Doing What I Cannot in Order to Learn

Monday’s Muses:
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” —Robert Frost


“I am always doing what I cannot do yet
in order to learn how to do it.” —Vincent van Gogh


“Have you been to jail for justice? Then you’re a friend of mine.” —Anne Feeney


“Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than “politics.” They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.” —Naomi Shulman


“‎The desire to reach the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise and most possible.” —Maya Angelou


“Begin with something in your range. Then write it as a secret. I’d be paralyzed if I thought I had to write a great novel, and no matter how good I think a book is on one day, I know now that a time will come when I will look upon it as a failure. The gratification has to come from the effort itself. I try not to look back. I approach the work as though, in truth, I’m nothing and the words are everything. Then I write to save my life. If you are a writer, that will be true. Writing has saved my life.” —Louise Erdrich (via Terri Windling’s Myth and Moor blog)


“This is the season of owl,
of winds that howl through the hollow,
the season of the sharp bark
of the fox, voicing longing in the bosque.

This is the season of bitter,
of fierce flakes feathering cheeks and hands,
the season of crystal, crisp and cutting,
of beauty that will slice you open.

This is the season of rising,
thin and pale, into the dawn air,
but also of burrowing, huddling deep
into the layers that hold you.

Walk the thin line of today with care,
one foot precisely placed, the other. . .

Perhaps you will notice,
when you raise your eyes for a moment,
how the line curves out ahead of you,
bringing you
always
back home.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider (1/13/16)


“Love the earth and sun and animals,
Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
Stand up for the stupid and crazy,
Devote your income and labor to others…
Re-examine all you have been told
at school or church or in any book;
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
And your very flesh shall be a great poem.”
—Walt Whitman


“In lying to others we end up lying to ourselves. We deny the importance of an event, or a person, and thus deprive ourselves of a part of our lives. Or we use one piece of the past or present to screen out another. Thus we lose faith even within our own lives.

“The unconscious wants truth, as the body does. The complexity and fecundity of dreams come from the complexity and fecundity of the unconscious struggling to fulfill that desire.” —Adrienne Rich


Gratitude List:
1. This Jungian Life podcast. The one on Shame, in particular. Reminder that finding delight in each other combats shame. Reminder to examine the ways I live by shame instead of by belonging.
2. I think I am ready for the new classes to start. I love the three classes I am teaching this semester: Speech, AP Composition (College Composition I), and Creative Writing.
3. Yesterday’s lovely weather–practicing archery with the kid.
4. Remembering: I don’t have to be perfect. Just good enough. And me–just me.
5. Church fellowship meals.

May we walk in Beauty!

Advent 17: Loneliness

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

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

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

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

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


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

May we walk in Beauty and Belongingness.

Combustible Child

I was a little obsessed yesterday with the way the sun shone through the wine and water glasses.

In the dream, there is a combustible child, who is likely at any moment to burst into flame: hair, chest, shins on fire. I am the child, running to escape a mob of children. Their fear and their curiosity and their rage torment me. I just want to be alone, so I can burn in peace. I burn, but I am not harmed. But my fire can burn the buildings of the town, and the trees.

Also I am a child in the mob. I run with the others, trying to catch the combustible child. I want to protect him. I know that some of the others mean to kill him, and I want to be the first to find him, to warn him, to help him. But he is always ahead of us.

We are in the labyrinthine passages beneath an old mill building. I am the child, running and hiding, afraid the light of my burning will show the children where I am. I am also seeking the child, fearful that he will hurt himself, or burn the building down, but mostly that the other children will hurt him.

I have found a way to the roof of the old mill. The others are still mostly down in the underground passages. The building is wood, but it is not burning beneath me, although other buildings have burned in the past. Down below, I am a child in the mob; I hear two children talking. They have discovered one of the secrets of the combustible child: “I think he was the one we thought had drowned there in the lake. Remember?” I have to find the combustible child and warn him.

(I welcome comments and thoughts about my dreams. I don’t feel comfortable with the “Your dream means” sort of interpretations, but speculative and conjectural comments and questions are better for helping me to think through what might be going on.)


Gratitude List:
1. How tears sometimes bless the receiver of tears. Sharing emotion, like sharing bread.
2. Laughing with loved ones
3. Pumpkin coconut pie, venison pie, chocolate pumpkin cheesecake pie
4. Sweet soft cat. I’m a little grumpy because Thor was chasing Sachs all around the house, thumpily and hissily. I could not get him to stop. I came downstairs to the recliner, hoping it would distract him, and I could get back to sleep. No. I held him and gave him a lecture about chasing kitties. No. Every time I settled down to sleep, he was off and thundering. The minute I turned on the light and picked up the laptop, he jumped up beside me, rolled onto his back, and fell into a deep sleep. Sigh. And am I grouchy? No, I just love this soft warm breathing presence beside me. I’ll nap later.
5. Belonging. I don’t always feel like I belong, or like I understand the unwritten rules of certain groups, even though I think I am a pretty good observer of human nature. So when I am in a group whose rules accept everyone’s awkwardness and oddness unconditionally, which loves each one not in spite of our oddities, but because of them, then I feel safe. Then I feel belonging. I am especially grateful to those of you who know how to extend unconditional welcome in ways that make everyone believe they belong.

