If we are to keep awake, to live in the place where the heart stays open, then perhaps we must look into the teeth of the story. Together we gaze at those shadows. Together we speak their names. Together we listen for the sparrow’s call.
At the place of the great stone I did not speak their names. I left my shell there at that place in the glittering sun.
Some days I cannot bear the darkness, but I will close my eyes and sing while you keep vigil near me. And when you falter, too, I will have found the strength renewed to witness the tale while you sing to me.
Perhaps you will not believe me when I tell you: As I drove that road toward the River, six deer ran across blue shadows cast by afternoon sun on snow, over the fields to the road. They paused a moment to watch the golden fish of my car approach, then slipped across Indian Marker Road and were gone, past the still pond and into a fringe of wood.
The art teacher at my school worked with a group of her students to come up with a word for each of the twenty-five days leading up to Christmas. Members of the school community are then asked to post a photo that represents the idea of that word.
Today’s words are “Living Blamelessly.” I felt like I wanted to create a pathway, a set of stepping stones toward whole and mindful and blameless living.
Gratitude List: 1. Picture rocks in a river, each rock covered by dozens of white dots. The gulls are migrating, and an enormous flock was resting today on the rocks of the Susquehanna. So satisfying. 2. Good exercise 3. Having someone to do the NYT Crossword Puzzles with. I can usually do the Monday and Tuesday ones by myself. Sometimes the Wednesday ones, too. But definitely by the time Friday and the weekend roll around, I would always give up were I doing them on my own. Usually one of us begins one, and then gets stumped and leaves it for the other. Now the boys are joining in, too. 4. Stauffer’s Christmas Stars chocolate-covered cookies. 5. The oyster mushrooms that ring my magical stump. May we walk in Beauty!
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.” —Mary Oliver
“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” —Barry Lopez
“With every action, comment, conversation, we have the choice to invite Heaven or Hell to Earth.” —Rob Bell
“Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.” ―Albert Einstein
The art teacher at my school worked with a group of her students to come up with a word for each of the twenty-five days leading up to Christmas. Members of the school community are then asked to post a photo that represents the idea of that word.
Today’s word is Truth. How do you come up with a visual representation for Truth? I walked outside on my break to try to get an image of a tree without leaves, thinking that Truth is what remains after all is laid bare. But on the way to the woods, I passed this patch of cold-blasted hosta. I love the colors and textures of the curled and skeletized leaves. And here’s a truth: Everything moves toward dissolution and decay, and then moves ’round again to birth and regeneration. But there’s beauty and grace in ALL the stages. The withering reveals patterns and structures that are perhaps less visible when the leaves are full and green.
But I couldn’t stop there, and searched my albums for past photos that might fit the brief:
Gratitude List: 1. Latkes for supper! Thank you, Sonya! 2. The crows are back. I love the massive flocks of crows, dotting the trees, filling the sky, sprinkling the tawny corn stubble. 3. Stories. 4. The inspiring life of Rosa Parks. Today is the 66th anniversary of her decision to stay seated on a bus, disrupting injustice and creating space for change. With what actions shall we commemorate her holy act? 5. The dreamtime of winter. May we walk in Beauty!
“I had given up my seat before, but this day, I was especially tired. Tired from my work as a seamstress, and tired from the ache in my heart.” ―Rosa Parks
“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” ―Bryan Stevenson
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” ―Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Without vision, people perish, and without courage and inspiration dreams die.” ―Rosa Parks
“When we identify where our privilege intersects with somebody else’s oppression, we’ll find our opportunities to make real change.” ―Ijeoma Oluo
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” ―Audre Lorde
“Nah.” ―Rosa Parks said this when asked to give her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery
Last night’s sleep was deep and dreams were fleeting.
Gratitudes: 1. Deep sleep 2. Yesterday I saw a bald eagle, right here at the house 3. Baking 4. I’ll see my parents today, if fleetingly 5. All of you, candles and stars, lights twinkling in your own particular constellations, bringing the light.
May we walk in Beauty!
Christmas Eve Ponderings: “Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” —Omar Khayyám
“In our heart and soul we are each like Mary, holding the possibility for a birth that can change the world.” —Llewellyn Vaughan Lee, Quote from A Prayer at the Winter Solstice (2012)
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. but let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune but do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy. —Max Ehrmann 1927
This is the season of dreaming, these nights and days between the Solstice and Epiphany. I mine my dreams in these days carefully, for words and feelings and images, symbols I can use to put the old year to rest, or to carry into the creation of the coming year.
