Gratitudes, Musings

Into the Dark, Day 20

Hush.
Pause.
Wait.
Watch.
Breathe into the quiet dark.
Tomorrow we step out of time.


Gratitude List:
1. Silence
2. Heat
3. Laughter
4. Tenderness
5. Breath

May we walk in Beauty!


“Satisfaction of one’s curiosity
is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”
—Linus Pauling


“To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.”
—Wendell Berry


“Piety is something you do alone. True freedom, spirituality, can only be achieved in community.” —Martin Sheen


“Fear doesn’t make us safer. It makes us weaker.” —Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, 2015


“The real prayers are not the words, but the attention that comes first.” —Mary Oliver


“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” —Simone Weil

Gratitudes, Musings

Into the Dark, December 18

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

My principal opened a faculty meeting yesterday by asking us to all turn to a neighbor and tell one good thing that happened in the day. It can be easy, when gathered with colleagues, to air the frustrations of the day, so to set the stage for a meeting by getting us to recall one good thing was to set us up for a moment of gratitude. He could hardly get us to be quiet and return our attention to the meeting, we got so wrapped up in finding the twinkling moments of the day.

Today’s word in this winter walk will be gratitude. Noticing, marking, paying attention to each bright thing that appears, each mysterious shadow that reveals itself, each twinkling moment that expands itself within me. Several friends and I do (mostly) daily gratitude lists which we share on our social media pages. It’s not to brag or to create a facade of lives in which everything runs smoothly and beautifully, but to remind ourselves and each other to keep watch, even in times of great sorrow or loss, to pay attention and take note of those things which bring joy, which bless our inner lives. In these days, even in the midst of political turmoil and injustice, there is so much to be grateful for.


Gratitude List:
1. Community of gratitude–being supported and buoyed up by others who have also chosen this work as a spiritual discipline.
2. There are lights at the end of this tunnel
3. The pianist in yesterday’s chapel–David Berry of Eastern Mennonite University. He brought energy and wonder into the space, and such music!
4. Singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” with the campus choral groups on Saturday night. One of my colleagues reminded me yesterday of how incredibly sublime that was.
5. I say this one a lot, but it’s one of the things that helps me hold onto hope in difficult days: the Good People doing their Good Work.

May we walk in Beauty!


“We must give the story of our misfortunes a home. This always seeking to start anew, to cover our eyes and elude pain, eventually only makes refugees of our wounds. They follow at our heels and seep into the background life of every new love. They become the distant, tenacious ache which howls with a silent mantra of unbelonging. We must remember and be willing to say their name. We must house our displacements, gather them close and feed them with our remembering until they acquiesce as the great allies that they are.” —Toko-pa Turner


“Maybe this is crazy, but I think the right to own a gun is trumped by the right not to be shot by one.” —Andy Borowitz


“Sit in stillness and listen to what your heart prays.” —Ruth Jewell


“The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” ―David Steindl-Rast

Gratitudes, Musings

Into the Dark, December 17

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

When we hiked the Appalachian Trail, there were those moments when we were climbing a mountain, when we felt like we were there. The path began to level out, the trees got a little shorter, the breezes seemed to signal success. So often, that was just the notice, just the heralding of the top and not the top itself. Often there was more climbing, more pushing ourselves to that last burst of energy necessary before we could find a place to sit and look down at the world below us.

It happened over and over again, that moment when I was sure we’d made it, only to have to climb another half hour or more, legs and back aching, longing for a break.

That’s this week. I can taste it, the moment of turn and shift, the dawn of that Lightreturn sun. But it is not here yet, and I have a week to go, pushing myself through this week yet, until I can take a break and rest in the darkness, marveling at the returning light.

So push on is my small phrase for the day. Feel the breeze, gather in the feeling of a journey almost accomplished, keep a keen eye peeled for the destination. But push on, push through the weariness and the desire to be done, to be there already. Use the available energy to get the necessary work done.


Gratitude List:
1. Little bursts of energy
2. When characters and ideas in books seem to spill out into real life
3. That injera with curried lentils and potatoes and cabbage and quinoa was really delicious. Even the sick child wandered to the table to eat it.
4. Sick child did not throw up yesterday
5. The light WILL return.

May we walk in Beauty!


Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem “Protest” published in 1914:

To sin by silence when we should protest
makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law.
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare must speak and speak again,
To right the wrongs of many.


