Advent 4: Breath in Motion

Here we are at the turning into the fourth passage, another day’s journey into the cool darkness.

After a day of really focusing on my breath, I find that I am breathing more deeply, breathing more steadily, although there were moments yesterday when I felt I had split off my core from my head. Like I was breathing from a solid inner steadiness, feeling the ground, but my head was filled with wings.

I was trying to help students meet a contest deadline, and all day they kept coming into my room with last-minute questions about submitting their poetry and stories online. This is one of my great joys, watching them take risks and put themselves out there. I got both anxious and giddy. I lost a couple papers that I needed because I lost my focus. It all came together, and I got most of my own work done, and I think all the young folk got their pieces submitted. Still, the flurry and the bustle made it harder for me to be as present as I could be for a student near the end of the day who lives in a high stage of anxiety. I have been trying to help him to be a more independent writer, and I sort of pushed him out of the nest a little yesterday while I helped another student in the class to complete her contest submission.

I’m not beating myself up, just trying to note how I had a perfect moment to practice what I was preaching about holding a steady breath for others who are anxious, and I missed the chance. I wonder, had I taken two more minutes quietly helping my anxious student set up his document, breathing steadily beside him while he began his work, breathing evenly while we talked about deadlines and how he has plenty of time to complete his short essay, might I have been able to make his afternoon a little calmer and less fraught?

We’re not called on to calm everybody else down. I know I couldn’t have single-handedly solved this young man’s anxiety. Still, it was really the perfect chance to practice the calming breath. It is helpful to look back at the passage we’ve just come through and consider how I might have negotiated it with more intention.

How was your own breathing yesterday? Did you have a chance to steady your own breathing, or to help someone else to breathe through an anxious moment? Shall we continue with strong, calming breaths today? Today, I will step more intentionally into that space of intentionally grounding into my breath when I am with others who are in anxious or dramatic spaces, observing whether it helps to bring us closer to calm.

Breathe in, holding a keen and conscious awareness of the energies swirling around us. Breathe out calmness and quiet, stillness and steadiness. We have our breath. We have these lights that we carry. All is calm. All is bright.


Envisioning:
(On Sunday, Michelle asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)

This is a powerful story, and it’s already been beautifully told by many others. It’s the story of how a community in East Berlin in the 1980s, repressed and suppressed by a harsh and controlling SS, held a ploughshares vision for peace and justice, and contributed to the change that brought about the fall of the wall. Here it is in the words of Simon Smart:

“A less known but vital part of the story was the German Peace Movement that began in East German churches from about 1980. Among a population driven to paranoid suspicion and fear by the pervasive network of Stasi officers and informers, the churches became a base for community discussions and agitation for change. They provided a rare forum to express hunger for individual freedom and a peaceful resolution to Cold War conflict.

In September 1983, at the Protestant Church Congress in Wittenberg, German Pastor Friedrich Schorlemmer organised to have a sword melted down and turned into a ploughshare. This provocative demonstration was picking up on the Old Testament’s vision of peace in the prophets Isaiah and Micah. In East Germany, this became a powerful symbol of a non-violent push for change. It’s remarkable he got away with such an overtly political statement — in those days, and in that place, most people did not.

But it was the grungy, unremarkable city of Leipzig that became the epicentre for popular opposition. From 1980 the Church of St. Nicholas, with only a small congregation of worshippers, began to host Monday night “Prayers for Peace” meetings. Under Pastor Christian Führer, these meetings, which would begin with people reciting the beatitudes from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount — “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” and so on — soon became a regular meeting where believers were joined by anyone interested in discussing environmental care, disarmament and the right to travel freely.

Momentum built over time. Those gathered would end the meeting by marching together through the streets calling for change. By 1988, 600 people would meet on a Monday. This swelled to 4,000 in September 1989. When, in early October of that year, the government cracked down with arrests and beatings, the stage was set for serious confrontation and the possibility of brutal violence against the protestors. The government promised as much and hospitals were readied for the carnage to come.