This is going to seem more like a personal journal, perhaps, than a blog. In some ways that is what the blog is. Feel free to read along. I follow a fairly Jungian path to dream interpretation, looking at myself in the story of it, reading it like a fairy tale, watching for images and people to stand out to me, for relationships to reveal themselves. I try to write my dreams in present tense, so it draws me back into the moment of experiencing the dream. I am open to hearing your thoughts about symbols and archetypes in the dream. I tend to close myself off to “This is what your dreams means,” finding my inner world much more open to “This is what I see or hear in your dream.”
Last night: I am taking a student home. While people in my dreams are often archetypal stand-ins, this is an actual student in an actual class of mine right now, a sensitive and thoughtful young woman who has been finding this year to be an emotional roller coaster. We are in Lancaster. Parts of it are recognizably Lancaster, but much of it is dream creation. Also, we are not in a car. I am pushing her in a large stroller.
At one point, we get stuck waiting in traffic, and she starts to suggest we go left, but I am already on it. We pull out of traffic and go through a neighborhood which is almost entirely brick. Orange brick–big, rounded orange bricks. All the houses, the cobbled walkways, and the street itself. “We call this Peter’s thumbs,” she tells me.
I say that it’s good exercise to go up over this way, and she says, “Oh, I don’t believe in that whole weight loss thing.”
This touches a nerve for me because, while I am being really careful right now about not gaining more weight (I gained al lot in the spring of the pandemic), I make it a point to never ever use the words weight loss diet in front of students. So I make a little half-lie: “Oh, I just meant exercise. I want to be healthy and strong. I don’t care about diets and weight loss.” (This is the lie I tell myself in real, waking, life in order to try to make it a truth. When the numbers on the scale are troubling to me. Even at 53, I still struggle with body image.)
At one point our journey takes us up a street that’s more of a tunnel, underneath a heavy, dark skywalk. I’m talking more about exercise and deepening my lie about not caring about my weight. At the top of the hill, when we get into the light, I realize that she’s no longer in the stroller thing. I panic. I’ve lost her! She emerges from the doorway behind me: “Oh, I just thought I’d walk for myself for a little while.” She’s wearing an orange acrobat’s leotard.
That’s when the alarm goes off. As I was writing that, I kept getting flashes of the dream that preceded it, of a small blond boy (perhaps one of mine) following an older child around a camp. They cover themselves in mud. They run down to the river to wash. I have a moment of panic that the small child will drown, and have that moment of vision when I see myself diving into the muddy river, frantically searching for a drowning child, but it passes, and I hold back on my panic as they run laughing into the water.
I think this dream hits right at the center of my anxieties about parenting and teaching–the weight of responsibility, of protecting (both physically and psychically) the young ones in my care. Unfortunately, when I get anxious about the physical well-being of my children, I do get momentary visions of worst-case scenarios sometimes. I do find myself spooling out the dreads. My Dream-spinner was showing me that part of myself, I think.
And also about my own lifelong battle with learning to love being in this particular body, of dealing with shame for my up-and-down weight, of very intentionally not speaking of diet in front of students, particularly female students. In general, I think teachers and adults need to be open about our struggles with students, not spilling all our secrets and pain, but letting them know that we, too, go through challenges. But this whole diet thing is pernicious and insidious. Hearing others talk about dieting has always been a trigger for me, and I want to be extra cautious about that with students.
Like the panic about the boy in the river, I had a similar panic when the student (who is struggling in real life) approached the topic of weight loss. I felt the heaviness of being responsible for someone else’s emotional health. But the reality, at the end of the dream, was that I was not actually pushing her. She was coming out on her own power, and indeed, with grace and agility and strength, as an acrobat.
I think the words for this dream are: Responsibility, Care, Anxiety. Maybe Diet or Body Image. The color orange: Sacral Chakra. Tend to the creative and sensual. I have no idea what the heck Peter’s Thumbs are doing in the dream!
Gratitudes: 1. When I cannot be with my beloveds, memories really do warm my heart 2. New things arising and old things passing out of the picture 3. Messages from the Dream-spinner 4. Today is the last day of school until January–I need this break 5. Today I am healthy. And I hope you are, too. Stay well.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!
