Gratitudes, Musings

Into the Dark, December 4

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

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

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

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


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

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Musings

Expectancy and Hope

Gratitude List:
1. Advent, expectancy, hope
2. Getting older (I am not finding parts of this particularly enjoyable right now, and I put it here to remind me that it really is a wonderful thing despite the grouchy bits)
3. Hot coffee and cold water
4. Cozy warm morning house
5. A refreshing break (I am still holding back a bit on whether I really want to get back into the swing of things, but I’ll be ready when the dawn comes)

May we walk in Beauty!


“The heart is your student, for love is the only way we learn.”
—Rumi


Poet Joy Harjo, from 2012:
“Visited with my cousin George Coser, Jr yesterday at the kitchen table. He’s a gift. Always something profound among the stories. The sacred lies at the root of the mundane. And every word is a power element. Each word or sound, whether thought, written or spoken grows our path, the path of our generation, the children, grandchildren, the Earth. . . . We become the ancestors. A sense of play gives a lightness of being. So get out there and play—and be kind while you’re at it. To yourself, too.”


Help me to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with You.

Christ of the mysteries, I trust You
to be stronger than each storm within me.
I will trust in the darkness and know
that my times, even now, are in Your hand.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven,
and somehow, make my obedience count for You.
—The Prayer of St. Brendan (attributed to Brendan)


The Wild Geese
by Wendell Berry

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

Gratitudes, Musings

Two Today

Gratitude of Resistance:
A couple different ones today.
1. Yesterday’s chapel, led by Latinx students. Students from the Dominican, from Puerto Rico, from Colombia, from Guatemala, and from Honduras stood up and spoke about culture and foods and people from their countries. On Wednesday, they had asked students from around campus to write their stories of experiencing discrimination based on their race. In chapel, students stood up and read these stories, as though they were coming from their own voices. It was really powerful.
2. Getting home. Yesterday afternoon was really trying for me. School was let out just before noon for the snow, and the drive home on the highway was a white knuckle experience. We couldn’t make it up Cool Creek Road. But there were beautiful moments in the story. We took refuge for an hour or so in the home of friends who live at the bottom of the ridge. Rochelle gave me coffee in a mug that says: “I love you. That’s all.” Our sons did computer whiz-kid stuff together in their den, and their sweet puppy Ophelia washed my face with kisses and snuggled on my lap. It was a moment of serene and utter safety in the midst of an anxious trip. It gave me courage to get out and try again. We made about 8-10 attempts on the hill until a plow finally came through at 4:30 and we made it up to the top. It was such a relief to get home and snuggle with cats and sit in the living room with the whole family.

Gratitudes, Musings

The Quickening

Continuing to give away a thing a day during Lent. I’m beginning to feel what my friend Katrina Lefever calls “that space and lightness inside” that comes from jettisoning the stuff that clutters my life. I have a long way to go, but I’m energized. Each thing that goes brings me a new burst of energy.


Gratitude List:
1. Coffee with friends
2. Clearing the Clutter
3. The Quickening: Morning birdsong has been decidedly spring. Some of the neighborhood regulars are gearing up.
4. The Quickening: The sap is rising in the trees in Flinchbaugh’s orchards–If you look closely, you can almost see the life force rising.
5. The Quickening: The aconite are up and opening.

May we walk in Beauty!


The quickening is the time of seeing life and growth. When a woman is pregnant and first feels the movement of the child, we say she feels the quickening–she becomes aware in a new way of the life inside her. The Season of Brigid is a time of quickening. Rodents begin to awaken from hibernation, peeking out from their winter-bound burrows. Aconite and crocus poke shy tips above the soil. Bramble and tree show the red and yellow of rising sap.

The sky today is gray and shadowed, pregnant with the snow that will soon blanket the ground again. Still, the Earth is quickening, feeling the new life stirring inside her. Look around you, and you’ll see it. Listen for the change in the song of the birds. Smell the difference, even in the snow-bound air. Persephone is preparing to return yet again.


