Listening to Hummingbird

Wangari Maathai, the winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya (and now around the world), told a story about a hummingbird.

When the great forest was on fire, and all the animals were fleeing for their lives, the tiny Hummingbird zipped to the river, gathered a beakful of water, and zipped back to release the water onto the raging flames. Again and again, she carried her tiny beakfuls of water to try to put out the flames. The other animals noticed, and told her how futile her efforts were, but Hummingbird kept on and on, believing that it was her duty–no matter what–to do her one little thing.

Perhaps some of the other animals were inspired to get down to work, to do their own little thing, to pass on the hope of a thousand small actions. Perhaps the fire raged on despite their efforts. Perhaps they held it back. Perhaps they even put it out in the end.

During these days which, in the deepest of the dark insomniac nights, feel a little like the Beginning of the End of Things, Hummingbird has been sipping sweetness from the petunia basket outside my window, resting sometimes on the wire, nabbing gnats out of the air, hovering right at the window and peering in at me.

When I brought my first baby home from the hospital more than 14 years ago (a world ended and a world began with his birth), I settled into the recliner, exhausted and full of great satisfaction and wonder, to nurse the tiny person who had entered our world. Looking up from the babe, I saw Hummingbird hovering at the window for what seemed like ten seconds or more (an eternity of seconds), and she seemed to be watching the New Person, and marveling with me. In the succeeding years, I have marveled back at the wonder of her own young, at their tenacity and resilience, surviving lashing storms in their bottle-cap-sized nest. At their first fledgings. At the blur of their wings as they sip sweetness. At the self-contained unself-consciousness of their existence.

And now, in a time when I am bending all my mental and emotional and physical will toward resilience and tenacity, when I am terrified for my children, my students, my parents, my self, I have Hummingbird in my days, quietly doing her thing, going about her business, checking on me through the window.

She leaves me with questions. Perhaps you want to ponder them, too:
* What, in these days of going back to school, will be your sips of sweetness to fuel you through the moments of high challenge and frustration and worry?
* What, as Wangari Maathai asked, is your “one little thing”? What is that thing you will do to stem the tides of destruction, even when it seems like only a beakful of water?
* What does resilience look like to you? (For me, I want to picture myself in my classroom BEING tenacious and resilient.)
* In the story, Hummingbird simply did her work and did not ask for help. I am not Hummingbird, and she leaves me with that question, too: How will you remember to ask for help when you need it?

So. Whatever our tasks in this time of great trouble, whatever our capacities to meet the challenges before us, let us fly with strength and power, knowing that we are doing our part. Around us are so many who are joining in the work. Let us be resilient and vulnerable, earnest and tenacious, willing to ask for help when we need it, offering to give others a spell when they reach exhaustion.

As the Talmud says: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”


Gratitude List:
1. Messages from Hummingbird
2. Help from a friend when I didn’t even think to ask for help
3. Colleagues. I love my colleagues.
4. The custodial staff at my school. They make me feel safe. They care for the building and the spaces we inhabit. And, they’re so good-humored.
5. Air conditioning in my classroom. If, on top of everything else, I had to go into a 90-degree classroom to teach in my mask, I think I would have given up. I don’t think I could have mustered that much resilience. Air conditioning! I have air conditioning in my classroom!

May we all do our Little Thing, doing justice loving mercy, and walking humbly.



“By expanding our self-interest to include other beings in the body of Earth, the ecological self also widens our window on time. It enlarges our temporal context, freeing us from identifying our goals and rewards solely in terms of our present lifetime. The life pouring through us, pumping our heart and breathing through our lungs, did not begin at our birth or conception. Like every particle in every atom and molecule of our bodies, it goes back through time to the first spinning and splitting of the stars.

“Thus the greening of the self helps us to re-inhabit time and own our story as life on Earth. We were present in the primal flaring forth, and in the rains that streamed down on this still-molten planet, and in the primordial seas. In our mother’s womb we remembered that journey wearing vestigial gills and tail and fins for hands. Beneath the outer layers of our neocortex and what we learned at school, that story is in us—the story of a deep kinship with all life, bringing strengths that we never imagined. When we claim this story as our innermost sense of who we are, a gladness comes that will help us survive.” —Joanna Macy


“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.” —St. Augustine (I’m not usually a great fan of St. A, but I find this really moving)


“Eating with the fullest pleasure—pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance—is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.” —Wendell Berry


“Literature irrigates the deserts that our lives have become.” —C.S. Lewis


“A good organizer is a social arsonist who goes around setting people on fire.” —Fred Ross


The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
—Wendell Berry

Being a Guest House

Here is something I wrote yesterday:
Our grief should place us onto a similar plane of understanding. Stories of Black youth being held at gunpoint and endangered by police officers who were called to protect those particular lives are not a competition with the story of a White child who was murdered. The murder or mistreatment of a child is a terrible thing no matter their race or circumstance.

