Holding the Boundaries

Art by Beth Weaver-Kreider and AI. Brightwing Tarot.

I’m trying not to engage in too wide-ranging a re-interpretation of the cards as I find my way through the Fool’s Wanderings in the tarot, so I want to be careful with cards like this one, which I have always found unsettling. The Fool leaves the arms of the nurturing Earth in the Empress/Matrix card, and now meets the Emperor. As I meditate on the meaning of this card and what the Fool needs to learn here, I find the martial and domineering nature of the Emperor to crunch too intensely against my own notions of peace and justice.

The Emperor is the boundary-setter, putting their own Will into the world and establishing the edges. Rather than interpreting this card as the selfish and greedy conquest of a power-hungry patriarch, I look at this boundary-setting as an incredibly important moment in the Fool’s learning process, when they realize they, too, deserve justice and respect. In my own recent crisis, I find that I must make a stop here in the land of The Protector (whom I might end up calling The Boundary-Setter), and relearn how to re-member my own boundaries, how to shore up the walls of my garden, and say, “This far, and no further. Here is my limit.”

And it IS a re-learning and a re-membering. It’s never a once and done thing. This Fool that is me has been here in this place before, learning about boundaries and protection of my insides. I thought I had completely aced this lesson in the past. Yet I find myself here again. Again. The assault on my inner realm this time has been more intense than I could have previously imagined. Time to re-learn this lesson. With the Emperor/Protector/Boundary-Setter, I say, “I will protect myself. I will hold fast to my inner truth and not feel shame.”

And this one pairs so beautifully with the work of The Matrix, in this case a binary pairing that dances together to form a deeper complexity. The life force of The Matrix is free of boundaries and rule-setting, and the soul force of The Protector creates healthy and safe boundaries. Too much of one or the other, and the Fool will lose her balance.

And how can I truly create brave and safe where others can feel belonging if I cannot protect my own inner world? One thing that the traditional Emperor does not seem to know how to do is to ask for help. I’m grateful to add that layer to my version of the card. This Protector knows how to ask for help in times of breached walls.

Here is my Emperor poem from several years ago. I find that it’s one of those moments when my own voice from the past has something to say to the me of the moment:

Setting the Intention
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

I will.
That should fill
the task list of the day.
Just say,
“I will.”

Then make that happen.
Make your will into a thing
Let it sing.
Give it ground.

Cast your boundaries around you:
east and south and west and north.
Go forth
and do your will.


Gratitude List:
1. Blue grosbeak. I know he makes my gratitude list every day now, but really, the sun twinkling off the deep cerulean of his feathers is such a revelation! I feel like Mother Mary is tapping me on the shoulder every time I see him. Such a Blue!
2. Safe and protected spaces, and the people who rush to help shore up the walls when they’ve been breached.
3. Father Richard Rohr’s words today on symbolic language for the journey of faith. I felt like he’d been watching my own story somehow. Powerful synchronicity.
4. Reclaiming my place.
5. So many Beloveds. You and you and you. Twice this past weekend, I met people in the flesh whom I have only known online, and I was so blessed to know and see their beauty in the real world. I can be really socially awkward, especially right now, but I love this sort of encounter! Balm to my soul.
May we walk in Beauty!


“Stars are an excellent medicine for homesick hearts.” —F W Boreham


“Radical simply means grasping things at the root.” ―Angela Davis


“If you put three or four disassociated ideas together, and created awkward relationships with them, the unconscious intelligence that comes from those pairings is really quite startling sometimes, quite provocative.” —David Bowie


“Dehumanizing others is the process by which we become accepting of violations against human nature, the human spirit, and, for many of us, violations against the central tenets of our faith.” —Brené Brown


“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only [s]he who sees, takes off [her] shoes.”
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning


“I do not see a delegation for the Four Footed. I see no seat for the Eagles. We forget and we consider ourselves superior. But we are after all a mere part of Creation. And we must consider to understand where we are. And we stand somewhere between the mountain and the Ant. Somewhere and only there as part and parcel of the Creation.” —Oren Lyons


“The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed—to be seen, heard, and companioned exactly as it is.” —Parker J. Palmer


“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” ―Maya Angelou


This is how I would die
into the love I have for you:
As pieces of cloud
dissolve in sunlight. ―Rumi


Werifesteria: To wander longingly through the woods in search of mystery. (No one seems to know if this is an actual Old English word, as the internet says, but I don’t really care. It’s a word now.)


“Keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive” ―Martha Graham


“When Paul said, ‘Help those women who labor with me in the Gospel,’ he certainly meant that they did more than pour out tea.” ―Julia Foote


In Japanese (again, according to the internet), tsundoku means, “the act of buying books and not reading them, leaving them to pile up.”