“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
— J.R.R. Tolkien LOTR The Two Towers


Good rules from Rob Breszny:
“Don’t make nasty comments about yourself behind your own back.
Do play soccer in bunny slippers at dawn in a supermarket parking lot with a gang of Vipassana experts who have promised to teach you the Balinese monkey chant.
Do not share deep secrets with creatures you don’t like.
Do wear a T-shirt that says, “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”
Don’t glide into a bar, scout around for the person whose face has the most pain etched in it, and ask that person to come home with you.
Do pretend sometimes that maybe you mean the opposite of what you’re saying as well as what you’re saying.
Don’t pile up framed photos of old flames in a vacant lot and drive a monster truck over them.
Do stage a slow-motion water balloon fight.
Don’t gaze into a mirror and spout, “God damn you, why can’t you be different from who you are?!”
Do shake your fist at the night sky as you call out, “I defy you, stars!”
Do not put handfuls of dead ants in envelopes and mail them to people you’re mad at.
Do run along the tops of cars during a traffic jam, escaping from the bad guys as you make your way to a helicopter that takes you to a spot hovering over an erupting volcano, into which you drop the Buns of Steel video.
Don’t put your soul up for auction on eBay or pine for people who are sitting right next to you.”

Gratitudes, Musings

Into the Dark, December 14

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

Yesterday was St. Lucia’s Day. I usually try to bring in holidays and celebrations from around the world in the first few moments of the class. By the end of the day, I was a little tired of repeating the story of her martyrdom–Diocletian had her eyes gouged out before she was killed. She has come to represent inner light, inner seeing. The tradition of wearing a wreath with lit candles represents that fact of life: that we have many forms of light, many ways to see. Even the St. Lucia buns that people eat on December 13, with the raisins swirled into the ends, represent eyes.

Yesterday I was preoccupied with a certain kind of seeing, of keeping my inner eyes on the beloved one who was in the hands of competent doctors. Prayer is a form of seeing, of watching, observing. Today’s word will be Seeing with a capital S: that watchfulness of what is happening inside, of keeping our beloveds and our world in that prayerful inner focus.


Gratitude List:
1. The sure hands of doctors. Medical technology. All went well in the surgery yesterday.
2. Painting with my small person
3. Eyes to see, and inner eyes to See
4. Fridays
5. Stories and ideas that percolate through the layers of dream

May we walk in Beauty!


“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
—Muriel Rukeyser 
***
“At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”
—Alan Alda
***
“And love is always the bottom line.” -—Cynthia Bourgeault

Gratitudes, Musings

Into the Dark, December 12

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

One of my favorite quotations from anywhere comes from Mary Oliver’s “Sometimes.” Actually, several of my favorite quotations come from that poem, but this one is for today:

     “Instructions for living a life.
     Pay attention.
     Be astonished.
     Tell about it.”

This might be just the thing I need right now, in the endurance time, in the waiting time, in the polar opposite moments of silence and frenzy that mark this season. In this holding pattern where I find myself in the shortening days, in this time of focusing inward, it can be hard to keep my eyes up and out. But this, too, is the work of this season. This is why I am quieting myself. This is why I am breathing extra carefully and intentionally: So I can look around, and see what I can see.

I think I am quoting the Bible here: “Watch. Wait. For the hour is at hand.” Today’s word will be watch. Notice. Pay attention. And then be astonished. Today’s word has homework. What will I see, if I train my senses outward with just a little more intention than usual? And how will that affect my balance in this time–to keep part of my gaze focused inward, while part of my gaze is focused more intentionally outward?



Gratitude List:
1. The music program at my school
2. My parents
3. Watching and waiting
4. Scarves
5. Chocolate

May we walk in Beauty!


“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”
—Agnes De Mille


“But in a society seeking sameness and assimilation, while fleeing its most painful secrets, creative people are inevitably marginalized or even punished… Artists often raise the questions society seeks to mask and in doing so provoke its ire.” —Carol Becker, in “Surpassing the Spectacle”


“Write it on your heart
that every day is the best day in the year.
He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day
who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.
Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in.
Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with your old nonsense.
This new day is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson


“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

Gratitudes, Musings

Into the Dark, December 5

very year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

Those sunrise clouds do it every morning. I move through the morning darkness like a wader in a murky pond every morning, until I am fully awake, until I can let some of my muscles relax into the day. The clouds help. Magenta and tangerine streaks across cobalt and indigo and grey. Touches of aquamarine in the sky below.

Not every day, of course. Some of the sunrises are simple shifts from grey to grey. But some mornings, the sky breathes for me, breathes in colors that seep into my bones, the way warmth begins to creep inward from a nice cup of tea.

My word for today will be Color. Even in the grey days, there’s color to be found, and even now there are deep rich greens, pops of berry red, cardinal red, golden sunbeam.