“You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.” —Isadora Duncan
“There is really only one way to restore a world that is dying and in disrepair: to make beauty where ugliness has set in. By beauty, I don’t mean a superficial attractiveness, though the word is commonly used in this way. Beauty is a loveliness admired in its entirety, not just at face value. The beauty I’m referring to is metabolized grief. It includes brokenness and fallibility, and in so doing, conveys for us something deliciously real. Like kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, what is normally seen as a fatal flaw is distinguished with value. When we come into contact with this kind of beauty, it serves as a medicine for the brokenness in ourselves, which then gives us the courage to live in greater intimacy with the world’s wounds.” —Toko-pa Turner
“God has scattered the haughty ones. God has cast down the powerful from their places of power and has lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” —Mary
“No human relation gives one possession in another—every two souls are absolutely different. In friendship or in love, the two side by side raise hands together to find what one cannot reach alone.” —Kahlil Gibran
“Always there comes an hour when one is weary of one’s work and devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart.” —Albert Camus
“Be like a tree and let the dead leaves drop. ” —Rumi (Barks)
My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power reconstitute the world. —Adrienne Rich
Aha! The light is here. We have found our way by star and by dream, by following the song inside us.
Now we face a terrible choice. A new dream asks us to stand against a great evil that threatens to destroy this promise, that will destroy the lives of many children and their families until all is said and done. But we are used to following the paths where our dreams take us, and so we must see the child on his way, pack up our things, and head out another way, tricking the old king of his quarry.
Legends say that the astrologers and seers who followed the star in search of the child of promise came from Persia. At least some of them probably came from Iran. Rumi’s beloved Shams was from the city of Tabriz, in Iran, and my own beloved Hafez was from the city of Shiraz, Iran, where the Nasir Ol-Mulk–the Rainbow Mosque–is located today.
As my own country is crouched on the brink of a war with Iran, a rogue president at the helm and all semblance of Congressional checks and balances seemingly in tatters, we must consider our own response to despotic and ruthless leadership. How will we find a different way out of the murderous city? How will we protect the small ones? Perhaps today calls not for a quiet exit through the back door, but a conscious and public standing up and speaking out.
The people of Iran are not our enemy. We have, perhaps, more in common with them than with the angry old men who plot war between our countries.
What do your dreams tell you? Where will this star lead us today?
La Befana: The Epiphany Witch
She’d got her eyes fixed on what was right in front of her, the dust and the dirt and the everyday mess. Wanted to be ready for the coming of the child but couldn’t see beyond the day she was in.
Believe me, I know what the old one was up to. I too get caught by the fishhook of the present, stuck in the nextness of each task ahead, forget to lift my eyes to see the shine and sparkle of my arriving guests, can’t put down my broom, my pen, my daily rhythm, to look up and outward.
Like Old Befana, I catch, too late, the jingle of the caravan bells as they turn the corner in the distance, see the disappearing cloud of dust.
Hastening to grab my cloak and bag, I’ve lost their trail before I reach the distant corner, left behind, bereft, alone, dust-covered, traveling bag in one hand and besom in the other, destined to spend my life sweeping the skies on my broom, chasing down the Holy Aha.
Gratitude List: 1. Dreams and visions 2. Watching a boy and his grandparents yesterday, putting together a giant Lego jet. Hearing him hum and whistle as he concentrated. 3. All the people who are standing up and speaking out. 4. All those crows! On the way home last night, as we were driving beneath a sunset sky full of crows, a boy began to sing, “Magical, magical, magical.” (Of course, when he noticed me appreciating it, he switched and sang, “Unmagical, unmagical, unmagical,” but it was too late. I had noticed.) 5. The holy Aha! Finding the way by starlight and dream. Choosing to disobey, if that what is called for.
The song is sort of like the Christmas version of Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall. Will it ever end? It goes on and on, repeating the lists of ducks and swans and rings and dancers and servants until you just want the song to be done already! And it’s always on, in a thousand versions, all during the holiday season. But does anyone really know much about the Twelve Days of Christmas?
Like so many of our modern syncretistic celebrations, the Twelve Days of Christmas is a mishmash that holds within it the tradition of Catholic and Orthodox days of feasting and/or fasting and pagan mysticism and revelling, in this case Yuletide and Saturnalia. Shakespeare used this period as the setting for his play Twelfth Night, in which people take on different identities, and things are never as they seem.
These are the High Holy Days, Time Between Time, another period in which to meditate on the coming of the Light. These are also the days of the Lord of Misrule, when a young person or a peasant would perform the duties of the Lord of the Castle for this season, usually ordering wild parties and feasting and dancing. The Fool is ascendant, and the King takes orders. Having just finished a study of King Lear, I am pondering the strange wisdom of the Fool these days, and the foolishness of kings. No, I’m not making a political jab here. This is more inward, more mystical. We each have our own Ego-Ruler who sits on a golden throne and arranges things as they ought to be in order to maintain meaning and order. We also have an inner Child-Fool, who wants to set things tumbling, to play, to shift the patterns of inner law and order.