Mater and Matrix

So, the Fool has embarked upon adventure–unprepared but winsomely present to each moment on the road–has learned the elemental mysteries of the universe from the Medium, and has studied wisdom and lore from the Secret Keeper. The next two characters the Fool meets are usually called The Empress and The Emperor. By renaming the Empress Matrix, I haven’t actually managed to entirely pull this character out of the gender binary, for matrix is the source, the womb from which we are born, the fertile Earth, the rock bed on which crystals are formed. This is the birth-giver, the bringer of life: fecund, nurturing, fruitful, generative. The German word mater, from which we get the word mother, comes from the Latin matrix.

This Matrix, unlike Neo’s computer simulation, is the source of all life, the life force that pushes dandelions through concrete and pulls forth the greening of the spring, draws forth the flower, and brings flower to fruit. Then the Matrix locks up that life force into the hard shell of the seed to begin the cycle all over again.

After acquiring knowledge and power from Medium and Secret Keeper, the Fool must take time to grow, and to carefully observe the cycles of life, to feel the Life Force that feeds the Fool’s own self. The Fool learns to tend and nurture life force in the presence of the Matrix.

Here is a poem I wrote several years ago about The Empress:

Message from the Empress
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

In the grove over the ridge, the trees
have broken into a flourish of pink,
lascivious against the rain-wet green,
a thousand mouths seeking a drink.

Let us riot too.
Let us fill our thirst.

Let us spread our blooming fingers,
opening our mouths and hearts, dancing
away ruin with bloom, lingering
with simple beauty, with aching fragrance.

Let us waft.
Let us be wanton.


The Matrix/Empress has no time for rule-making about bodies. Here is where the Fool learns about Embodiment, about Being a Body. Unlike certain strains of Buddhism and Christianity that stress transcending or mortifying the body in order to reach enlightenment or purity, The Matrix knows that the body is pure and right and holy. “Your body is a temple,” we were told in Sunday School, and were expected to hide and contain and control it. “Your body is a temple,” says The Matrix, “and it is meant to be celebrated and inhabited and experienced.”

How do you experience life in a body? Is it painful? Uncomfortable? Shameful? Joyful? Ecstatic? Primal? What meditations and movements, what breathing and noticing, can you do to more fully experience the deep sense of belonging in a body?


Gratitude List:
1. People who get it, who understand your story even when you need to speak around silent spaces. People who See you even when you feel like parts of you have become invisible.
2. Textile arts, particularly crocheting and knitting–how amazing that we can take one or two little sticks, and a piece of string, and make such amazing things? Knot and twist. There’s a life lesson in that, isn’t there?
3. Wood thrushes calling in the woods at Sam Lewis Park this evening.
4. Disc Golf. I didn’t play because we only have two sets of discs, but it was such a delight walking through the course as the boys played. Child 2 said to Child 1, “You’ll have to hurry up and get your license so we can do this whenever we want!”
5. Blue grosbeak, a constant visual presence at the feeder, and oriole, a constant aural presence in the holler.
May we walk in Beauty!


“If you feel thirsty, then
drink from your cup.
The birds will keep singing
until they wake up.”
—Franz Wright


“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” —attributed to Buddha and to Nelson Mandela


“Let fury have the hour.
Anger can be power.
D’you know that you can use it?”
–The Clash


“In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person you need to become to write that book.”
― Junot Díaz


“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”
― Stephen King


“let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences”
― Sylvia Plath

The Secret Keeper

After the Fool studies under the tutelage of the magician or medium, they begin an apprenticeship in lore and knowledge and wisdom with the High Priestess. I’m trying to unthread some of these roles from the gender binary, so for now, I am calling this person the Secret Keeper. On any spiritual path, there are stages and steps in the journey toward wisdom and maturity, and the Secret Keeper represents that careful opening up of understanding as the Fool absorbs new things.

Why might it be important for the Fool to absorb knowledge and teaching slowly and carefully rather than dashing immediately into the inner sanctum? I think of the people I watch on the national scene, celebrity preachers who, heady with the sense of power they feel with their shallow understandings of biblical “truths,” begin to preach a gospel of prosperity or nationalism, people who develop immature and twisted ideas of purity based on rule-based dogma, and then try to pass off pat and glib salesmanship as faith. A surface glance at a holy text or a shallow absorption of a spiritual principle will not help the Fool to deepen and grow, and in order to face the coming challenges, the Fool needs to go deep.

To use the churchy word, the Fool needs discipleship, the careful study and application of spiritual disciplines, in order to be grounded in the power learned at the Medium’s knee, and the knowledge offered by the Secret Keeper.