Our horrors and griefs should be taking us to the same well, where we can hold each other’s stories, feel each other’s pain, and know we are walking the same valleys.

Saying Black Lives Matter is not meant to compete with or demean your very real grief about the horror stories you hear. It’s not intended to politicize the lives of those who have died. It’s intended to shake us up and wake us up to the continuing grief of Black families, to hold in reverence the lives that have been taken simply because of someone’s race.

I see you asking, “Can’t we grieve him too?” Of course we can. Of course we should. Our hearts are meant to break open with such pain. But asking that question as a response to someone expressing their grief over one more senselessly lost or threatened Black life is politicizing both deaths.

Take a deep breath. Feel your feelings. Weep with those who mourn.


Something I notice about people in these months of pandemic is that we seem to be experiencing, as they say, All The Feels. I think we’re more vulnerable to sad stories, to outrage, to anxiety, and this makes us vulnerable to trolls, to bots, to conspiracy theories. For me, living in that fluttery place of reactivity to emotion is not healthy or sustainable, and it makes me much more susceptible to suggestion that doesn’t require thinking. Denying those fluttery emotions doesn’t help either. They’re there, and they’re going to affect me. I need to lean into them, to give them their space, ask them–like ghosts that haunt a house–what they need of me in this moment. I need to name them as they appear.

This poem, by Jalaluddin Rumi, translated into English by Coleman Barks, helps:

The Guest House

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 are 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 whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


“I think ultimately people become extremists not necessarily because of the ideology. I think that the ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent. I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they’re searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose.

“If, underneath that fundamental search is something that’s broken — I call them potholes — is there abuse or trauma or mental illness or addiction? … [T]here are so many marginalized young people, so many disenfranchised young people today with not a lot to believe in, with not a lot of hope, they tend to search for very simple black and white answers.” ―Christian Picciolini, former skinhead


“Nazis are a lot like cats: If they like you, it’s probably because you’re feeding them.” ―John Oliver


“Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons…
We who believe in freedom cannot rest,
we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
―Sweet Honey in the Rock


“The future, good or ill, was not forgotten,
but ceased to have any power over the present.
Health and hope grew strong in them,
and they were content with each good day as it came,
taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song.”
—J.R.R. Tolkien (The Fellowship of the Ring)


“There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.”
― Linda Hogan


“Silence my soul, these trees are prayers.” ―Rabindranath Tagore


“Whoever you are,
now I place my hand upon you,
that you be my poem,
I whisper with my lips close to your ear.
I have loved many women and men,
but I love none better than you.”
—Walt Whitman, “To You”


“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
―Eleanor Roosevelt


“Shaped language is strangely immortal, living in a meadowy freshness outside of time.
But it also lives in the moment, in us. Emotion, intellect, and physiology are inseparably connected in the links of a poem’s sound. It is difficult to feel intimacy while shouting, to rage in a low whisper, to skip and weep at the same time.” ―Jane Hirshfield


“I have always been spiritually promiscuous, lying down with any God who will have me. When I drop down into these ancient texts, I feel the breath of the God of Love on my face. It makes me crazy. In the very best way.” —Mirabai Starr

Wearing a Mask, and Grounding

13 Ways of Looking at a Mask:
1. When you are in a meeting, people can’t see you yawn.
2. You can stick out your tongue at people who annoy you, and they will never know.
3. Makes you look mysterious.
4. It’s a fashion accessory. Add bling! Make a statement!
5. You can walk down the street talking quietly to yourself, and no one watching would know you’re off your rocker.
6. No one will see your cold sore, or the zit on the end of your nose.
7. It helps to mask bad breath. Go ahead and eat the garlic and onions for lunch! (And if the mask doesn’t work, you’ve got help with the social distancing.)
8. Superheroes wear masks. Maybe you’re a superhero too?
9. Spinach stuck in your teeth? Who cares? You’re wearing a mask!
10. If you are an allergy sufferer, it helps to filter out pollens and allergens that make you snuffly and sneezy.
11. It protects others, and yourself, from getting the virus.
12. It’s been mandated for public health and safety by the PA governor.
13. It’s like wearing a seatbelt, or a bike helmet. It’s like washing your hands before you eat, or wearing shoes and a shirt into a restaurant. It’s basic good common sense.