May we walk in Beauty!

Exile

Exile is the theme of today’s Poetic Asides Prompt:

There are bubbles of belonging inside these spaces of separation,
places where true soul contact lies, and understanding lives.
It gives the exile a chance to feel connected, even in the crowd
of loud and angry judges who seek to cut away the sinners
from the inner group of those who belong, the righteous ones.

I’m done with trying to seek favor with the hoarders of grace
who place the ancient blood rules and regulations above
the call of love. I’ve chosen my exile and it only remains
to name the spaces where the outcasts can gather together,
our Cafes of Emigres, where grace and mercy are served with the tea.

Into the Dreamtime, Christmas Morning

Inner and Outer Worlds, Sunrise

Blessings to you this morning, whether you are spending it in quiet contemplation or amidst the chaos of children and relatives, whether you are filled with a sense of longing or a sense of belonging, whether you are satisfied or whether you are wishing to change your lot. May your heart find the light. May your soul be restful in the shadows. May you know yourself to be a part of the web of things.


Gratitude List:
1. The inner and outer worlds
2. Darkness and light
3. Peppermint meltaways
4. Mary’s Canticle
5. You. Always You.

May we walk in Beauty!


“From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
These are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.”
—Rory Cooney, from “Canticle of the Turning”


Making the House Ready for the Lord
by Mary Oliver

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice–it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances–but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.


“I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ’s breath moves through
listen to this music
I am the concert from the mouth of every creature
singing with the myriad chorus” —Hafiz


“May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful.” ―Mary Oliver


“We’re all just walking each other home.” —Ram Dass


“I learned from Whitman that the poem is a temple—or a green field—a place to enter, and in which to feel.” ―Mary Oliver

Rivers of Life


I carefully outlined the significant stages of my life, but somehow forgot to put my 18-22 section on there–and that was a SIGNIFICANT part of my life. It’s where I met Jon, where I met my lifelong friends. Where I learned to hold on to love even through a rough patch. I want to remake it in paint or colored pencils.

I am pretty strongly anti-established-religion. White Christian evangelicals in the US today are complicit with such great evils that I want nothing to do with them. I see people who say they follow the way of Jesus shrugging their shoulders and ignoring the pain of children torn from their parents by a government they support. I see them rabidly calling for more ill-treatment of people seeking asylum at our borders. I see them fighting for systems and policies that further marginalize people who are ill and struggling with poverty. I see them speaking with vitriol and rancor toward people of color, LGBTQ people, women, people from other countries. The list goes on.

There’s a quotation, often attributed to Gandhi (though perhaps erroneously), that goes: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I’m a fan of Jesus, too. I just don’t like a lot of the people who claim him. I don’t think it’s possible to really “get” who Jesus was and support a political administration that tears families apart, that regularly spews such racist and xenophobic and homophobic and misogynist hatred. I sound really judgey here, and I try hard not to be judgey, but I can’t withhold my judgement at times of great injustice and destruction.

On the other hand, I love a lot of Christians. In fact, despite its harsh beginning, this post is really about a church that I love, a place where I–with all my wild, witchy, unsettled, doubtful, defiant, questioning universalism–can feel belonging. We’re all welcome in this place, and questions are blessed, and crunchy feelings are held and observed together. Some people use very specific God-language that I couldn’t bring out of my own mouth, but I don’t feel uncomfortable because my own non-specific and outside-the-box language is accepted, too. I am not the only one who calls the Holy One by the name of Mystery. And I don’t want to be in a place where everyone believes exactly the same thing–just a place like this, where Love is the guiding principle.

And we sing together. And we make art. And we talk and dream and stand up to the powers together. We talk earnestly with each other and we laugh together, and cry. Our children feel safe and loved. It’s Real Church. It’s good community. I am grateful for each of the individuals who make up the circle of us.

Gratitude List:
1. Making collages with Chloe and Monica and the others this weekend at camp. Drawing the Rivers of our Lives with Josiah and Andrea and Maggie. Soulful art-making.
2. Storytelling. Vulnerable, life-affirming, tear-filled, laughter-filled, life-sharing storytelling.
3. Fudgy chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. I have severely curtailed my sweets intake in the past month, and I don’t let myself eat sugary things unless I am absolutely sure it will be worth it. This cake was completely worth it.
4. Christine’s Box of Tea. I tried the Stash Chocolate Hazelnut, which was sublime.
5. We are in the Golden Season: Goldenrod, sunflowers, slanting sunlight in the afternoons, Jerusalem artichokes, yellow walnut leaves. Glorious golden! Now for some coolness, please?