Some quotations for today:
“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.” —Etty Hillesum
***
“If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.” —Richard Rohr
***
“The speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.” —Audre Lorde
***
“We write because we believe the human spirit cannot be tamed and should not be trained.” —Nikki Giovanni
***
“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”
―Maya Angelou
***
“Rage—whether in reaction to social injustice, or to our leaders’ insanity, or to those who threaten or harm us—is a powerful energy that, with diligent practice, can be transformed into fierce compassion.”
―Bonnie Myotai Treace
***
“Anger is useful only to a certain point. After that, it becomes rage, and rage will make you careless.” ―Lauren Oliver
***
“Take that rage, put it on a page, take the page to the stage, blow the roof off the place.”
―The Script

Gratitudes, Poems

Strain Train Rain

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“The courageous don’t lose their fear. They simply transform it.” –Climbing Poetry

Here’s a poetic form I found on Robert Lee Brewer’s “Poetic Asides” blog. It’s called diminishing verse. The poem is in three-line stanzas with no rules about syllables or metric feet. You choose an ending word that is able to be diminished from the front, one letter or sound at a time. I am going to try strain-train-rain and see what happens:

For ten long weeks, we have felt the strain,
each thirsty day arriving like a dry and dusty train,
but finally–this dawning brings us rain.

There are some interesting possibilities here. I would like to try some with line endings where the thought continues on to the next line.  Strip-trip-rip might be an interesting one to play with. (The str- word-opening is a good one to use because of the series of three initial consonants.)  Cram-ram-am. It’s a fun little game just to make up the word series. I might enlist my children to help me with that part.

Gratitude List:
1. Kate Dicamillo, writer of short-chapter easy-read children’s books. My boys and I have been reading them this week. We have always liked her Mercy Watson books, but she has taken three characters from Mercy Watson’s stories and given them stories of their own. Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon,  and my favorite, Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? They are lovely parables for adults as well as for children.
2. Someone once suggested politely that I should not put coffee on my gratitude lists because it is a drug, an artificial stimulant. But of course, I will put on my list whatever I please, and while I recognize its addictive effects on my body and brain, I am really grateful this morning for coffee because of a tossandturn night. For three mornings running, I woke up at 4:44 on the dot. I took my body in hand last night and told it that it had to wait until after 5 to wake up. It could even have a four if it wanted to and wake up at 5:24. Perhaps it panicked–I woke up repeatedly throughout the night, and I am supremely grateful for coffee this morning to set me on the path to wakefulness.
3. Deep breaths. Another good waker-upper.
4. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. It could rain for days now, and I would be happy. My classroom is a pleasant temperature. The air feels clear and fresh. The gentle sounds of rain are soothing. The land is sighing in relief.
5. The open-heartedness of young people.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes

Walking in the Big Story

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Another dancing fire picture from last week.  This one is a little dragony. 

Gratitude List:
1. Homemade pizza.  With onions and fresh basil on top.
2. Inner exploration.  I am finishing this semester with my Creative Writers with an autobiographical piece, using lots and lots of writing prompts to explore their identity, to really look at what makes them who they are.  I think that self-reflection can help us to develop into more mature and healthy people.
3. Good Ethiopian Coffee to start my morning
4. Waking up, and then waking up, and then waking up.  There are always new rooms to awaken within.
5. How the stories that we read and listen to intertwine themselves with our own.  Sometimes this process is more intense than others.  I can remember the beautiful language and imagery of certain books with pleasure, but it’s when I am working a book–not just reading it–that I really thoroughly absorb it and take it in.  It happened to me at a young age with the Narnia books, and much later with the Lord of the Rings.  The Odyssey.  Perhaps it’s epics and journey stories that do it mostly.  We ourselves become part of the meta-myth.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Poems

The Holiness of Desire

Sun

(I’m not sure whether this is quite finished, or whether it says exactly what I want it to say.  But this is my writing space, whether a piece is finished or in process, and this is where I leave this one this morning.)