Have you ever noticed how much our modern depiction of Santa’s elves and their hats resemble to old Medieval fools and their foolscape? I have a slowly-growing theory that the Fool/Clown is so crucial to our human sense of equilibrium, and that this ancient western Medieval character of the Fool so satisfyingly fulfilled that role, that we have maintained the Fool in the character of Santa’s elves.
The “elf” hat my brother gave me for Christmas twenty years ago would look perfectly reasonable on Lear’s Fool. And here’s another thing: One of our favorite family Christmas movies is Elf. What is Will Ferrell’s Buddy if not the quintessential Fool? He doesn’t fit in “polite” society. He doesn’t know how to behave. He’s embarrassing and childlike. And he’s the wisest person in the story. The father kept trying to order things in his fashion, kept trying to maintain meaning in the only way he knew how: making money and having corporate power creates a safe social order. But Buddy came into his realm and, in that utterly cringey moment, sang, “I love you, I love you, I love you!” And the world began to topple.
This is a season when we recognize that the social order is not cast in stone, that kings fall and fools rise. Buddy the Elf gets a cynical city to believe in Santa Claus. The Fool leads the mad King through the storm and the fens. And, in the story that Christians are celebrating, a tiny baby turns the world upside-down. The child of a poor and insignificant family on the far-flung edge of the empire comes to upset the social and religious order.
Jesus is the Fool. He wanders, he questions, he turns everything upside-down, he tells his listeners, over and over: “You have heard it said, but. . .” This Holy Fool disobeys the law and order that have been set up by the people in power to maintain the power structures. Perhaps some of the struggle that Christianity faces today is that we keep wanting to make him the King. We want the seeming sense of the powerful ruler, and we eschew the seeming foolishness of the Fool. But in truth, the Kings are all mad and the Fool has wisdom to offer, if only we will hear.
His mother knew, didn’t she, when she spoke her prophecy poem while he somersaulted in her womb. He fill the hungry with good things and send the rich empty away. He will cast down the rulers from their thrones and raise up the lowly. Amen, Hallelujah. Here comes the Holiest of Fools.
Dreamwork: If we keep up the labyrinth metaphor, these are the days of the walk out of the labyrinth–having considered what we lay down and let go on the inward journey, we now look at what we pick up for the coming year. I use Twelvenight for dreamwork. It’s more live Sixteennight for me actually, because I start really paying attention at Solstice. I mine my dreams for words and images that will accompany me into the coming year. I let the Fool of my dream-brain inform the Queen of my waking brain, offering up seemingly disjointed and disconnected ideas and words and pictures to break down the logical-intellectual meanings my day-brain has created.
This year, the valerian in the medicine I took to fend off that cold seems to have kept me sleeping well for days after. I have been sleeping deeply and satisfyingly in the last couple of days. This means I am not remembering much in the way of dreams. But this morning I woke up with this somewhat grammatically-challenged phrase in my head: “There’s more than two ways to think about it.”
My day-brain is a little offended. Duh! I’ve done that one already. I’ve meditated on both/and as a solution to either/or thinking. I’ve read everything by Richard Rohr on non-dual thinking. This is one of my core concepts. But the Fool wants me to learn it again, so who I am to fight it? More than two ways. . .
Gratitude List: 1. Fools and foolishness 2. Wisdom from unexpected places 3. b n v <–Sachs wrote that when he walked across my keyboard. Yes, Fuzzy Friend, I am grateful, so grateful, for the cats and for kitty kisses. 4. Chocolate 5. Days warm enough for me to take a walk.
A couple Sundays ago, we acted three stations of the Las Posadas in church. In Mexican Christian tradition, during the nine nights before Christmas, communities gather together and walk through their towns, ending up at a different house each night. People outside the house sing songs asking for shelter for Mary, who is about to give birth. People inside the houses sing, “Go away!” The songs go back and forth until Mary and Joseph and their retinue are invited inside where the people pray together and eat and drink together.
As I think about my own preparations for the Lightreturn, for the birth of the Child of Light within me and the world, for the acknowledgement of Emmanuel–the Divine Within, I find this pageant both unsettling and inspiring. I do not want to admit my reluctance to be the Bearer of Light, to be a welcomer of the messy and chaotic coming of the Holy One into my rooms. For all of Advent, I have explored this inner inn. I’ve peered into the shadows, kept the cobwebs to the corners, shone my little light into hidden cupboards and closets, looked for treasures and traps.
I’ve celebrated the turning, the center of the labyrinth. I’ve sat here waiting, in stillness, content in my solitude. And now, when I am settled into my own quiet winter, comes the raucous god-crowd, knocking at the door and asking to come in. Something needs to be born! they call. You need to make room! It’s bound to get messy. It’s sure to get noisy. Somebody is going to need something from you. You can try to escape the fray, but the fray will come to you.