Some thoughts on Mind/Body and Anxiety:
This might be true for you as well: When I am in times of high anxiety, my brain tends to pull me outside of my sense of being in a body. Anxiety is a mental activity that demands mental energy. The work of the body goes to feed the fluttery brainwork of responding to the sense of crisis.

If you’re like me in this, try some of these things to self-soothe:
* Breathe deeply and intentionally, into your gut, into your toes, into the tips of your fingers.
* Try moving your arms in time with your breath, as if you are the Maestro of Breathing. Begin with your arms at your sides, and raise your arms as you breathe in as if pulling the music to a crescendo. Pause a moment at the peak of motion and inbreath, and then gently and slowly release.
* When you yawn, give yourself to to the process. Yawn deeply and fully.
* Gather a bowlful of smooth stones, and run them through your fingers. Dried corn or beans also work.
* Find a pillow or throw or sweater that has a silky surface or a knubbly texture. Keep it handy to run your fingers across the surface when you feel anxious.
* Pop the bubbles in the bubble wrap.
* Make hot drinks, even in summer. Steam is calming and comforting.
* Find a source of running water–a brook, a fountain, a river. (We bought a water fountain for our cats, and it’s been a soothing sound to listen to.)
* Wake up early enough in the morning to listen to birdsong.
* Load up a calming jam on PC or phone. Sometimes loud and dissonant music can be cathartic, but I would be careful with using it in anxious moments because it can also jar you out of the body on the way to catharsis.
* Find a purring cat.
* Smell the flowers. In public places, don’t worry what people will think if you stop to smell the flowers. Bring flowers inside if you don’t have allergies–smell them.
* Find a couple essential oils that calm and relax you. Add some drops to a little spray bottle of water (a little alcohol in the mix helps to keep the oil from jamming the sprayer), and spray yourself, your pillow, your clothes, your couch. Mist it into the air when you feel yourself getting out of yourself.
* Bake brownies or bread. Make mint tea. Slice an orange. (This will ground you in scent and taste).
* For people like me, the natural response to anxiety is to ground myself through eating. I need to be super careful here. But we, too, can use taste to ground ourselves. Herbal teas with a little honey are grounding without the numbing effect of sugar and carbs. A small handful of nuts or a piece of cheese. A piece of fruit. Extra hot peppers in the dinner plans.
* Surround yourself with color. Paint a picture to hang in your work space. Find a brightly colored rug or cloth with colors that please. Really looking deeply at color can be incredibly grounding. That viney hill and woodsy area out my window is not just “green.” It’s a thousand greens.
* When you are with people, remember to look them in the eyes. Eyes are what we have, now that we cover the rest of our faces. Pause and enjoy the moments of greeting in the day. Let your contacts with people be grounding for you. Phone calls. Messages and conversations through social media. Each of those contacts is a chance to connect deeply to your (and their) human self.


Gratitude List:
1. The catfam all have homes, and we have a plan for Adoption Day at the end of August. This actually makes me sad as well as deeply relieved. It has been a great weight of responsibility to care for and worry about these guests, but I have loved it, and am sad to see them dispersed. Without intervention, we would have four breeding feral cats in the neighborhood, and Mama would drive the youngsters away eventually, and they would be susceptible to disease and coyotes and the road. Instead, they will all have loving homes. Grateful.
2. The goldenrod is beginning to bloom and shine.
3. The work gets done. It sometimes feels frantic and frazzled, but it gets done.
4. Physical comforts. One of my anchors right now is physical comforts: soft and textured fabrics, rich and evocative scents, complex flavor, bright color, haunting and gentle music.
5. Wonderful colleagues.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!


“Words don’t have meaning without context.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates


“The point is, art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed… because people are changed by art – enriched, ennobled, encouraged – they then act in a way that may affect the course of events… by the way they vote, they behave, the way they think.” ―Leonard Bernstein


“Maybe happiness is this: not feeling like you should be elsewhere, doing something else, being someone else.” —Isaac Asimov


Albert Camus: “If there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this one.”