What are your spiritual disciplines? Here are some of mine:
1. I love the Search for Beauty, or as Mary Oliver puts it: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
2. I find Gratitude Lists to be really helpful, especially when I find myself cycling into complaining and despair.
3. Writing poetry. Writing in general.
4. Trying to envision everyone as a beloved child of Godde or the Universe. I don’t do this lightly, and I would never require it of anyone else. In situations where I am trying to understand someone who hurts other people, I try to meditate on the fact that they, too, are beloved. It’s not about forgiveness or about tolerating injustice or evil, just about not losing sight of the other’s essential humanity.
5. Meditation with images, like a piece of art or a photograph or a tarot card.


Gratitude List:
1. Blue grosbeak
2. Cardinal
3. Goldfinch
4. The green flowery smell of mid-May
5. Always something new to learn.
May we walk in Beauty!


“A witch ought never to be frightened in the darkest forest, Granny Weatherwax had once told her, because she should be sure in her soul that the most terrifying thing in the forest was her.” —Terry Pratchett


“Oh, God, make me a hollow reed, from which the pith of self hath been blown so that I may become as a clear channel through which Thy Love may flow to others. I have left behind me impatience and discontent. I will chafe no more at my lot. I commit myself wholly into thy hands, for thou are my Guide in the desert, the Teacher of my ignorance, the Physician of my sickness.” —attributed to Abdu’l-Bahá


“Truth is an agile cat. It has more than nine lives.” —Joy Harjo


Silence
by Hafiz

A day of Silence
can be a pilgrimage in itself.
A day of Silence
can help you listen
to the Soul play
in marvelous lute and drum.
Is not most talking
a crazed defense of a crumbling fort?
I thought we came her
to surrender in Silence,
to yield to Light and Happiness,
to Dance within
in celebration of Love’s Victory!

The Happy Medium

After setting out on the journey into the woods, or to the cliff’s edge, or through the deep and shadowy valley, the Fool encounters a series of individuals, wise mentors who offer the Fool help, advice, skills, and wisdom.

The first of these is traditionally called The Magician or Mage. I like the term Mage, because it reminds me of the three Magi of the legends that came from the “wise men from the east” who visited the Christ Child. I am also enamored of Madeleine L’Engle’s Happy Medium, who can see into the patterns of the cosmos. For now, I am calling this one the Medium. This advisor to the Fool has ready access to all the tools of water, earth, air, and fire, and has a deep spiritual capability to visualize the change they wish to see in the world, and then the inner fortitude to make it happen. The Mage or Medium doesn’t just let life happen to them; they happen to life. So the Fool, who has set out without any real planning or purpose other than adventure, receives here the training to develop a vision, to make a plan, to create what they want in the world.

I feel a little like I am the Fool seeking the Medium’s wisdom right now. How can I use the skills and tools that I have to draw to myself the Next Thing? How can I put my own thoughts and ideas into the world, envision a future, plan for what I want, and make it happen? All while maintaining the winsomeness of the Fool.


Here is a poem about Magic, for the Magician:

The Magic of Language
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

Listen to the wisdom of the sage.
“What is language, but a kind of magic?
Here am I, in my own organism, my tower of Self,
and you there in your own lonely keep,
and how shall we bridge the gap between us
but by language? These webs of sound
we string together, we cast them through sky,
drawing out threads of meaning,
as with a wand, fiery threads of sense.

“We build this bridge on air,
scratch symbols on a page with feathers,
and stories flow like water between us,
borne on gossamer strands
of word on word on word.
We manage and tend our loneliness
by weaving cloths of language.
How can we find each other in the shadow
but for the flow of speech we offer
and the magic of these words upon the page?


Gratitude List:
1. Well duh! That was no indigo bunting! It was a blue grosbeak. I should have known that. I’ve seen and identified both in recent years. But my brain blipped, much as it does when it mistakenly equivocates unequivocable things in math-world. So yay! Blue Grosbeak!
2. I love Kindergarten! I love the stories. I love the shining eyes. I love the wiggliness. I love the dreaminess. I love the restfulness. I love Miss Nikki and Miss Abby, and I love being Miss Beth.
3. Putting Difficult Things behind me. No, I’m not going to start repressing Big Feelings, but you can only spend so long looking at the devastation of the wildfire before you start to clean up and replant and rebuild.
4. Foreacre Furfamily! We HAD to do something about the barn kittens yesterday. This is the second time a cat has given birth in the barn (that we know of). I think people drop off their cats at farms, and then the feral population burgeons. Last night we had a near tragedy involving some of the kittens and a mower, so we put out the call for someone to come take the kittens and the Foreacres responded! They have all five kittens safely cared for, and they even took the mama after we trapped her, so she can be fixed. I love people who care for animals.
5. Energy. Today is the first time in a long time that I haven’t felt a pressing need for a nap.
May we walk in Beauty!