Today, may colors seep into your soul, awaken and enliven you, help you breathe. Blessed be.


“The opposite of consumption is not frugality, it is generosity.”
—Raj Patel


“By reciting a myth, the storyteller remembers a creation, and, by remembering, is a part of that creating. It is best understood in that dreadful solecism “walkabout”. In walking, the Australians speak the land. Their feet make it new, now, and in its beginning. And the land speaks to them, now, anew, and in their beginning, by step and breath that meet in its dance, so that land and people sing as one.” —Alan Garner, The Voice That Thunders


“This earth that we live on is full of stories in the same way that, for a fish, the ocean is full of ocean. Some people say when we are born we’re born into stories. I say we’re also born from stories.” —Ben Okri


“So every day
I was surrounded by the beautiful crying forth
of the ideas of God,
one of which was you.” ―Mary Oliver


“Let the violence and pain in our world root you even more deeply in your commitment to be kinder and love harder, no matter the person or circumstance. Your great ability to love has everything to do with creating a more peaceful reality on our planet. Your love matters. It makes a critical difference. It helps us all.” —Scott Stabile


“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” —Nelson Mandela


“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
—Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)


“Never does Nature say one thing and Wisdom another.” —Juvenal


“There is a place where words are born of silence,
A place where the whispers of the heart arise.” —Rumi


Gratitude List:
1. Warm blankets
2. Elementary School Music Concerts
3. Nourishment
4. Words
5. You

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Musings

Into the Dark, December 4

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

I am writing this the evening before, because my family has decided that tomorrow will be a screen-free (other than work/school) day. We have a tendency to get caught up in our various internet pursuits and spend less time with each other, and we’ve developed patterns of crankiness after long internet sessions. We’re breaking the pattern tomorrow, shifting the energy, offering ourselves open spaces in our mornings and afternoons together.

Our hope is that this gives us more moments to be present with each other. So that’s my word for December 4: Presence. It’s an Advent word, after all–in the Christian tradition, we wait for the coming of God-with-us, Emmanuel.

In what ways can I be more present with family, my students, myownself? 


Gratitude List:
1. Warm lap-cat on a chilly day. Cats draped along my legs and lap.
2. How coffee takes the edge off. (I know. It’s a drug. And I actually had someone confront me once about being thankful for a mind-altering substance like coffee. Still, it’s what I am grateful for.)
3. Presence. Being here in this moment. And this one. And this one.
4. Catching up
5. Community

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Musings

Into the Dark, December 3

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

I am part of a church that always seems to meet me exactly where I am at the moment. Yesterday Mindy reminded us that the idea of Advent is out of sync with the cultural rush to Christmas. Advent is about silence and waiting, about getting in touch with the sense of loss, the awareness of the injustice, the fear of the darkness. I found my way there automatically this year. And the spiritual discipline of Advent is to sit with those crunchy emotions, while actively living into the anticipation for the new thing that will come. Breathing in the darkness.

We sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and Jim had asked six of us to solo on the verses. My verse was number 3: “O come, Thou Day-Spring / Come and cheer / Our spirits by Thine advent here / Disperse the gloomy clouds of night / And death’s dark shadows put to flight.” That was the verse I needed in this shadowy place.

And then Michelle, for the time of Confession, simply had us Breathe, while she read a prayer. So. My word for this Monday, the beginning of another long week, is Breathe


Gratitude List:
1. Belonging to communities of beloved people who tend each other’s spirits
2. The blue heron who flies over the highway at Columbia. I am a little frightened for him, actually. On one of his recent flights, he went too low, and was nearly hit by a car. It’s been strange, though, how in the last three days, I have seen him fly over the highway three times as I drove past, and at three different times of day. He’s restless, too.
3. The way the children have passed my by. Ellis is making a fancy speaker for Christmas, cutting out holes in the sides of an old speaker he was given for free at a yard sale, and installing computery things.
4. Poetry
5. Rituals, like the burning of candles in the dark of the year.

May we walk in Light!r

Gratitudes, Musings, Poems

Into the Dark, December 2

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, a claustrophobic pressure in my soul. The darkness begins to feel overwhelming, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously contend with the darkness, to ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, when we proclaim the light really and truly returned, I will set it down here on the blog. Knowing how the season hits me, I will give myself permission for some minimal days, a sentence or two, or soothing words from another poet or writer instead of my own. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

I am fascinated by the light reflected in the windows on these just-past-dawn winter mornings. I keep taking photos, trying to look through the reflections back into my world, but an altered version of my world. I am Alice gazing into the looking glass. I am Lucy looking into Narnia. There is a world of possibility out there, but also back in here. The images draw me outward and inward at the same time. There is magic at the very center of our lives. Alice and Lucy and their authors knew it: We are standing in the shining door or window or mirror or lamp post between worlds, you and I. The same vast worlds of possibility that reach outward also reach inward, and sometimes we approach them on the same pathways of light and shadow.

