Gratitude List: 1. Rising. All the little spring plants are rising up. Aconite and hellebore. Onion grass. I’ve been meaning to get a hellebore for years, and last year my friend gave me one. The greenery has been up since Brigid’s Day. May soon we’ll see a shy Lenten Rose. 2. Chocolate. Yeah, I bought “too much” for Young Son’s classroom. The “extras” were yummy. 3. Elderberry and zinc. Crossing my fingers that I can keep this cold at bay. I’m usually fine in the mornings, but I crash in the afternoons. I am going to take my elderberry and zinc along to school. Maybe I should nap during lunch–sleep seems to be one of the best revivers. 4. Homemade pizza. 5. Safety nets. We have yearly mental health screenings for students at certain grade levels at our school. A team of gentle souls from a local counseling center interviews students, giving them a chance to talk about their problems. I dream about the day we could get an ongoing grant or something to be able to screen all kids every year. One thing this does is that it normalizes this kind of conversation about mental health. It’s a check-up, just like a physical.
The song is sort of like the Christmas version of Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall. Will it ever end? It goes on and on, repeating the lists of ducks and swans and rings and dancers and servants until you just want the song to be done already! And it’s always on, in a thousand versions, all during the holiday season. But does anyone really know much about the Twelve Days of Christmas?
Like so many of our modern syncretistic celebrations, the Twelve Days of Christmas is a mishmash that holds within it the tradition of Catholic and Orthodox days of feasting and/or fasting and pagan mysticism and revelling, in this case Yuletide and Saturnalia. Shakespeare used this period as the setting for his play Twelfth Night, in which people take on different identities, and things are never as they seem.
These are the High Holy Days, Time Between Time, another period in which to meditate on the coming of the Light. These are also the days of the Lord of Misrule, when a young person or a peasant would perform the duties of the Lord of the Castle for this season, usually ordering wild parties and feasting and dancing. The Fool is ascendant, and the King takes orders. Having just finished a study of King Lear, I am pondering the strange wisdom of the Fool these days, and the foolishness of kings. No, I’m not making a political jab here. This is more inward, more mystical. We each have our own Ego-Ruler who sits on a golden throne and arranges things as they ought to be in order to maintain meaning and order. We also have an inner Child-Fool, who wants to set things tumbling, to play, to shift the patterns of inner law and order.
Have you ever noticed how much our modern depiction of Santa’s elves and their hats resemble to old Medieval fools and their foolscape? I have a slowly-growing theory that the Fool/Clown is so crucial to our human sense of equilibrium, and that this ancient western Medieval character of the Fool so satisfyingly fulfilled that role, that we have maintained the Fool in the character of Santa’s elves.
The “elf” hat my brother gave me for Christmas twenty years ago would look perfectly reasonable on Lear’s Fool. And here’s another thing: One of our favorite family Christmas movies is Elf. What is Will Ferrell’s Buddy if not the quintessential Fool? He doesn’t fit in “polite” society. He doesn’t know how to behave. He’s embarrassing and childlike. And he’s the wisest person in the story. The father kept trying to order things in his fashion, kept trying to maintain meaning in the only way he knew how: making money and having corporate power creates a safe social order. But Buddy came into his realm and, in that utterly cringey moment, sang, “I love you, I love you, I love you!” And the world began to topple.
This is a season when we recognize that the social order is not cast in stone, that kings fall and fools rise. Buddy the Elf gets a cynical city to believe in Santa Claus. The Fool leads the mad King through the storm and the fens. And, in the story that Christians are celebrating, a tiny baby turns the world upside-down. The child of a poor and insignificant family on the far-flung edge of the empire comes to upset the social and religious order.
Jesus is the Fool. He wanders, he questions, he turns everything upside-down, he tells his listeners, over and over: “You have heard it said, but. . .” This Holy Fool disobeys the law and order that have been set up by the people in power to maintain the power structures. Perhaps some of the struggle that Christianity faces today is that we keep wanting to make him the King. We want the seeming sense of the powerful ruler, and we eschew the seeming foolishness of the Fool. But in truth, the Kings are all mad and the Fool has wisdom to offer, if only we will hear.
His mother knew, didn’t she, when she spoke her prophecy poem while he somersaulted in her womb. He fill the hungry with good things and send the rich empty away. He will cast down the rulers from their thrones and raise up the lowly. Amen, Hallelujah. Here comes the Holiest of Fools.
Dreamwork: If we keep up the labyrinth metaphor, these are the days of the walk out of the labyrinth–having considered what we lay down and let go on the inward journey, we now look at what we pick up for the coming year. I use Twelvenight for dreamwork. It’s more live Sixteennight for me actually, because I start really paying attention at Solstice. I mine my dreams for words and images that will accompany me into the coming year. I let the Fool of my dream-brain inform the Queen of my waking brain, offering up seemingly disjointed and disconnected ideas and words and pictures to break down the logical-intellectual meanings my day-brain has created.
This year, the valerian in the medicine I took to fend off that cold seems to have kept me sleeping well for days after. I have been sleeping deeply and satisfyingly in the last couple of days. This means I am not remembering much in the way of dreams. But this morning I woke up with this somewhat grammatically-challenged phrase in my head: “There’s more than two ways to think about it.”