*#4 is really a rant. Please DON’T abandon your animals at farms in the country. Yes, there are mice in the barn for a feral cat to eat, but there are also bird’s nests all over the woods, and baby bunnies, and we want to enjoy the birds and the bunnies. And when you abandon your cat, someone else will have to be responsible for dealing with the offspring, and for getting the animal fixed.


“The Word is not a pet. The Word is the wildness behind creation, the terror of a black hole, the atomic violence of burning hydrogen within a sun.” —Madeleine L’Engle


“I stand before what is with an open heart. And with an open heart, I dwell in possibility.” —Macrina Weiderkehr


“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
― Ida B. Wells-Barnett


“Somewhere in the world there is a treasure that has no value to anyone but you, and a secret that is meaningless to everyone except you, and a frontier that possesses a revelation only you know how to exploit. Go in search of those things.

Somewhere in the world there is a person who could ask you the precise question you need to hear in order to catalyze the next phase of your evolution. Do what’s necessary to run into that person.” —Rob Breszny


“Pain travels through families until someone is ready to feel it.” —Stephi Wagner


“The object of terrorism is terrorism. The object of oppression is oppression. The object of torture is torture. The object of murder is murder. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?” ―George Orwell


“Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, that person sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” —Robert F Kennedy


“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil it multiplies it.” —Martin Luther King Jr


“The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppose.” —Frederick Douglass


“Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help. Only if we help, we shall be saved.” ―Jane Goodall

The Fool’s Mission

Another poem about the Fool:

Begin at the End
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

Begin your road at the ending,
as the last pathway rounds the bend.
Dance to the lip of the chasm–
place your foot upon a bridge of rainbow.
Keep your eyes upon the distant wood,
your ears tuned to the song of undine and dryad.

Remember, your road is a circle,
and everywhere you are is the start of your journey.
Your road is of water, of vision, of air,
of heartbeat, illusion, and wisdom
a pathway of fire and smoke.

Feel how the sky under your feet holds you up,
how the earth at your back is made only of dreams,
how the only way forward is light and color,
how a distant harping draws you onward.


Gratitude List:
1. Indigo Bunting at the feeder: Impossible blue
2. New endeavors. I’m heading off to kindergarten in a moment
3. Just now, half a minute after I typed #1, the Bunting flew straight to the window. I was terrified that he was going to crash into it, but he flew up and hovered and looked in at me for several wingbeats! Holy holy holy!
4. Orchard Oriole
5. Silence
May we walk in Beauty!


“No matter where you are from, your dreams are valid.” —Lupita Nyong’o


TO MAKE A PROMISE
by David Whyte

Make a place of prayer, no fuss,
just lean into the white brilliance
and say what you needed to say
all along, nothing too much, words
as simple and as yours and as heard
as the bird song above your head
or the river running gently beside you,
let your words join to the world
the way stone nestles on stone
the way the water simply leaves
and goes to the sea,
the way your promise
breathes and belongs
with every other promise
the world has ever made.

Now, leave them to go on,
let your words alone
to carry their own life,
without you, let the promise
go with the river.
Have faith. Walk away.


“Feminism requires precisely what patriarchy destroys in women. Unimpeachable bravery in confronting male power.” —Andrea Dworkin


“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” —Brené Brown

The Fool Sets Off

The Fool Sets Off On the Journey, Brightwing Tarot

In the tarot, that ancient tool for exploring the journey to the center of the self, the Fool sets off on a journey. She’s naive and eager to court adventure. He’s unafraid of dangers that may lie in his path. They dance on the edge of the cliff, follow the trail of butterflies, and seek out that which is fresh and new and exciting. Anything could happen, yes, but anything COULD happen! With Walt Whitman, the Fool sings: “Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms, / Strong and content, I travel the travel the open road!”

This is how the fairy tale begins. You are the golden child, innocent, hopeful, full of promise. Tabula rasa, a blank slate. Anything can happen.

You live on the edge of a great wood, a forest beautiful and terrifying. You live in a warm, inviting cottage. In a poor but tidy little hut. In a fine and well-appointed house. In a castle. In a dirty, ramshackle hovel. In a high tower.

With warm, nurturing, and protective parents, or a family struck by despair and dysfunction. With a gentle and forgetful grandmother. With your father, a benevolent but distant king, and his wife, a smothering overprotector. With the vain and hostile wife of your loving but absent father, a traveling merchant. With a terrible witch who stole you from your family. With a kind witch who has rescued you from your suffering.

One thread runs through all the tales: You are admonished not to go into the forest alone. There is a set boundary, a garden, a lane, a wall—a line that you must, for your own safety, never cross. For the wood, while full of calling birds and bright butterflies, can also be a place of fear and danger, where a child could be lost or eaten by wolves. Both the beauties and the dangers are very real.