On 9 October, in an atmosphere of resolute defiance among both the protestors and the authorities, 6,000 people (their number including hundreds of Stasi officials) turned up to the church, and another 65,000 in the surrounding streets. It was easily the largest anti-communist demonstration in the country’s history.

The crowd set off on a march, holding candles and linking arms, waiting for what seemed an inevitable massacre. Organisers feared the worst but implored their people not to give the riot police any excuse to act against them. The marchers held banners proclaiming, “We are the people,” and called out their slogan, “No violence.” Astonishingly, inexplicably, the guns remained silent. “The only thing [the government] weren’t prepared for was candles and prayers,” said Pastor Führer.

Fifteen days later, 300,000 people turned out on the streets of Leipzig. It became the inspiration for the escalated popular opposition around the country that put so much pressure on the East German regime. These were vital ingredients in what eventually bringing down the wall. Leipzig earned the nickname the “hero city.”

In the days of the Nazi threat, the German church’s story was one of catastrophic failure — collusion, widespread cowardice and self-interest. The role of churches in the demise of communist East Germany, while only one of many factors, is a brighter story. Players in this drama, like Christian Führer, represent some of the best the church has offered: commitment to the greater good; true community engaging, not only the faithful, but those outside the church in a common and righteous cause.

These figures also embodied the radical and counterintuitive teaching of Jesus to resist evil but to refuse violence in doing so. That kind of rare commitment has, on occasion, produced surprisingly positive outcomes: Martin Luther King, Jr and the Selma marches; Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in post-apartheid South Africa. The Leipzig protests, and ultimately the fall of the Berlin Wall, belong in that noble tradition.”

https://www.abc.net.au/religion/the-german-church-and-the-fall-of-the-berlin-wall/11683466

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

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!

Skyful of Crows

Yesterday as I was falling asleep, meditating on how we make the shift from incivility to kindness, I saw a sky full of crows flying across the sky of my inner eye. All of us together, Friends. Hope against hope. Believe in the Good which is to come. Be ready to Be Change. Love and joy.
 
I do not deny that I go to bed tonight full of anxiety and angst for what tomorrow brings, but there’s a boatful of hope sailing that swamp, and a vast cloud of wise souls flying that gray cloudy sky. I cast the web from me to you. Let’s weave and dream.

Pathways of the Heart

Mountaintop  42068733_360534797822346_7202145227302807350_n(1)

Looking back through some of my previous blog posts, I came upon this again this morning, something that keeps leaping out at me from the past to remind me to open my throat. Today Joss is nine and Ellis is twelve. They must have been three and six at the time of this story:

This morning when we were playing with our gnomes, Joss decided that the gnome house was on fire, and he raced to get a group of gnomes to put it out. “Red! We need all the red gnomes!” Exactly–to put out a fire, it takes lots of red gnomes. Ellis chimed in, “And Minus! We need the Minus Gnome! Because a house with fire Minus the fire is just a house!”

Sometimes I sure would like to use some of Minus Gnome’s magic on me. An anxious Beth Minus anxiety is just Beth. Angst-ridden, anger-struck Beth Minus angst and anger? Beth. So that’s a nice little thing to do with meditation. Of course as soon as I began to work with the idea, it hit me again that the angers and angsts are so often born of compassion and caring, and for those I have been seeking the services of Multiplication Gnome. I need to untangle the compassion from its attendant anger at injustice, its partner anxiety at losses to those I love.

Wow. Look at those words that I wanted to get rid of: Angst, Anxiety, Anger. . .I looked them up, along with their sister Anguish. There at their root is angh-, which comes from the Indo-European language tree, and generally refers to distress of some sort. That lovely vowel–ah–cut short in the back of the throat, closed up along with all hope of breath: Angh!

Fear, shame, anger, distress: what sound emerges when you truly feel them? Angh! Choke.

