Epiphany: The Holy Aha!

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.

May we walk in Beauty!

The Twelve Days of Christmas: The Elf, the Fool, and the Lord of Misrule

“The Lords of Misrule,” by Rima Staines. She publishes her art and writing with Hedgespoken Press, in England. I got her little book Nine Praise Riddles for Christmas.

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.

May we walk in Beauty!

Advent 24: Go Away

The Advent/Solstice Wreath.

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.

May we walk in Beauty!

Advent 23: Stretching

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.

May we walk in Beauty!

Advent 22: What Are You Waiting For?

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.

May we walk (and wait) in Beauty!

Advent 21: The Shortest Day

We arrive at the shortest day.
Silence.
Stillness.
This moment, when I am writing, is the darkness just before the dawn.
The year, too, is dawning.
Sit in the dark.
Feel the empty quiet around you.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Holy, holy, holy.


Gratitude List:
1. Laughing with my family. Somebody said last night that they were glad we get to celebrate Winter Stoltzfus together.
2. The long night is over and the day is dawning.
3. There are still many days to become acquainted with the shadows, but the light is returning.
4. How the house lights make the dew sparkle and twinkle. Light and shadow. Light and shadow
5. Now the day begins, the laughter, the clatter, the murmurs, the music the twinkling eyes.

May your day be filled with Shine!

Advent 20: The Last Day to Walk In

If this journey into the December darkness is a labyrinth, today we have come to the second to last turning, the final passage before we turn inward to the center circle. Today is the approach, the last moment in the labyrinth walk, when I am usually asking myself, “Have I missed anything that I need to lay down, to let go of, to relinquish?”

Inanna gave up–willingly–all her symbols of personal power in her underground search for her sister, until at last she came to the deep central chamber naked and unadorned. No pretense, no mask, no tool, could hide or protect her when she entered the chamber to greet her sister, who was all moving shadow, all hidden secret.

What are the last unexamined scraps of our deep selves that we have left unexamined? What personal power have we yet failed to turn over to the guards at the gates?

Yesterday while I was folding clothes, I listened to LeVar Burton read the short story “Navigators,” by Mike Meginnis, about a boy and his father who play a video game whose heroine, instead of gathering powers as the game progresses, slowly gives up her powers. Each item they find in their hero’s journey disables something of the video character’s power. As she lost strength and speed, they began to notice other hidden aspects of the game, places they could hide, and ways their hero could escape rather than fight. It struck me how much this is like the Inanna tale.

So much there is that I want to fight for. I don’t want to enter this next doorway defenseless. If I am going to keep participating in this battle for justice for the children, for those who seek asylum and justice, for the planet herself, don’t I need to keep my fighting powers intact? Don’t I need to gain strength and power instead of letting it all fall away?

And there, I think, I am beginning to come toward the kernel that I might be trying to learn in this year’s labyrinth. In November, I experienced a significant hit to my ego, a sideways blow that made me question myself and my sense of belonging. Trying to respond with vulnerability and yet maintain my sense of safety took a great deal of inner energy. I raged a little bit that fate would keep bringing me this particular lesson–Didn’t I do the chapter on ego back in 2003? Haven’t I been through all the review sessions? Haven’t I already passed all the levels of this test?

There’s always one more test. You’re never really done. I stand here and hold my fragile ego in my hands, my own words from past lessons and tests ringing in my ears: Begin the lesson again. Lay it down. Break it open. One. Final. Thing.


Gratitude List:
1. Punctuation. I put a couple little punctuation jokes on the the board yesterday. Most of my classes smiled politely, but one class suddenly broke into an intense discussion of how we use punctuation in texting and social media these days, how it’s changing, how punctuation has suddenly become necessary to help create the emotional context for digital communication. It took twenty minutes of the class period, but it was such delightful intellectual analysis that I was happy to set aside the plan.
2. Those bright and shiny student brains and hearts. In three classes, we concluded Julius Caesar yesterday. At the end, I asked them to consider their own ideals for their countries. What is the purpose of a government? What should be the relationship of government to people? In two of the classes, more than five countries were represented, and in all of them were students from both sides of the US political spectrum, but in all three classes, the ideals brought forth were the same.
3. Examining the last shreds of ego to relinquish to December darkness. Today is the last leg of the inward journey. Tomorrow is the dark and quiet inner chamber. And then we begin walking toward the light.
4. Breaks from the routine.
5. Pops of color in the grey.

May we walk in Beauty!

Advent 19: The Value of Being Seen

by Gustave Doré

At the public school where my ten-year-old son is in fifth grade, the principal has taught the students the South African greeting, “Sawabona,” which translates to, “I see you.”

They respond, “Sawabona sikhona.”

“Because you see me, I am here.”

I have a friend who simply tells me that in English, usually when we’ve had a deep and meaningful conversation. “I See You.”

I feel Seen.

Just yesterday, I had a moment of feeling Seen. While much of my demeanor is heart-on-my-sleeve, I have my masks, the little disguises I wear to cover and protect parts of myself that don’t feel safe to reveal in certain settings. It was a little thing, really, but it opened up a tiny nest of calm in a place where belonging can sometimes feel a little tenuous.

It was only a book recommendation, offered in a quiet moment. But it felt like a gift, a way of saying, “I See You.” Not a tearing off of my mask, but a nod to the truth beneath it.

My masks are part of the shadows that I am exploring in these days of walking into darkness. Every shadow that I cling to has its purpose, its protection, and some I must release into the light when light returns, but others protect vulnerable and tender selves, make it possible for parts of me to move and flow in social circles. I’ll shine my little light on these protective shadow-masks here in the labyrinth, but keep them in place, and be glad of the people who know even these little parts of who I am.