And the wood is exactly the place that your adventure must take you, for the forest is the landscape of your own adult life. Perhaps, like Red Riding Hood, you made your first steps into this wood on your own with the firm and gentle guidance of a loving parent who gently set you on the most known pathway. Perhaps, like Hansel and Gretel or Vasilissa the Brave, you were set into the wood without supplies or direction, pushed out of childhood innocence before you were ready. Maybe, like Goldilocks, you followed a trail of bright flowers or a shining ray of sunlight into the wood, against all the cautions of the adults in your life, and your own curiosity drew you into the trees.

Aunt Eliza’s Advice for Lost Children
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

Once upon a time there lived a golden child
who followed a trail of bright flowers
deep into the heart of the forest.

That’s you, in case you hadn’t picked it up,
and the forest is the life you are wandering in.
This is the story you chose for your own
in those rainbow days before you were born.

Oh, for most of us, and much of the time,
the forest is fairly navigable, and not too scary.
But sometimes we get caught in the brambles,
overwhelmed by the shadows, befriended
by suave and creepy fellows in wolfskin.

We forget how to find our way,
forget that we are the main character,
the child of the glorious day,
forget our identity,
forget our destiny, our star
forget how to follow our guides,
forget who they are.

So step into the clearing, Dearies.
Have a seat by the fire.
Here’s a little advice:

Keep following the flowers,
the butterflies, the little birds,
whatever drew you in here in the first place.

Go ahead and flirt with the wolves,
but don’t give them Grandma’s address.

Breaking and entering is still
breaking and entering, Sweetie,
even if it’s a cute little cottage.
You never know what’s in the oatmeal.

Listen to the doll your mother gave you.
Your mother’s voice inside yourself
will always lead you true.

Beware of riddling with old women.
Always remember your manners,
and always be kinder than necessary.

There’s a happily-ever-after
right around the bend,
but you might have to travel
half a lifetime and complete
three impossible tasks
to reach it.


More Advice from Aunt Eliza
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

It doesn’t always have to be so,
but it seems to be the way things go:

When the sunny trail ends at that dead ash tree,
when the sweet-scented grasses turn to brambles,
when the radiant butterfly flits into shadows
and out from behind the tree pads the wolf–

That is when the story really gets started.

Epiphany can be those shiny angels,
those glittering kings bearing gold,
but it also comes in shadows and cobwebs.

One day you are sleep-walking
through your dreamy life,
not paying attention to where the path leads,
and epiphany comes in the form of a crow,
calling your name from the topmost branch
of a lightning-struck oak.

Or you find the sweet cottage
but wake up surrounded by bears
or tossed head-first into the furnace.

Or an old woman in tatters and rags
swoops into the clearing, chattering,
demanding to know who you think you are,
demanding your service, your heart.

And that’s the key, isn’t it?
Who do you think you are, meddling in this story?
Can you give your whole heart to the process?
What are you doing here, in the heart of this forest,
this landscape of your life?
What is your real name?
Are you ready to fight for it?
To go on a quest, answer the riddle,
do the three impossible tasks,
risk your own dissolution, your death,
just to claim it as your own?

You thought you were so brave,
following the path to explore the woods,
though you’d been warned,
though your skin prickled,
though you knew the stories
of those who never returned.

Now is the time for bravery.
Now is the time for fierce
uncompromising joy.
Now the real exploration begins.


Gratitude List:
1. Symbols for the journey
2. Good coffee
3. Art-gallery-hopping
4. Adventure
5. Fairy Tales
May we walk in Wonder!


“One of the greatest tragedies in life is to lose your own sense of self and accept the version of you that is expected by everyone else.” —K.L. Toth


“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” —Oscar Wilde


“Believe me, you will find more lessons in the woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you what you cannot learn from masters.” —St. Bernard of Clairvaux


“A woman with opinions had better develop a thick skin and a loud voice.” —Anya Seton


“The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.” —Alexandra K.Trenfor


“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living, I want to know what you ache for. It doesn’t interest me how old you are, I want to know if you are willing to risk looking like a fool for love, for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive. I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine. It doesn’t interest me where you live or how rich you are, I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and be sweet to the ones you love. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and truly like the company you keep in the empty moments of your life.” —Oriah Mountain Dreamer


The Bridge

In a trivial gesture, in a greeting,
in the simple glance, directed
in flight toward other eyes,
a golden, a fragile bridge is constructed.
This alone is enough.