“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” —Joseph Campbell


“We do not have to live as though we are alone.” ―Wendell Berry


“We are made and set here to give voice to our astonishments.” ―Annie Dillard


“Writing is one of the most ancient forms of prayer. To write is to believe communication is possible, that other people are good, that you can awaken their generosity and their desire to do better.” ―Fatema Mernissi


“Through trial and fire, against the odds, you have grown to trust that the world can be a safe place and you have every right to walk here. You have made parents of your instincts, intuition and dreaming; you have allowed love into where it had never before been received; you have grown life where once it was barren. With just a few found and trustworthy seeds, you have nurtured the greatest harvest there is in this, your humble life of belonging.” ―Toko-pa Turner


“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
―Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


Gertrude Stein defined love as “the skillful audacity required to share an inner life.”


“When your soul awakens, you begin to truly inherit your life. You leave the kingdom of fake surfaces, repetitive talk and weary roles and slip deeper into the true adventure of who you are and who you are called to become.” ―John O’Donohue

Hanging My Worries on the Willow

A string of worries hanging from the willow.

One of my most common school anxiety dreams is that the semester has begun, and I don’t get there until a few days or weeks or months in to the semester. Things have already begun without me. Other teachers are running the class. I basically have no idea what is going on.

One of my most common recurring dreams about doing my inner work involves discovering rooms or places filled with things that I have somehow inherited.

Last night’s dream includes both elements:
I am a couple weeks late to begin a new teaching assignment in a middle school. When I get there, the substitute is a man, a college professor, who is teaching them as though they understand deep literary critique, referencing obscure writers and texts. There’s also an assistant in the classroom, and she is sitting in the desk at the front of the room while the professor teaches.

I don’t really introduce myself when I come in, but I put on an audio story for them to listen to. It’s engrossing, very literary, and sort of mysterious. The kids and the other two teachers are immediately into it. Meanwhile, I start to clean up the two desks at the front of the room. The previous teacher left all her stuff, and the surface of the desks are covered with knick knacks. I actually want to look at each one and decide which ones I will keep. It’s kind of an exciting process. Underneath the desk are little hidden drawers and doors, and dozens of keys!

The story ends just as the children are to be dismissed for the day. I thank the other teachers, and tell the children we will have formal introductions tomorrow. I’m eager to meet them, and they seem ready to take me on as their teacher.

I am not nearly where I want to be in terms of fall planning. I’ve let my anxiety keep me whirling in a tornado of what-ifs, and I’ve found myself unable to focus on plans. This year demands stronger plans with more options, so I need to get myself together, and not show up to the party late. If I am to really connect with my students in this season, I need to leave the professor at home, and keep reeling them in with captivating narrative.

At the same time that I have not been getting a handle on the actual nuts and bolts preparation for the semester, I have been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, the teen version of Kendi’s longer work Stamped from the Beginning. I think there are all sorts of inner doors and drawers that I am finding access to in the wake of these texts, new ways to frame how I can teach in antiracist ways, not self-consciously layering discussions of racism into literary discussion, but letting a deeper knowledge of US history infuse the ways I lead discussions about texts.

I’m not sure what the tchotchkes on the surface of the desk represent, unless it is simply that in the midst of my anxiety about opening school, I am looking forward to exploring all the little shining things that represent the everyday school experience.

A couple days ago, during a video-call, a cousin of mine exhorted me to be aware of how my worry affects me, to consider ways that I might proactively deal with the anxiety I am experiencing. He suggested giving myself one day a week to worry, making a list of the things my brain wants to worry about, and then checking in with the list on one day a week. Chances are, some of those worries might have evaporated week to week. Of course, the worry about school just gets bigger and bigger, but I am really moved and inspired by the encouragement to lay it down a bit. And yesterday, my pastor’s sermon was in a similar vein.

I need rituals to mark the inner work that I am doing, physical representations of the energies I am trying to shift. So today, I am going to meditate a little about the school worries, and then I am going to choose some ribbons to represent the things that most frighten me, and hang those on my willow tree. She is strong, and also not rigid. She flows. She listens well.

I can’t change the decisions that my school and my son’s school are making. I can be vocal about the safety issues that I see, asking for accountability to strong safety measures. In the end, unless I choose to strike or quit (which I just can’t do because I love my school and my administrators and teaching), I need to simply buckle down, do what I can to keep myself and my students safe, and find joy in the experience of reconnecting, of opening those little drawers and doors, of finding the right keys, of discovering the shiny things that will be part of everyday life back at school.