So today’s word is Reflection. Isn’t it interesting how we’ve chosen that word for contemplating our place in the world. We need the mirror or the glass, the light and shadow, the eyes to see the deeper layers.

Here is a poem on light by John O’Donohue. If you like it, you might consider buying yourself a copy of his To Bless the Space Between Us.

For Light
by John O’Donohue

Light cannot see inside things.
That is what the dark is for:
Minding the interior,
Nurturing the draw of growth
Through places where death
In its own way turns into life.

In the glare of neon times,
Let our eyes not be worn
By surfaces that shine
With hunger made attractive.

That our thoughts may be true light,
Finding their way into words
Which have the weight of shadow
To hold the layers of truth.

That we never place our trust
In minds claimed by empty light,
Where one-sided certainties
Are driven by false desire.

When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.

That the searching of our minds
Be equal to the oblique
Crevices and corners where
The mystery continues to dwell,
Glimmering in fugitive light.

When we are confined inside
The dark house of suffering
That moonlight might find a window.

When we become false and lost
That the severe noon-light
Would cast our shadow clear.

When we love, that dawn-light
Would lighten our feet
Upon the waters.

As we grow old, that twilight
Would illuminate treasure
In the fields of memory.

And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found word.

Gratitude List:
1. Sweet Habanero sauce on scrambled eggs.
2. Taking the world a step at a time
3. Creative projects. I need to draw and crochet and knit and take pictures right now. Zentangles, especially, are helping me to meditate and keep my heart open right now.
4. Hot showers and how they wake you up.
5. Yoga. Balancing. Stretching.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Musings, Poems

Into the Dark: December 1

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, a claustrophobic pressure in my soul. The darkness begins to feel overwhelming, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously contend with the darkness, to ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, when we proclaim the light really and truly returned, I will set it down here on the blog. Knowing how the season hits me, I will give myself permission for some minimal days, a sentence or two, or soothing words from another poet or writer instead of my own. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

The first panic rises
when the days begin to dwindle,
when the darkness fills the afternoons,
and each day-cycle offers less light.

At first, I cannot make peace with darkness,
cannot move, cannot stop moving,
cannot rest for the restlessness.

In the last month, the dark has become
something like a living creature,
a dragon or a bear that pursues me
down the tunnel of the year.

So. First, we feel the panic,
name the restlessness,
sit with the great bear of darkness,
no matter how restless,
no matter how afraid,
no matter how filled with dread.

As the dark surrounds my soul
and presses into the light-filled rooms,
I will ask its name, and listen
for the words it has to teach me.

Today, I think the name is insufficiency.
Within myself, I fear I do not have reserves
of patience, or goodness, or strength,
of time, or will, or energy
to make it through. Insufficiency
is an ache in my bones, a rodent
gnawing in the back of my brain.

The trick I am trying is simply to sit
with the names that come,
not to deny the ugliness or fear.
I will not end this with an affirmation
that denies the reality of the feeling.

Today, I will meet only one goal,
and then perhaps I will find the strength
for another, and another.
I will find the inner resources
for a single task at a time.


Today’s Gratitude:
Yesterday, due to some schedule changes, I had an ad hoc study period with students who are not usually in my classes. After lunch, a spirited group came laughing into my room to ask me to settle a silly argument. They pointed to a blue circle on a package of gummy fruit. “What is this this?” they demanded. When I said I was sure it was a blueberry, giggles erupted. Some said blueberry, some said grape.

It was a good-humored debate among a group of four girls from different places in the world: Bahrain, US/Russia, China, and Belize. One of them has a sign language interpreter. They weren’t ignoring their differences or trying to be all the same–they were reveling in their differences, finding delight in each other and in their difference of perception.

We just kept up the conversation for the rest of the period, and two others came in just after, and joined, these two from Ethiopia. The playful conversation grew and expanded, and soon someone was asking these two what it was like to be twins, and everyone was sharing stories.

I know that we don’t always meet our goals to be as inclusive as we want to be. We still have separation of race and ethnicity and social class and identity at our lunchroom tables, but we do break through. We do expand beyond our little circles. We have times of totally un-self-conscious openness when we delight in our stories together.