Is there room within the inn? I feel myself shrinking just at the moment when I need to expand. Remember the stretches. Arms up and out. Breathe in. Pause and expand. Sigh out that breath and let the arms fall. Room enough. Yes. There is always room enough.
What have I been creating this space for, if not for the birth of light within? If not for the child of promise, the Holy One, to enter?
Call that immanent birth the Christ-Child, call it the Divine Light, call it Deepest Awareness. Whatever you name it, are you prepared to let welcome this light into your innermost rooms?
Again, Yes. There is always room enough. Hold the stillness. Hold the chaos. Joy is dancing in the space between.
Gratitude List: 1. Pageantry and ritual that get beneath the surface of things 2. Making space for light to enter 3. My children’s anticipation of Christmas 4. Time out of time. No obligations but the daily preparations for the days of celebration. And those are slow and steady. 5. Peppermint.
The inner room is filling with light, with shadow. More light and more shadow. Long, quiet, holy darkness. Short, sparkling light-filled days.
The little shack in C.S. Lewis’s Last Battle, and the Tardis in the Doctor Who television series, have something in common with you and with me. Each structure–shack, time machine, and human–is bigger are the inside than it appears from the outside. Outside, a normal-looking structure, but inside, a whole world of wonders.
Here in these days of quiet and clamor, of enfolding darkness and bedazzling light, we walk through the inner rooms like we walk through the old house that recurs in our dreams, exploring the nooks and crannies, the magical spaces and the dark closets. It’s so big! I never knew this room existed! Look! Over here is a room full of treasures! This one is dark and quiet, and contains only a tiny wooden box. Whisper. Shout! These stairs end in a pantry, and those go up to the roof. Open this door. And this one.
Feel the vast spaces within you, knowable, unexplored, waiting for you to enter and experience who you are in your deepest inner rooms. Stretch your hands up and out. Draw in deep breaths. Stretch and stretch. You are larger on the inside.
As the wise man who left us yesterday reminded us:
“Be here now.” –Ram Dass
Stretch. Expand. Explore.
Gratitude List: 1. Back home with the cats 2. People who do things simply to watch the delight on the face of a child 3. My marvelous father, born on this day. What an example of tenderness and compassion he is. 4. I am pretty sure that seven-bird V that just winged its way above the hollow was snow geese. 5. Today is going to be a work day. I kind of dread hard work–I’d rather be playing with yarn or making cookies or writing poems, but when this day is done, I will feel much more free in my spirit to do those other things.
When I walk a labyrinth, I like to take my time in the center, to pause and rest, to give space in the holy hush between in-breath and out-breath for something new to enter. In this December labyrinth, we’ve walked through increasingly dark passages, exploring the shadows, examining our own little lights, reflecting on the interplay between darkness and light.
Today the planet begins her inward spin again, back toward equilibrium, away from the outer point of our elliptical whirl. And there’s a feeling–much more poetic than scientific–of pause here at the edges. Just the slightest sensation of being between.
Breathing, like labyrinth-walking, is a steady in and out process. And like the labyrinth, it isn’t necessarily a simple in-and-turn-and-out journey. Between each breath is a little doorway into a room between breaths, a space where something new may enter.
And so, in this moment on the planetary spin, this space between breaths, this pause, this doorway, this room, we sit and we wait for what is to come. Here we sit within Time out of Time. The wait for Sunreturn is over, but Advent continues.
In the Christian tradition, we are waiting for the Child of Light to appear, for the angels to shine forth and announce a Birth. We ask ourselves what this welcome means. Is it a mystical moment, only an inner dawning? Is it a psycho-socio-political moment when we consider what it means to welcome the ones who are caught on the margins without hope of help? Is it simply the re-telling of an ancient tale? What are we waiting for?
Here in this dark, quiet room in the space between breaths, we have time to consider what it is we are waiting for. It’s not about the urgency of a child’s breathless anticipation of presents and play. We prepare these inner rooms, watch our dreams and visions, notice the way the breath moves in and out, and pauses. We wait.
Gratitude List: 1. Oyster Stew at the Town Hall Restaurant, where my father used to take my grandmother. I felt like Grandma was there, too. Even Santa stopped by, and gave us all candy canes. 2. Watching my brother teach my son to play guitar. Watching my nephew painting with my son. Playing games together, eating together. I am so grateful to be raising my children in these circles of village. 3. The twinkle and sparkle of lights. 4. The space between breaths. 5. Walking and waiting with you.