Although it is only for a moment, it exists, exists.
This alone is enough.
—Circe Maia
translation from the Spanish by Jesse Lee Kercheval


“If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” ―Roald Dahl


“To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.” ―Mary Oliver


“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” ―Vonnegut

Relentlessly Rainy

I walked Sarah’s Labyrinth in the rain at the Landis Valley Herb Faire

I don’t know when we have had such a relentlessly rainy day. No matter. I went to the Landis Valley Herb Faire this morning, and got to chat with Tina and Maryanne, Sonya and David, and Sarah and Chris. If you’re in Lancaster/York and looking for something to do tomorrow, you ought to go! Check out The Essential Herbal stand in the big barn–you’ll know them by the silk scarves; Herbs from the Labyrinth in the Isaac Landis House–and walk the labyrinth; and Sonya’s birdhouses–in the lawn in front of the Herbs from the Labyrinth pop-up. There are a thousand plants to buy! And scarves and birdhouses and soaps and face cream and teas and balms and salves and lemonade. . .

When I walk a labyrinth, as I work my way toward the center, I pause at each turning, and remind myself to let it go. Sometimes I am very intentional about specific things to release, and other times, like today, I just straighten my spine and remind myself to let the anxieties and rage and sadness fall away (they’ll come back again when they need to me to unpack them). Then on the way outward, I pause again at each turning, and remind myself to pick it up: not the things I dropped on the way in, but the responsibility, the accountability, the energy, the desire–whatever I need in order to move forward.


Gratitude List:
1. Getting out in the world, bumping into beloveds and exchanging pleasantries with strangers.
2. The Merlin app. My dad has been raving about it, so I added it, too. Record the dawn chorus, and it tells you who’s been singing!
3. The exciting about this little temporary job I am taking up is that I will be an aide in a kindergarten class taught by one of my former students! The circles are sacred.
4. Finding my way home
5. I don’t get bored
May we walk in Beauty!


“When people ask me what Emily Dickinson poems are about, I want to run away and hide, simply because for me, some poems are not about the ‘about’. They are metaphysical spells that you hold close and don’t really want to elaborate on. They help you to go on when you have nothing else left to go on with, the kind of poems you remember even when you don’t want to remember them.” —Ilya Kaminsky


“There is a kindness that dwells deep down in things; it presides everywhere, often in the places we least expect. The world can be harsh and negative, but if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself. Something deep in the human soul seems to depend on the presence of kindness; something instinctive in us expects it, and once we sense it we are able to trust and open ourselves.” —John O’Donohue


“In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty.” —Phil Ochs


“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” ―Jane Goodall


“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” ―Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Symbolic Language

Big canvas, kind of a mess to start. Doorway–the threshold, the liminal space, the between.

Recently, I wrote a piece for someone about what symbolic language means to me, how I approach life and spirituality as a poet and a mystic rather than as a theologian, how stories and images speak to me more than finely-constructed arguments and manifestos. As an English teacher and word-nerd, I DO love strong argument and well-worded theses, but in the realm of the spiritual journey, they leave me cold and disheartened.

It’s part of my devotion to Jesus: He was a storyteller. He used symbolic language rather than cold dogma and doctrine. The Sermon on the Mount is as much poetry as it is doctrine. He’s getting a seriously bad rap these days–once again–as people who think they know his mind try to control and cage and exclude others using his name.

The Holy One, call Her what you will, is too unutterably beyond our comprehension for mere mortals to put Her in a box with our words and our religious doctrines. And the journey that each of us takes to find Them is too miraculous and individual and utterly free to be caged either. Find Them in the trees, in the stones. Find Him in the breeze rising over the hill. Find Her in the deep still waters of the pond or the roaring of ocean waves. The Great Mystery is there, waiting to be discovered, in your dreams, in your books, in your cards, in your meditations, in the gentle words your beloved speaks.

In the early days of this new and uncertain chapter of my life, my beloved sister-in-law gave me the image of standing in a doorway. I had just asked my Creative Writing students a week or two before to write a poem about doorways, how we look back at the past and look forward to the future, but stand poised in liminal space as we rest on a threshold. I’m trying to paint a doorway now. I’m rusty in the painting department, and I have never done such a huge canvas, but it’s healing to live into this image as I stand with my own hands on the doorposts, deciding to step into the unknown before me.

And just a few days ago, a beloved friend gave me a dream image about a road in an expansive landscape, with many smaller roads leading away, into blue sky and over rolling hills (I’m making the image my own now even as I repeat it). And, she said, despite the knowledge of the pain that I was feeling, there was joy because of the binder/book I was carrying, filled with my poetry and art. I picture it overflowing and spilling outward. Something in me is finding a home on this new road.

Friends have given me stones, cards, books, plants, candles in my time of wrestling and grieving–all symbols for my heart to latch onto as I figure out who I am on this new road.

What are the images that speak to your soul in times of crisis or joy? What dreams and visions and meditations inform your spiritual journey, your inward path?