Some of our masks keep us from being seen, being known. The protection becomes solid armor and the shadow takes on tangibility, beyond their need to protect, instead keeping people away, keeping people from knowing who we are. I have students who are wrapped up in their protective shadows with such care that they appear almost invisible.

The gentle work of tending to these quiet souls needs not a harsh and blinding light, but the golden glow of the little candles we’ve been nursing in this walk through the labyrinth. Let’s be a safe and nurturing circle, where we can look someone in the eyes and say with words or glance: “I See You.”


Gratitude List:
1. Being Seen
2. Something is lifting. Today, I feel the little animal of my spirit is lifting its nose and sensing the coming Sunreturn. Instead of two more days of walking into darkness, I feel two more days until Sunreturn, and that feels like a big inner shift for me.
3. Foxes. Yesterday I read the page on foxes to my students from my advent book, All Creation Waits. (If you are reading it too, I am a few days ahead, because I want to read them the Christmas reading on Friday.) And this morning, I was sifting through a deck of inspirational cards I keep near me, and today’s character, synchronously, is the fox. All the senses tuned. Ears cocked. The mystery of inner knowing.
4. Chocolate. Yesterday, I sort-of-but-maybe-not-quite accidentally listened to the hearing on the radio. After only a little while, I was in desperate need of chocolate, and my beloved obliged.
5. Anticipation

May we walk in Beauty!

Advent 18: Torpor and Dreams

Such a strange and wakeful night it was. The borders between sleep and unsleep were oddly porous. Toward the end there, I did fall into deeper grooves of dream and sleep. I don’t feel particularly unrested, so there’s that. Perhaps it’s the load of work still to get done this week, or the doings in the House today, or the season, or the excitement of going to play practice again after twenty-five years. Or maybe it was simply cats and digestion.

This season, I have been reading Gayle Boss’ All Creation Waits again, learning about the various states of torpor and hibernation and quiet of various animals throughout a northern winter. I, too, feel torpor taking me, but it’s not always about deep sleep for me. Sometimes, it feels more like a simple need to rest quietly and profoundly, while the stories play out in my brain.

Winter is, for me, the Dreaming Time. I do head more readily toward sleep, if I don’t always actually make it to the deepest waters. After Solstice and Christmas, in the hush of nights when the planet seems to pause in its dance, as she begins the whirl back to exquisite balance, I listen more closely to my dreams, watching for symbols and images and words that I might mine for use in the coming year. Already, my night-brain seems to be readying me for the work of conscious dreaming.

Now comes the work of remembering and sorting the images that come in those half wakeful moments between the dreaming and sleeping and waking. May your dreams bring you wisdom.


Gratitude List:
1. The startling talents of my students.
2. The wisdom of dreams and darkness
3. Break is coming
4. Only 3 days until Sunreturn
5. Little spaces in the coming day in which to breathe

May we walk in Beauty!

Advent 17: Loneliness

On the way to and from school these days, the kids and I are listening to Maggie Stiefvater’s magical book series, The Raven Cycle. Yesterday, she explored one character’s way of being/not being with others in a tender discussion of loneliness and lonesomeness and aloneness. I can’t reconstruct her dreamy prose here, but the idea caught the flighty bird of my attention.

I have been considering these concepts lately, too, because one of the shadows that overwhelms in this season of shifting shadows is loneliness. Let’s keep our eyes open and hearts aware, as we walk this path together, of those who live with a deep sense of isolation and lack of connection from others. I see them at school, those who–for whatever reason–remain separate from the rest, keep their heads down and their eyes low, who take up so little body space they can almost make themselves invisible. Whether it’s fear or shyness or past pain or perceived difference, they live in isolation from others, and it takes deep tenderness and patience to step through the veil toward them. Social anxiety is a monstrous fear for so many young people these days, and it breeds an aching loneliness.

It’s also possible to be extremely socially interactive and still feel separate and apart, lonesome. In places where you feel a profound sense of unbroachable difference with others, it’s easy to feel isolated, no matter how gregarious and interactive your relationships. Yesterday, I posted Brene Brown’s message on my board at school: “If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.” The holiest communities for me have been the ones where we can acknowledge and appreciate the ways in which we are different, where we can revel in the uniqueness of each individual while meeting at our common points. In this season, I have been more acutely aware of some of the challenges of meeting in ways that appreciate difference when theological and political discussions have created such chasms. Our current cultural divide heightens our separation and makes belongingness even more elusive. It is possible to be interactive and friendly on the surface while feeling the width of the chasm between self and others as a poignant and painful lonesomeness.

One of my deep, deep longings, especially at times when the rest of the world seems to gearing up the energy to a frenzy, is for long periods of quiet aloneness, a nearly impossible commodity in this season. The demands of the world outside become so intense that I can find it hard to catch my breath. I need to take my aloneness when I can, and keep my schedule as loose and open as possible. I need to be my own dragon at the gate. It’s hard at times to keep the open and watchful heart that is ready to notice the lonely hearts of others when I am protecting my own aloneness, and I feel this tension acutely in the shadow season.

Let’s keep our hearts aware and awake to our own needs for space and quiet in this season, even while we offer belonging to those in our communities who may be feeling invisible or isolated.


Gratitude List:
1. Quiet moments of restful aloneness
2. Belongingness. Deep, true heart-meeting belongingness
3. Warm fleeces and flannels
4. Watching students open themselves to being known
5. You, out there, breathing and thinking and dreaming and being present.

May we walk in Beauty and Belongingness.