If you pray, if you do magic, if you work with energy, work prayers and magic and energy for our safety, please. For all the teachers and the students, for our families.


Gratitude List:
1. Social media posts about people’s food preservation. I haven’t done any of that this year, and I don’t plan to, but I can look at the beautiful rows of my friends’ canned beans and pickles and relish. I can see the binsful of corn transformed into baggies of golden sunshine that will wait in their freezers for winter. This makes me happy.
2. Kittens
3. Learning to push my body past its initial inertia, to get on the bike, to pedal even when its hard going.
4. Beloveds who remind me to deal with my worry and not just leave it lying around where it can keep pouncing on me.
5. Messages from dreams.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!


“We should ask ourselves: Do we know what enough is inside of our lives? Once I know that, it’s much harder for capitalism to catch me, right? Because I’m not susceptible to this constant sale of myself or my soul to any other force.” —adrienne maree brown


“I hold the line, the line of strength that pulls me through the fear.” —Peter Gabriel


“Children grow into the intellectual life of those around them.” —Lev Vygotsky


“It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” —James Baldwin


“Three things cannot be hidden: the Moon, the Sun and the Truth.” —Gautama Buddha


“Those doing soul work, who want the searing truth more than solace or applause, know each other right away. Those who want something else turn and take a seat in another room. Soul-makers find each other’s company.” —Rumi


“Going within is the only way out.” —Toko-pa Turner


“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.” —Thomas Merton


“Let me fall, if I must. The one I will become will catch me.” —Baal Shem Tov


“The sky itself
Reels with love.”
—Rumi


“That’s a tough spirituality. That’s not any kind of sweet-by-and-by spirituality. That’s a spirituality that takes on the world as it is and says, ‘I’m gonna figure this out one way or another.’ The mystic and the Moses.” —Vincent Harding (On Being interview)


“May you know the fearlessness of an open heart. May you never meet anyone you consider a stranger, and know that no matter what, you are not alone. May you have compassion for others’ suffering and joy in their delights. May you be free to give and receive love.” —Sharon Salzberg


“In our culture, we use the word ‘dreamy’ derogatively to describe someone who is unrealistic or without ambition. But what thrills and amazes me about dreamwork is how truly grounding it is. One of the reasons this is true, is because dreams are expressions of that larger ecosystem in which we are embedded, and which has a design for our lives within that greater context! So rather than taking our cues from consensus culture, instead we are listening to the mystery which combines us. As Jungian analyst Ann Bedford Ulanov puts it, “the Self is that within us that knows about God.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa

Anxious Days and Gratitude

Gull on a bad hair day.

I am suffering from some serious internal whiplash these days.

Within the past week, I have experienced some incredibly healing times safely social distanced with some of my best beloveds, looking into twinkling eyes, hearing laughter and wisdom and articulate questions. I have had some deeply reviving time in nature despite the heat.

And at the same time, one thought can set my nerves jangling, twanging the wires of anxiety, clashing and clanging waves of worry. School.

While teaching students to read and write–to communicate, to learn to express emotion and articulate new ideas–is clearly my vocational mission, I have an underlying agenda which is just as important as English Language Arts: To create a safe space for young people to explore who they are and learn how to be comfortable and confident in the world. In the spring, when we were sent home to do our learning, we lost that safe space together. I lost the opportunity to make eye contact in the halls with someone who worried that nobody would ever notice them, lost the chance to listen to a student come into my room ranting about some injustice they wanted to remove from the world, lost the chance to watch laughter displace worry or sadness or fear, lost the chance to tell someone that they are stronger than they think.

And now, we’re planning to meet again in the fall, and I will get some of that back on a limited basis, but I don’t feel safe, for me or for them, for our families and beloveds. This virus has stripped us of our safety. I want so desperately to return to classes, but something in me feels like it isn’t yet time, like my Safe Place is still unsafe. I find myself hoping that the governor calls off school again, so we won’t have to navigate these waters, so I won’t have to add to my duties the policing of students’ spacing and masking in the halls, so I won’t have to worry that every sneeze or cough could result in someone’s grandmother fighting for her life, so every day won’t feel like a risk.