Gratitude List:
1. Symbols for the pathway
2. How the trees shine green
3. The way the scent of these lilies of the valley reaches out to be noticed
4. A temporary new job! I’m going to be an aide in a Kindergarten class three days a week, and the lead teacher is a former student of mine. This is one of the happiest little circles!
5. The deep-hearted kindness of beloveds in these circles of community
May we walk in Beauty, in Love, in Spirit!


“If you are looking for verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for for verses with which to liberate or honor women, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to wage war, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to promote peace, you will find them. If you are looking for an out-dated, irrelevant ancient text, you will find it. If you are looking for truth, believe me, you will find it. This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not “what does it say?”, but “what am I looking for?” I suspect Jesus knew this when he said, “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” If you want to do violence in this world, you will always find the weapons. If you want to heal, you will always find the balm.” ―Rachel Held Evans


“My interpretation can only be as inerrant as I am, and that’s good to keep in mind.” ―Rachel Held Evans


“I am writing because sometimes we are closer to the truth in our vulnerability than in our safe certainties.” ―Rachel Held Evans


“There is a kindness that dwells deep down in things; it presides everywhere, often in the places we least expect. The world can be harsh and negative, but if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself. Something deep in the human soul seems to depend on the presence of kindness; something instinctive in us expects it, and once we sense it we are able to trust and open ourselves.” —John O’Donohue


“Prayer leads you to see new paths and to hear new melodies in the air. Prayer is the breath of your life which gives you the freedom to go and to stay where you wish and to find the many signs which point out the way to a new land. Praying is not simply some necessary compartment in the daily schedule of a Christian or a source of support in a time or need, nor is it restricted to Sunday mornings or mealtimes. Praying is living.” —Henri J. M. Nouwen


Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
Be still
Be
—Fr. James Martin


“Empathy is the lifeblood of our fragile humanity, dear friend. It is the thing that sustains us all, and in moments like this it is more precious than ever. The world needs people like you who are willing to have their hearts broken; people who wake every day prepared to be wounded on behalf of another, because they know that this wounding allows someone to be seen and heard and known when they most need to be.” —John Pavlovitz


“Draw thy pen. Slay the beast.” —on a sign at a protest march


Doctor Who : “You want weapons? We’re in a library. Books are the best weapon in the world. This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have. Arm yourself!”


“In her book “Women Who Run with the Wolves,” Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes suggests that we all need to periodically go cheerfully and enthusiastically out of our minds. Make sure, she says, that at least one part of you always remains untamed, uncategorizable, and unsubjugated by routine. Be adamant in your determination to stay intimately connected to all that’s inexplicable and mysterious about your life.

“At the same time, though, Estés believes you need to keep your unusual urges clear and ordered. Discipline your wildness, in other words, and don’t let it degenerate into careless disorder.” —Rob Brezsny, on Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes


“Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky.” —Kahlil Gibran


“It seems that a whole lot of people, both Christians and non-Christians, are under the impression that you can’t be a Christian
and vote for a Democrat,
you can’t be a Christian and believe in evolution,
you can’t be a Christian and be gay,
you can’t be a Christian and have questions about the Bible,
you can’t be a Christian and be tolerant of other religions,
you can’t be a Christian and be a feminist,
you can’t be a Christian and drink or smoke, you can’t be a Christian and read the New York Times,
you can’t be a Christian and support gay rights,
you can’t be a Christian and get depressed, you can’t be a Christian and doubt.
In fact, I am convinced that what drives most people away from Christianity is not the cost of discipleship but rather the cost of false fundamentals.” —Rachel Held Evans

Being the Guesthouse

I’ve been meditating on Rumi’s poem “The Guesthouse” again:

The Guest House
by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.​

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


And also holding this quotation of Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes in mind: “There will always be times in the midst of ‘success right around the corner, but as yet still unseen’ when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate. The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours: They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.”

Seemingly contradictory. Welcome in each Big Feeling–the anxiety, the discouragement, the despair–as though guests in a guesthouse. What do you have to teach me? What guidance? What treasure? And still. Still, I am also not keeping a chair for despair, not a winsomely hopeful table set as if for the most revered of guests. I will not feed the Big Feelings. They’re here to bring their messages and depart, to teach me what they need to teach, and go on and away.

Deep breathing, art, poetry, good music, anchoring myself in my body and my senses. I need to find the balance between dealing with the anxieties and listening to them. You there! Crawling Thing in the pit of my stomach: Let’s sit for a minute and talk about what brings you here. What is your message? What am I to learn from you? Thank you–now you can be on your way while I ground and center and breathe. And prepare for the next journey, as Dr. CPE suggests.


Gratitude List:
1. Listening for the messages in the Big Feelings, but not harboring them
2. Pondering Purpose
3. Lilies of the Valley
4. Painting again
5. Dreams
May we walk in Beauty!


