morning house 4. The Givers. Lancaster raised $10.5 million for charitable causes yesterday. I kept the ExtraGive main page and the page for our school on the board all day yesterday, and kept refreshing it for my students to see. Thank you, Lancaster, for giving your time and money and hearts to help build up our community. 5. The vibrant browns of late autumn. The salmon-beige beech tree leaves in the understory of the woods along Ducktown Road. The leathery burnt-orange of this oak up the hill. The auburn oak across from Flinchbaugh’s.
I live in the country that is holding the highest number of children in detention. Some of those children came to this country unaccompanied, seeking safety from drug dealers and human traffickers. Others came with their parents, but were intentionally and forcibly removed from their parents at our border.
Where are they being held? Who is caring for them? Do they play? Do they learn? Do they have access to books and toys? Blankets? Are they warm enough? Do they get fresh air? What is to become of them? How long will they be held in detention?
The first articles about how we’ve reached the top of this list, a few days ago, suggested that there are over 100,000 migrant children in detention centers in the United States. Newer statistics correct that to fewer than 70,000. Shall we rejoice that the number is not as high as we thought? Shall we sigh now, and look away?
I don’t know what to do with this. I am overwhelmed and disempowered, like so many of us are. Risa Paskoff, a Lancaster advocate for children, said at a meeting on Wednesday evening that she always wondered how people in Germany could go about their daily lives, planning what restaurant they were going to go to, while knowing about the atrocities their government was committing, and then she realized that she was talking about where to go out for coffee, knowing that our own government is detaining children, often separating them from their parents. So she took a trip to the border. She’s going again, with boxes of supplies for people being released from detention. She is choosing not to look away, choosing to step into the story.
At the very least, don’t look away. Listen. Learn. Speak up. Stand up. Take on the work that comes your way. In Lancaster, a group has formed, called Wing. We want to see our community work even more intentionally to welcome immigrants. Along with more direct actions and advocacy, we are stopping every day at noon, for one minute, to pray or meditate or visualize, to focus on the needs of children and others who are seeking safety here, to send out hope for change. Will you join us? (I am in class at noon on weekdays, so I will do my focus minute at 11:56, after lunch and before my next class comes in.)
Gratitude List: 1. Rest 2. Fresh Perspectives 3. How the light comes in, breathing in the light 4. Bridges 5. The advocates, the ones who speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves
May we walk in Beauty. May we live with justice, and mercy. May we walk humbly.
Today, I am taking a day of work-rest. With stacks of grading that are somehow not grading themselves, I asked to take this day off so that I could catch up to myself. It will not be a day of rest, exactly, but it will be restful. It will be at my pace, though I need to keep it moving so I get as much work accomplished as possible.
And it will be silence. Hours of silence. Me and the cats and the papers. No one needing anything from me except for an occasional head-rub. I need a mini-vacation from being needed. And it’s strange, when my work is words, when the spoken word is my favorite art form to observe and to do, that the rest that I crave is a break from speech. I long for this coming day of silence.
I have begun looking at the mini-breaks that I take in my day, trying to mark and acknowledge them and live into them, so that I can feel them as balm and not simply as escape. In that thirty seconds after the room empties and I need to head off to chapel, can I take three intentional deep breaths? Instead of walking down the hall to lunch, might I detour outside for a moment and greet the Three Magnolia Trees in the corner behind the old classroom building? Can I take three minutes of my prep period to listen to a piece of music every day? Or open my journal and do a five-minute word-dump or fast-write?
What if we were to try to see our moments, or breaks in the day, as little vacations instead of as escapes? If we were to intentionally stop and take breaths, make art, feel silence, listen to our heartbeats, put our feet on earth, commune with plant-beings? I think this will be my plan for the shadow journey ahead.
Gratitude List: 1. The earnestness of Lancaster people to resist injustice and to create compassion. Last night I attended a public meeting of Wing, a local group begun to try to develop community responses to the crisis created by recent immigration policies. The meeting was held at my church, and we filled the parking lot and the edges of the parking lot and the grassy spaces along the lot, and people parked down the streets and walked to the church. There is good energy in this community to do something to help those who are suffering as a result of this country’s harsh immigration detention policies. 2. Women in Black. I am heartened by this group of women who are committed to standing in protest of violence. Last night we stood with a sign proclaiming our solidarity with Kurdish women who are suffering in the wake of Turkish incursions. 3. Poetry and story. The weaving of words. 4. Yesterday, after I asked for today off, I felt such a release of tension and pressure. I’m grateful for understanding administrators and colleagues. I will be a much better colleague and teacher myself for having this day to breathe and catch up. 5. Dawn. The coming of light into the day.
I’ve been doing a little series of short-form poems with the idea of a middle-aged woman at the center of a fairy tale. I have been playing with writing prose fairy tales on the subject, but short-form poetry works more easily into my schedule, and the condensed qualities of poetic forms lend themselves to the cryptic and mythic thinking of the fairy tale. In these beginning stages of perimenopause, I fine myself comparing notes with my younger self at menarche, noting the ways that the hormonal shifts affect me: energy pits, headaches, emotional bounces, self-doubt, bursts of confidence. I’ve done quite a lot of fairy tale analysis over the years, from feminist reinterpretations, to Jungian dream-style considerations, to uncovering layers that reveal ancient goddess stories. The constant through most of the stories is the girl, the girl, the girl. I’m walking out the other side of the woods now, or walking into a different woods altogether. I feel a need of re-imagining the girl-hero’s journey as she begins her croning time.
Gratitude List: 1. Fairy tales and what lies beneath them 2. Warm blankets 3. Stir fry on noodles, with hot sauce. The other night, we added brussel sprouts to the stir fry, and the boys just ate it up without comment or complaint. And they chose chopsticks over forks. For some reason, that made me especially happy. 4. People around the world who are standing up for human rights and for the planet. 5. Tiny little personal escapes throughout the busy moments of the day. Five minutes into a poem. Two minutes into a deep breath. A glance through a Luci Shaw or Jean Janzen book on the writing process, a quick dip into the world of a beautiful picture, a quick friendly chat with a colleague or student.
Gratitude List: 1. Today is not yesterday. Yesterday I never quite came out of the fog. This morning I already feel crisper than I did at any point in the day yesterday, so hopefully that was just a blip. I feel ready for this one. 2. Homemade cookies. MCCL kids, for making those kits: Thank you! 3. People who are anchors. You know who you are. My life is so much better for your presence. Thank you. (Actually, maybe you don’t know you’ve anchored me. It might be the kind thing you said, or the story you told, or the little quote you posted on social media, or the way you talk about someone you love, or the way you genuinely look people in the eye when you talk to them, or the way you take a deep breath and stand up straight when you have something hard to do: I notice, and I am inspired and anchored just by being near you.) 4. Also, people who are speaking and living truth. Especially in times when so much truth is being so cynically bartered for power. Thank you. 5. For the trees, for the “leaping greenly spirits of trees” (even when you are no longer green, your spirits still leap greenly: holy, holy): Thank you.*