I know that we need to open schools again when it is safe to do so. I know that many students’ mental health depends upon it. But it feels like a dangerous experiment with our physical health, and the health of our families to do it now, when my state can’t seem to get its numbers under control, when adults who should know better are refusing to do the simple things to keep us all safe.

I breathe a lot to ground myself, during these days when I struggle through allergies to catch the deepest breaths and yawns. I go to my beloveds, online and in safe circles. I anchor myself in the green and the blue, in earth and air and water. I search for Beauty, and find my grateful center. It helps me a little, a least to ride the top of the anxiety waves. It’s harder than usual to hold onto a calm center, when grief and rage and worry knot themselves into a little ball inside my spirit.

Some Things to Be Grateful For:
1. The twinkling eyes of my beloveds
2. Blue and green, and golden sun
3. Birdfolk
4. Water
5. Laughter.

May we walk in Beauty!


“May hope rise within you. May peace wash over you.” —Charlene Costanzo


“You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.”
—Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony


“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” —Lilla Watson


“A poem is not a puzzle, even if it’s puzzling at first. Instead, it’s a highly selected parcel or capsule of language meant to burst into your psyche and change you in some way. Poetry is the life blood of our language, and it’s meant for everyone, not just academics or young people in school. Poetry is in a word: consciousness.” —Cathryn Hankla


Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
—Leonard Cohen


Tom Joad, from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath:
I been thinking about us, too, about our people living like pigs and good rich land layin’ fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starvin’. And I been wonderin’ if all our folks got together and yelled…

As long as I’m an outlaw anyways… maybe I can do somethin’… maybe I can just find out somethin’, just scrounge around and maybe find out what it is that’s wrong and see if they ain’t somethin’ that can be done about it. I ain’t thought it out all clear, Ma. I can’t. I don’t know enough.

Starve the Vampires

I’m trying to practice non-outrage. Mindful awareness of the dangers of powerful narcissists and greed-heads, but non-outrage in the response. They feed on our outrage (and by they, I mean he).

So. Attention not to the energy-vampires, but to the quiet, dedicated ones who keep going, keep doing, keep meeting the needs. Attention to the hurting ones, to the seekers, to my own unmoored emotions.

I will no longer feed the ravenous energies of the attention-whores in the halls of power.

Starve them, I say. No more oxygen, no more yeast, no more feeding.

They prey upon our energies, these public carrion eaters, draining, destroying, getting larger and more vicious with each ounce of outrage and anxiety we place into their bowls. They howl for more. And we give it to them.

No more, I say. (At least for now. At least as long as I can stay mindful.)

Let’s circle up, tell our own brilliant stories, share our laughter and our poems, plan the revolution.

Sure, we’ll poke holes in the balloons of lies and destroy the shining facades to reveal the rotting heart, but not through outrage and fear. Step into the circle. Let’s turn our faces away from the bullies who can survive only as long as we give them attention.

The bullies we contend with will not hesitate to find some small and vulnerable one to harm in order to get our attention, so let’s be ready to step in and stop harm, let’s shore up the walls of protection, but always with our backs to the bullies, our focus on the need, on healing the harm.


Gratitude List:
1. Sourdough bread for supper. My Local Flock of Yeast is getting excitable. I almost set them free yesterday, but they showed me their stuff.
2. Whole Wheat flour. I had to go to school just one more time, to find a couple things before my classroom was dismantled, so I went to Miller’s and found whole wheat flour!
3. Reminders that I am not alone. You are not alone. We are not alone.
4. The way the sun is slanting through the house at this time of morning.
5. The way trees bud in pink and orange andred before the green leaves pop out.

May we walk in Beauty!


“At the end of the day, I’d rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I exclude.” —Eston Williams


“Free me. . .from words, that I may discover the signified, the word unspoken in the darkness.” —Byzantine Prayer


“Some days, you don’t know whether
you are stepping on earth or water or air.
Place each foot carefully before you
and offer your weight gratefully to
whatever it is that holds you.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider


“Father, Mother, God,
Thank you for your presence
during the hard and mean days.
For then we have you to lean upon.

For those who have no voice,
we ask you to speak.
For those who feel unworthy,
we ask you to pour your love out
in waterfalls of tenderness.
For those who live in pain,
we ask you to bathe them
in the river of your healing.

Dear Creator, You, the borderless
sea of substance, we ask you to give to all the
world that which we need most—Peace.”
—Maya Angelou


“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
—Leonard Bernstein


Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.”
—Mary Oliver


“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” —Harper Lee

Breathe in. Breathe out.