But still, that lovely vowel–ah–the first we say in so many languages: Mama, Abba, Baba, Dada, Nana, Papa. The opposite of the choke, our family names, our names for the Ineffable Mystery: they release the breath in a tender sigh. Ah. There we go.

When I get really stuck in the Angh, I can dislodge that choke with a little Hahaha, a great belly laugh to force the air back through, a little spiritual CPR, so to speak. Or skip down the street with a Tra-la-la, a little song to start up the rhythm of breathing again. Or a little eureka, a bright discovery with a great Aha!

So the next time I wake up at three in the morning, suddenly filled with the dread of what is happening to this world that I have brought these light-filled children into, or choked with shame for some harshness I have spoken to their tender hearts, I think I will apply the Ah!, the Mama, the Ha! and see if that breath can be a lullaby to take my spirit back to sleep.


Gratitude List:
1. Breathing through the angh- to the aaaaaah
2. Long sleep last night
3. Re-orientation: Not getting stuck in the ruts of rage, but carrying the coals tucked in my apron to use at need
4. So many names for the Great Mystery
5. Building relationships with those who are not human: ducks, cats, trees, rivers, stones. . .

May we walk in Beauty!

Response Poem

Today’s prompt is to write a response to one of the previous poems from the month. I chose my April 27 poem.

There once was a girl
who was so afraid of spiders
that when a web of song,
a web of prayer,
came floating to her
on a breeze, she ran
as fast as she could
in the other direction.

There once was a girl
who was so afraid of darkness
that when a quiet veil
of comforting shadows
fell about her,
she fell down in terror
and hid her head
until the staring sun
came out again.

There once was a girl
who was so afraid of heights
that when her friends
sang bridges that led
to safer meadows,
she could not unfreeze
her footsteps from the Earth
to flee toward the havens.

Whenever she ran from her fears,
they always caught her.
Whenever she froze in terror,
she found herself engulfed.
I would like to say she learned
to reach her hands toward her friends
and find her way home.


Gratitude:
I am grateful today for the concentric and interlocking circles of community in my life, for the people who keep their protective eyes on my children, who teach and mentor them and love them.

May we walk in Beauty!

Dream Visitor

Fascinating dreams last night, strange, but not so unsettling as the night before. Doing yoga in a silent dawn, outside under the trees–this one happened at least twice. The main “problem” dream was this:

I look out the sliding glass door of the breezeway to see what looks like a cougar slipping through the grasses. When I get a better look at it, I can see tufty ears, like a lynx, and a golden spotted ruff, mane-like, on its shoulders. It’s taller, with thinner legs, proportionally, than a lynx, and almost wolf-like in shape.

I find it online by looking up maned wolf, and discover that there has been an escape of a young one (it isn’t actually a maned wolf–more feline) in the area. It comes up to me while I am in the garage, but I am too scared to let it approach (it is BIG), and I slip inside and close the door.

Later, I tell my friend about it and she says, “You should have welcomed it in. It needed your company.”

In my waking moments today, I looked up maned wolf and lynx, and it is nothing like either, but sort of a mishmash of the two. Come to think of it, it was very hyena-like, but the dream-memory keeps saying wolf-cougar-lynx. It’s a much better image to carry with me today than the previous night.


i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings;and of the gay
great happening ilimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any – lifted from the no
of all nothing – human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
―e. e. cummings, read at our wedding 27 years ago today
*
“To live a creative life,
we must lose our fear of being wrong.”
―Joseph Chilton Pearce
*
“If music be the food of love, play on.” ―William Shakespeare
*
“At the still point, there the dance is.” ―T.S. Eliot
*
“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.” ―Leonard Bernstein
*
“rebellion: playing streamside with my babies, teaching them and letting them teach me that water is alive” ―Natasha Alvarez


Gratitude List:
1. Twenty-seven good years married to Jon. I know that this is not something to take for granted.
2. Trinidadian cooking. Oh. My. Callaloo. We had a peanut drink, chicken corn soup with cassava, doubles (a spongy bread with chickpea stew), and a chicken stew with buss-up-shut (Trinidadian bread that you use to eat the stew much in the way you use injera in Ethiopian food).
3. All those monarchs yesterday! Must be migration.
4. Used book sale
5. Music chapel today: We have some incredibly talented students.