May we walk in Beauty!


“None of us are getting out of here alive, so please stop treating yourself like an afterthought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth that you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There’s no time for anything else.” —Christopher Walken
*****
“Who has not sat before his own heart’s curtain? It lifts, and the scenery is falling apart.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke
*****
“The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance.” —David Whyte
*****
“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its’ imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them.” —Annie Dillard
*****
“Forms are the symbols of formless divine principles; symbolism is the language of nature.”
—Manly P. Hall
*****
“One cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening become a lie.” —C. G. Jung
*****
From Omid Safi:
The great mystic Zol Nun (Dhu ‘l-Nun) met a woman at the sea shore.

He asked her: “What is the end of love?” She answered: “O simpleton, love has no end.”

He asked why.
She said: “Because God, the Beloved, has no end.”
*****
“Whenever one person stands up and says, ‘Wait a minute, this is wrong,’ it helps other people do the same.“ —Gloria Steinem
*****
In the silence before time began, in the quiet of the womb,
in the stillness of early morning is your beauty.
At the heart of all creation,
at the birth of every creature,
at the centre of each moment
is your splendour.
Rekindle in me the sparks of your beauty
that I may be part of the splendour of this moment. Rekindle in me the sparks of your beauty
that I may be part of the blazing splendour
that burns from the heart of this moment. —John Philip Newell
*****
Hafiz:
“I wish I could show you,
when you are lonely or in darkness,
the Astonishing Light
of your own Being.”
*****
“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution” —Emma Goldman

The Heart Must Hold Them All


I have been thinking again about the quotations I post every day, how they’re like rungs on a ladder for me, steps toward ideas that I am seeking, seeds of ideas that I am watering and nurturing. Sometimes they’re a little harsh and jangly, and that is well and good, because I am feeling a little harsh and jangly these days, full of nerves easily frayed by the next round of cynicism and rudeness and cruelty and tragedy.

Then I find another quotation that blows cooling breeze over the rippling waters of my soul. Or someone posts a picture of a man carrying a pink umbrella to shield his family from the sun, and his wife, with their baby on her back, wraps an arm companionably about his waist. Or a student comes up to me with shining eyes and a world-changing idea. Or the mist lies over the fields of drying sunflowers like a road to Avalon.

And I find myself back at the start again, learning as if for the first time, that my heart must hold them all, both the jangly and the tender.

I watch my skittish cat, the longing in his eyes to be part of the action, and the constant anxiety, the startlement at every tiny sound. He’s so sensitive, so wound up, so completely attentive to it all, that he sometimes gets paralyzed, and can’t function except to flee and hide. When we determine that our Work is pay closer attention, to increase our sensitivity, to care more deeply, it is possible to become as tightly wound as poor Sachs, and tremble in fear at any change in atmosphere. In days like these, it’s important to me that I remember the pink umbrella and the shining eyes and the mist. If I don’t want to get completely jangled and twitchy, I must keep looking for the feathers and the sparkling morning cobwebs, must listen for the racket of robins in the hollow each morning, must breathe in the scent of autumn in the air.


“The world has been abnormal for so long that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to live in a peaceful and reasonable climate. If there is to be any peace or reason, we have to create it in our own hearts and homes.”
—Madeleine L’Engle, A Swiftly Tilting Planet
*
“People are just trees who have forgotten.”
—William Adams
*
“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.” —Goethe
*
“My actions are my only true belongings.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
*
“If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.” —Erica Jong
*
“The women, united, will never be defeated.” —Ubaka Hill
*
“Life is a luminous pause between two great mysteries, which themselves are one.” —C. G. Jung
*
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” —John Steinbeck


Gratitude List:
1. Balance
2. Paying Attention
3. Waking Up
4. Beginning Again
5. Sunrise

May we walk in Beauty!

Photobomber

bridge4

“What comes, will go. What is found, will be lost again.
But what you are is beyond coming and going and beyond description.
You are It.”
—Rumi

Gratitude List:
1. Lemons and limes, which is to say: that which refreshes.
2. Bumblebee photobombers, which is to say: that which surprises and delights.
3. The Sufi poets, which is to say, that which deepens and enheartnes.
4. The great-horned owl in the poplar tree, which is to say, that which awakens and reminds.
5. This fuzzy fellow sleeping here beside me, which is to say: that which trusts and belongs.

May we walk in Beauty!