MESSAGES TO SELF:
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Breathe in sunshine. Breathe in the fluttering of bird wings in sunlight.
Breathe out worry and anxiety and grief.
Breathe in the solidity of trees. Breathe in the stalwart courage of oak and locust and sycamore.
Breathe out worry and anxiety and grief.
(They will still be there for you to examine and explore. For now, let them go.)
Breathe in and raise your head. Drop your shoulders. Stand or sit up straighter.
Breathe the worry and sadness out the soles of your feet, into Earth. She can hold them for you.
Breathe in love and compassion.
Breathe out gratitude.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.

Today at some point, put you bare feet on Earth. Put your fingertips in water. Place your hands oh so tenderly on the bark of a tree. And breathe.


Gratitude List:
It feels like these lists are all beginning to repeat, as I sit at the same window every morning to write these lists, and my days look the same.
1. Bird life in the holler. One goldfinch is now fully suited up for summer. Phoebe is speaking its name into the cool morning. The sun turns that red cap on the downy woodpecker to fire.
2. The trees that surround me.
3. The waters that run through the hollow on their way to the River.
4. A lighter day today. The assignments are a little lighter today, and I am going to grade speeches. Enough. Enough. I have done enough.
5. Finding joys and wonders and delights to balance the sadness and anxiety.

Take Care of Yourself. Take Care of Each Other.



“What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.” —Alain de Botton


“We are capable of suffering with our world, and that is the true meaning of compassion. It enables us to recognize our profound interconnectedness with all beings. Don’t ever apologize for crying for the trees burning in the Amazon or over the waters polluted from mines in the Rockies. Don’t apologize for the sorrow, grief, and rage you feel. It is a measure of your humanity and your maturity. It is a measure of your open heart, and as your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal.” —Joanna Macy


“We should have respect for animals because it makes better human beings of us all.” —Jane Goodall


“Let yourself be silently drawn
by the strange pull of what you love.
It will not lead you astray.” —Rumi


“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” —Harriet Tubman


“The little grassroots people can change this world.” —Wangari Maathai


“Some form of the prayer of quiet is necessary to touch me at the unconscious level, the level where deep and lasting transformation occurs. From my place of prayer, I am able to understand more clearly what is mine to do and have the courage to do it. Unitive consciousness—the awareness that we are all one in Love—lays a solid foundation for social critique and acts of justice.” —Richard Rohr


“You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” —Anonymous

Beneath the Surface

This was in the grocery bags from Flinchbaugh’s, our local farmer’s market, this past weekend.

Gratitude List:
1. Yesterday’s list of gratitude for trees missed my friend Willow, who is putting on her stunning yellow dancing gown for spring. . .
2. . . .and Walnut, whose shadow arms falling across the drive invite me to find the pathways to the sun.
3. The delight of a composer-boy in his birthday gift. He’s working on a long and complicated composition on Noteflite. He’s listening through the piece now, making notes about places where he wants to make changes.
4. Teaching school from my armchair, with a little ginger cat tucked beside me, purring.
5. All that this anxiety is teaching me about living in the moment, about treasuring each joy and delight as I live it.

Take care of each other!


“Mathematics is the language with which God wrote the Universe.” —Galileo


“The way that I understand it, dreaming is nature ‘naturing’ through us. Just as a tree bears fruit or a plant expresses itself in flowers, dreams are fruiting from us. The production of symbols and story is a biological necessity. Without dreams, we could not survive. And though it is possible to get by without remembering our dreams, a life guided and shaped by dreaming is a life that follows the innate knowing of the earth itself. As we learn to follow the instincts of our inner wilderness, respecting its agreements and disagreements, we are also developing our capacity for subtlety. This sensitivity is what makes us more porous and multilingual, bringing us into conversation with the many languages of the world around us.” —Toko-pa Turner



“There are no wrong turnings. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.” ―Guy Gavriel Kay


“Even the simplest of rituals is a way of acknowledging the unseen, the unspoken-about, the holy, which feeds our lives with its inexhaustible generosity. Ritual restores us to one another and to that grander coherence to which we all belong. Devoting your time to a ritual is like tending to a living bridge between the seen and the unseen, keeping that reciprocity alive.” ―Dreamwork with Toko-pa


“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” —Nelson Mandela


“Beneath the surface, there is a deeper and vastly more authentic Self.” —Cynthia Bourgeault

During the Time of the Exile for the Good of the Realm

Yesterday’s walk: The green hill to the right of the photo is the end of the currently-unused landing strip for our former neighbors’ ultra-light. Just to the left of that, in the break between the trees, is the path onto Goldfinch Farm, down into the holler to home. The green path ahead of me (to the left) winds through the neighbor’s ridge-top fields to their farm. I like to walk partway down those fields and back.