May we walk in Beauty!

Beauty Everywhere We Turn


Potato Plow

“What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear. That means watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it.” —Krishnamurti
*
“…We are called to not run from the discomfort, not run from grief or the feelings of outrage, or even fear. And if we can be fearless to be with our pain, it turns; it doesn’t stay static. It only doesn’t change if we refuse to look at it… The other face of our pain for the world is our love for the world. Our absolutely inseparable connectedness with all life.” —Joanna Macy
*
“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only love can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
*
“If words come out of the heart, they will enter the heart.”
—Rumi
*
“If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees.” —Hal Borland
*
“Love what God loves, which is everything. . .no exceptions.” —Richard Rohr
*
“Native Americans say: It is not you who sees the wolf. Not the small you: the fearful ego-bound self which makes fixed concepts out of separation, and only gazes on the beauty of this world to label and possess it. No: when you are ready, wolf may show itself, if it chooses. It may reveal some aspect of its deeper being that dissolves what you think you know, and brings you back to wonder and the unity in which all mind-made fears and oppositions are dissolved. And then you can return to the ever-present flow of freedom, like the horses, rewild your tamed and shuttered senses and learn again from life directly, in the one eternal Mystery that is made new in every moment.” —Eleanor O’Hanlon
*
“We have so far to go to realize our potential for compassion, altruism, and love.” —Dr. Jane Goodall
*
“Find yourself a cup of tea: the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things.” —Saki


Gratitude List:
1. The way social changes move gently outward, like breath. How social consciousness IS raised. You can hear me trying to work with my anxiety about Nazis in the streets, eh? I think about how, before Bree Newsome climbed her flag pole, much of white America didn’t have a strong opinion on the emblems of slavery. I was uncomfortable with the Confederate flag, grouchy about statues honoring Confederate heroes, but I hadn’t yet internalized how deeply wounding they were, hadn’t seen them through the eyes of those they were intended to intimidate. There was a time I was vaguely aware that my skin color was something of a protection, but I hadn’t really explored the incredible degree to which my white skin privileges me. Now our consciousness is raised. In the words Maya Angelou, one of the greatest voices of our time, “When you know better, do better.” Yes, we will.
2. My photographer friends. Such moments of beauty and wonder and marvel they bring me. Teeny tiny toadstools, fat baby porcupines, rabbits grazing in morning dew, flowers in their gardens, laughing children, spider webs ornately adorning the bushes. These things don’t cancel out the rage and worry of the recent days, but they help me to hold it. I can accept the worry and fury in my heart without having to ignore or repress them when I have Beauty to hold as well.
3. So often, the right quotation appears at the exact moment. I have been pondering how to hold and face the anxieties I am experiencing for the world in which my children are growing up, and suddenly, I am coming across quote after quote on looking into fear.
4. And truly, I think that these children are meant for these days. Our children, our students–they will walk boldly into the future with a deep understanding of issues and ideas that we are only barely able to grasp, and with open hearts full of compassion. I am so grateful for their wisdom, tenderness, and courage.
5. I’m on my way out to sort tomatoes. The biodiversity in tomatoes and potatoes is such a delight and a wonder. Pink Beauties, Mr. Slabaughs, Green Zebras, Garden Peaches, Cosmonaut Volkovs, Goldies, Lemon Boys, Virginia Streaks, Speckled Romans. Their names are a poem, like their skins. Beauty, Beauty, Beauty!

May we walk in Beauty!