“My ego is desperately. . .trying to get the experiences that I think will fill me up and make me happy again. But no matter how much I try, it doesn’t work—because it’s not in the content of experience that I’ll find happiness, but in the quality of my attention and presence in any experience I have.” —Russ Hudson


“Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine act of insurrection.” ―Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark


SOMETIMES
by David Whyte
Sometimes everything
has to be
enscribed across
the heavens
so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.


“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” —Margaret Atwood


“Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” —Ella Fitzgerald


“To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on your futures, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.” ―Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark


“Your opponents would love you to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win. Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away.” ―Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

Wise Friends and Wise Dreams

In last night’s dream, there are four photos of me with clouds behind me. It’s clearly exactly the same smiling image of me, but the clouds behind me are different: In one, they’re sort of happy and flowery, in another they’re simply bland and grey, in one they’re dramatic, and in one they’re clearly in the menacing form of a shark.

I’m wrangling these days with what it means to be honest and real in the midst of crisis. On one hand, I think it’s important not to put on a false face, to not pretend like nothing’s wrong when things are crumbling. I have always been grateful for people who let me in, who share the deep realities, even when they’re painful. I want to follow their modeling.

On the other hand, it’s not safe for me or others for the shark-cloud or the rainclouds to be obvious all the time. We wear the sunny face to protect ourselves and others. It would be exhausting to be wearing those drama-clouds all the time, and it would control every conversation. And I don’t want everyone to see those.

So there’s a balance, and I feel like I am only learning the way to sort them out. I might thundercloud you when we’re in a light and airy space, or look cheery and chipper when I really want to tell you how much everything just sucks.

I think this uncertainty about how to feel the Big Feelings and still be “socially appropriate” is something some of us never quite learn to sort out. Every time I live through something momentous, it’s always the same. Perhaps it’s my social awkwardness coming out. So many of our children’s books deal with how to feel Big Feelings–we probably ought to all have a shelf of those in our houses.

I received a card from a friend yesterday in which she gave me the excellent advice to give myself time and rest on this part of the journey. “If you had broken your leg two weeks ago,” she wrote, “would you really expect yourself to climb the hills around your house now?” Sage advice from a wise woman. Also, I am a seven on the Enneagram, and pain avoidance is my specialty, but, as another friend told me: “You’ve got to feel it to heal it.”

Between my wise beloveds and my dream state, some good reminders to sit with the strong emotions, not to simply pack them away and ignore them.

When you are in crisis and the world seems to crumble around you, may you, too, feel the protecting arms and gentle words of beloveds to hold you through your storms.


Gratitude List:
1. I heard Oriole this morning! My best friend bird is back in the holler! No matter how chilly the day today, I am going to have the doors open at least for a little while, so I can listen for him.
2. The healthy green of the new leaves on my Mary Magdalene (Lenten) Roses. Really, the healthy green of everything right now!
3. Wise, wise beloveds.
4. I went to the Junior Recital of one of my students at Millersville last evening. Such incredible talent. I am awed and delighted at the many different gifts of these almost-adults.
5. Sometimes when you’re sad, people feed you. Nothing like a lemon muffin to bring some loving zest to the first morning of another week.
May we walk in Beauty!


“A woman who has uncovered and honors her intimacy with the earth through developing a relationship with nature or through the power within her own body carries a wisdom of infinite mystery and potential. She moves through life with one foot in a strange ocean, one on the solid land of her ordinary life.This is not just an idea, but a way to live. Mystics, artists, and mothers of young children know this ability to be half-absorbed in unnameable creative forces.” —Hilary Hart


“The only time incorrectly is not spelled incorrectly is when it is spelled incorrectly.”


“There is no such thing as one-sided generosity. Like one ecosystem, we are each at different times receiving or purging, growing or pruning. In those moments when you believe you aren’t receiving enough, consider what you most want to receive might be the thing you need to give away.” —Toko-pa Turner


“Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw.” —Henry David Thoreau


“Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art. Yet we so easily take this gift for granted. That is why so many spiritual traditions begin with thanksgiving, to remind us that for all our woes and worries, our existence itself is an unearned benefaction, which we could never of ourselves create.” —Joanna Macy


“What if the Creator is like the poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s God: “like a webbing made of a hundred roots, that drink in silence”?
What if the Source of All Life inhabits both the dark and the light, heals with strange splendor as much as with sweet insight, is hermaphroditic and omnisexual?
What if the Source loves to give you riddles that push you past the boundaries of your understanding, forcing you to change the ways you think about everything?
What if, as Rusty Morrison speculates in “Poetry Flash,” “the sublime can only be glimpsed by pressing through fear’s boundary, beyond one’s previous conceptions of the beautiful”?
Close your eyes and imagine you can sense the presence of this tender, marvelous, difficult, entertaining intelligence.” —Rob Brezsny