I suppose that technically our self-isolation begins today. No church tomorrow. No school for two weeks. Someone whose handle is @Sarkor posted a lovely social media thing yesterday, encouraging people to think of it not as “self-isolation” but as “Exile for the Good of the Realm.” I am taking that on with gusto, while also keeping an awareness that for many people this is an extremely difficult time.

Now is the time to keep our eyes on our neighbors, to check in with working people whose children must stay home, to check in with elders who will be even more isolated. Such care we must take in these days, such deliberation. We wash our hands and we meditate on hope and on goodness. We check in with those for whom this exile is costly, and we wash our hands again.

My up-the-road neighbor works in healthcare. Maybe I will wash my hands and bake her some break this week and leave it at her door. What about our neighbors whose livelihoods depend on People Showing Up? I was glad to hear one of the speakers in the PA governor’s address yesterday talk about buying gift cards from local small businesses to use when we’re back out in society. Also, we need to eat. We will wash our hands and get as much of our needs from Flinchbaugh’s and Sue’s, the local farmer’s market and small grocery, in the coming days, and to Jillybeans Sweet Shop, a marvelous little bakery in Wrightsville. And then we will wash our hands. I might wash my hands and go get a coffee at The Cycle Works’ coffee shop. I’ll maintain exile and precautions as much as possible, while doing my best to support those around me who depend on People Showing Up.

Also, let’s use this time to make our social media spaces places where people can feel connected and involved, places where we can help each other through our isolation and distance. Let’s share photos and poetry and stories. Let’s manage our anxiety so that we can express our worries without Feeding the Fears. That’s easier for me to say this morning than last night, when I was comparing my feelings of direness to the way I felt on 9/11. That’s a little how it felt: out-of-body unsettled. Let’s keep connecting to the deeper rivers of joy and satisfaction and memory and gratitude that carry us through difficult times, and let’s help each other find those rivers.

And here, on the farm, I will relish the introverted time, the time with the boys, the burgeoning spring, the cat cuddles, the sunrise and the birds calling. As someone who gets wobbly and rudderless without a schedule, the promise of daily school tasks in this work-at-home environment is a welcome diversion. Last night, we saw a daily schedule someone had made for student-people during the Exile. My younger son immediately constructed his own. I am going to make my own, looser, schedule, to include several hours of focused academic work, time exercising and being outside, time for art and making things, tidying time, limits for myself on screen time (while also giving myself a bigger breathing space for blogging/writing).

If you, too, are in Exile for the Good of the Realm, I wish you peace, joyful contemplation, productive work, and moments of satisfying connection with others through computer or phone. Let’s look out for each other. If it gets to be too much, reach out to someone. (If we’re not friends on Facebook, you can look me up there, and check in–I’ll give you a virtual high five and we can help each other to breathe through this.)


Gratitude List:
1. GREEN! The chickweed is up and vibrantly glowing with green life force. The highway medians and fields are shining with verdancy.
2. Blue: The speedwell is up, and parts of the yard are carpeted in blue. And the sky is the shade of a robin’s egg.
3. Coming to Terms. I acknowledge my anxiety. It sits there in the room like a large bear waiting to be acknowledged. (Welcome, Friend. Let’s get to know each other while we are here together in Exile.) If I ignore it, my imagination makes it so much bigger and scarier, but if we sit and have coffee together, we can figure each other out a little bit. This is a time to practice living with that particular friend and learning how to recognize her.
4. While I recognize that this time is really challenging for many people, the truth of the matter is that two weeks of being at home on the farm with the kids and the cats while having structured work to do each day is close to ideal for me. I am grateful.
5. Puzzles. Last weekend after we had brunch at Cafe 301 to celebrate Jon’s birthday, we went down the street to the Re-Uzit shop, where Jon bought several little puzzles. We’ll enjoy putting them together over the next couple of weeks.

May we walk in Beauty! Be safe. Be well. Keep connected.

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