Tender Little Dragon

dragon1

Here is something I wrote four years ago today. I found it really helpful to the me of today:

“This morning when we were playing with our gnomes, Joss decided that the gnome house was on fire, and he raced to get a group of gnomes to put it out. “Red! We need all the red gnomes!” Exactly–to put out a fire, it takes lots of red gnomes. Ellis chimed in, “And Minus! We need the Minus Gnome! Because a house with fire Minus the fire is just a house!”

Sometimes I sure would like to use some of Minus Gnome’s magic on me. An anxious Beth Minus anxiety is just Beth. Angst-ridden, anger-struck Beth Minus angst and anger? Beth. So that’s a nice little thing to do with meditation. Of course as soon as I began to work with the idea, it hit me again that the angers and angsts are so often born of compassion and caring, and for those I have been seeking the services of Multiplication Gnome. I need to untangle the compassion from its attendant anger at injustice, its partner anxiety at losses to those I love.

Wow. Look at those words that I wanted to get rid of: Angst, Anxiety, Anger. . .I looked them up, along with their sister Anguish. There at their root is angh-, which comes from the Indo-European language tree, and generally refers to distress of some sort. That lovely vowel–ah–cut short in the back of the throat, closed up along with all hope of breath: Angh!

Fear, shame, anger, distress: what sound emerges when you truly feel them? Angh! Choke.

But still, that lovely vowel–ah–the first we say in so many languages: Mama, Abba, Baba, Dada, Nana, Papa. The opposite of the choke, our family names, our names for the Ineffable Mystery: they release the breath in a tender sigh. Ah. There we go.

When I get really stuck in the Angh, I can dislodge that choke with a little Hahaha, a great belly laugh to force the air back through, a little spiritual CPR, so to speak. Or skip down the street with a Tra-la-la, a little song to start up the rhythm of breathing again. Or a little eureka, a bright discovery with a great Aha!

So the next time I wake up at three in the morning, suddenly filled with the dread of what is happening to this world that I have brought these light-filled children into, or choked with shame for some harshness I have spoken to their tender hearts, I think I will apply the Ah!, the Mama, the Ha! and see if that breath can be a lullaby to take my spirit back to sleep.”

Gratitude List:
1. Love Songs for chapel this morning, and serenaders wandering the halls all day.
2. Tender little dragons
3. The kinds of questions this kid comes up with: “Mom, what if we were to be reincarnated as a planet or other celestial body?”
4. The ones who are leading us into the next levels of consciousness–a lot of them are teenagers.
5. The people rise up, ask questions, hold the powerful accountable, and tiny little changes begin to happen.

May we walk in Beauty!

A Forest

2014 January 021

For Friends Who Are Experiencing Anxiety:

Here in the hollow
the sun sparks white flame
from the snow-boughed limbs
of walnut and sycamore.

And you, can you feel the rays
that sparkle to your valley
from my own heart-limbs?

From our many different dells
we trees make a forest
which hums with the light
we are sending your way.

 

Gratitude List:
1. Big words.  Panopticon, in a student paper.  Hippopotomonstrasesquipedaliophobia, from Ellis’s student dictionary.  It’s the fear of big words.  Change the ending from phobia to philia (love of) and you’ve got me.
2. During this last big snow, the color for contemplation (other than white, of course) was ginger/rufous/chestnut.  Fred the ginger tomcat on my lap, set off by the rich colors of an olive and russet blanket.  The chestnut flank of the titmouse who sat in the twiggy branches high up in the sycamore outside my bathroom window and seemed to watch me brush my teeth.  The deep rufous/russet flanks of the towhee who visited the feeder during the storm and scratched, chicken-like, to get the seed below the snow, setting the table for the less industrious birds.
3. Creativity.  Music, art, drama, craft, word, play.
4. I have to say it: March snowstorms.  This reminds me of a March blizzard years ago that kept a party of giddy friends snowbound for two days longer than a weekend.
5. Healing.  Hope for healing.  The body’s ability to work wonders to fix itself.

May we walk in Beauty!