My day-brain is a little offended. Duh! I’ve done that one already. I’ve meditated on both/and as a solution to either/or thinking. I’ve read everything by Richard Rohr on non-dual thinking. This is one of my core concepts. But the Fool wants me to learn it again, so who I am to fight it? More than two ways. . .
Gratitude List: 1. Fools and foolishness 2. Wisdom from unexpected places 3. b n v <–Sachs wrote that when he walked across my keyboard. Yes, Fuzzy Friend, I am grateful, so grateful, for the cats and for kitty kisses. 4. Chocolate 5. Days warm enough for me to take a walk.
In that story where the pregnant woman and her husband get turned away from every door, would you have offered them shelter? Would you have helped the baby? Why not do it today? Why not help the travelers seeking shelter? Why not help the people fleeing with their child from violence? Speak up for them. Stand against the violent policies that tear apart their families and send them back into danger. Listen to Sweet Honey in the Rock: “Would You Harbor Me?”
Gratitude List: 1. You, who harbored me, my angst and my anxiety, my wrangling and my struggling. Let us be the ones who harbor others. 2. Your patience. I am a slow, slow, learner, but I am teachable. Thanks for trusting that I can learn. 3. Chocolate cream of wheat pudding. I just wanted a sort of healthy-ish snack, but somehow, I started dumping cocoa powder and sugar into the cream of wheat. 4. Reflections, and reflections of reflections. In water and windows. In eyes and hearts and souls. 5. People who help me not to do the knee-jerk dance, who help me to calm down, settle, relax and breathe before reacting.
Gratitude List: 1. How time shifts grief to a different space. This is the week, thirteen years ago, when my first child would have been due. I lost the pregnancy early, at thirteen weeks, but I was new to the horror of loss in those days, and it hit me like a truck. Today, it sits differently in me. Still, it wants to be noticed, to be remembered. 2. The light is coming back. We still have a long way to walk until Sunreturn, but it will come again. This year is harder than some, the claustrophobia more intense and grinding, and it’s hit me earlier. I am grateful for whatever lessons it has to teach me. 3. Coffee and chocolate 4. Getting it done, slowly but surely 5. Innovation and change
Gratitude List: 1. When we all work together. . . There is just something about coming together with a group of people to accomplish a specific task that creates a sense of community and tribe. I’ve experienced it in various ways this week–a listening committee, a group helping a friend move, being part of a web of people holding someone in prayer/love/light, classroom work, collegiality.
2. Mockingbird is beginning to welcome everyone back to the hollow in their own languages. (Okay, I know he’s actually establishing territory, but the effect on my grateful ears is the same either way.)
3. Chocolate. Especially fair trade chocolate. It is almost impossible for us in the US to extricate our pleasures and our luxuries from the economic and trade systems that oppress others around the world. May we keep edging our way toward freedom and justice for all people.
4. This coming week. I don’t know who to thank for the incredibly brilliant idea (whether it’s principals or superintendents)–padding the potential snow days into Easter Break, just after the switch to the final quarter–but it feels like I have been given extra days in the world, like I can slip between times for the next couple of days, get my work done, catch up on my rest, prepare for the coming month, and get back to work reinvigorated.
5. Needle felting. I started making a couple teeny tiny totoros for a small boy’s upcoming birthday, and his older brother has become obsessed with helping with the needle felting. I’m a little anxious about a nine-year-old and those tiny spears, but it is perhaps a good exercise in intent focus, and I love doing handwork with my kids.
6. Hmmm. I worked hard on this list just now, but I missed this one: new life, birth, how the heart is constantly being resurrected.
7. Oh, and this one: My favorite Jesus stories are coming up, beginning today: Jesus surprises Mary in the garden. (My friend’s daughter also loves this story: he surprises”his best best best friend,” she says. Yes.) Then he surprises Thomas and his terrified friends. Then he surprises the walkers on the Emmaus Road. Life-transforming surprises.
8. I’ll just keep going: The poetry of David Whyte, particularly Sweet Darkness and Easter Blessing.
1. Belly laughs and chocolate
3. Singing Together. Finding the notes.
4. Africa House (the art, the fans, the cool floor, the growly mockingbird, the rainmaker, the gathering places, the fireplace, the games, the way laughter echoes down the hallways, oh–even the skunk)
5. Telling Our Stories: All these wonderful and terrible stories, these wise and hopeful and despairing stories. How they fill the bowl. How we make a net together, to receive them, to sift them, to examine them. To hold them maybe, or to let them go.
May you make your path by walking.
May you find someone who will hold your stories with you.
May you walk on holy ground.
May you walk in Beauty.
Take mine, yours, any heart.
and hold it tenderly
in the bowl of your hands,
in the warm breathing space
where your open palms
have held damp soil,
warm eggs fresh from the nest,
where you have cradled
the heads of tiny babies,
Gratitude List: 1. Gentle reiki from Nicki
2. Charoite with yellow-green calcite inclusions
3. Learning to say No
4. (The other) Beth Weaver’s seductive chocolates
5. The Way Things Work book