Sometimes the body forgets
how desire is holy,
how the craving, the longing–

for a place that recedes
into the mists of memory,
or the comfort of a restful bed,
for touch, for the answer
to the body’s sweet secret yearnings,
for the way the lungs passionately
embrace the air that enters–

all is echo of the larger ache,
the primal urge for re-union
with the Source of all,
Godself urging us inward
to the primal dance
like the dance
at the center of the atom,
whirling particles held
within each other’s orbit.

Gratitude List:
1. The assembly that celebrated Lunar New Year on Monday.  Dragons, dancers and tai kwon do demonstrations.  I would like to learn to feel that sort of strength and focus in my own body.
2. Two-hour delay.  The resultant daily schedule is a little frenzied for me, but I am happy for the extra time here this morning.
3. Good fair-trade coffee
4. All that draws me onward and inward
5. Following through with the intentions

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Musings

Prayerful

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I do not know what this is–one of the boys took it with a special filter–but I like how it draws me in and centers me.

Yesterday morning as I was doing some last-minute puttering at my desk, a group of students tapped on my door.  “We’re doing a prayer walk,” they told me.  “Can we come in and pray for you?”

So much of my focus when I am at school is on how I can care for and meet the needs of these young people that it threw me for a momentary loop to be on the receiving end.  I didn’t quite know how to be.  It was lovely and powerful and extremely meaningful, here at the stressful end of a semester–with the anxiety and excitement of the semester that is approaching–to simply stand there and receive the gift and the grace of their prayers, like feathers, like stones, like a bowl that held me throughout the whole day and which will carry me into the newness of the coming weeks.

It strikes me that in these days when there are such sharp distinctions being made between religions and denominations and spiritual perspectives, that one thing we can do is to offer each other our prayer.  Or energy.  Or meditation.  Or goodwill.  Whatever we call it.  That reaching out toward each other in spirit, casting the web, carrying and holding each other.

Gratitude List:
1. Spending the morning drawing with my kiddos.
2. Mist in the hollow.
3. Warm coffee on a chilly morning.
4. How resolve settles into the spine.
5. Prayer.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Poems

Ode to a Flock of Crows

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Too much in a hurry to seek out a birdy sort of photo for today.  Here’s a picture of the late fall farm season.

On the Two-for Tuesday prompts, I usually try to combine the two pieces of the prompt, to let the opposite ideas create a dynamic tension in the poem.  Plus, I hate to feel as though I am missing out on any part of an experience.  Today’s is a little more complicated, and I might just have to settle for one piece.  We’ll see what happens.  Here’s the prompt:

 

  1. Take the phrase “Ode to a (blank),” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem.
  2. Take the phrase “(blank) is for the Birds,” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem.

How they wheel and settle,
wheel and settle.
Their business is their own.

When the trees along the tracks
have lost their leaves,
and reach their naked branches
into the salmon-colored sky,
their crowns fill with crows.
Connect the dots,
a web of birds fills the world.

These are the people of the wind,
the warriors of autumn.
Watching them, even I
can turn my face toward the winter.

Gratitude List:
1. The crowd of crows.  I always feel like I have to qualify this for the people who have to live more closely with them, because I, too, get tired of the purple pokeberry splotches all over my car from the starling flock in the hollow, but I love the crows that wheel and settle in the trees near the mall.  I love seeing them just as the sky is beginning to turn orange, and they dot the treetops and electrical wires.
2. Challengers.  They give you a chance to look at your internal world, and remind you to keep checking in with yourself and to be faithful to your inner truth.
3. Compassionate hearts.
(I wasn’t really going for a C theme today, but now I think I need to finish it out.)
4. Coffee.  It gets me through the morning.
5. Creativity.  Building up and creating are a great antidote to despair and rage.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Poems

Threads

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A spider’s web across the path spans the space from here to there:
the bridge across the River, the yarn I knot with my needles,
the trail of crumbs leading out of the woods, the pathway between us.

(Trying my hand at a Korean Sijo this morning.  http://www.ahapoetry.com/sijo.htm)

Gratitude List:
1. Thursday’s chapel speaker: mindful meditation.  Powerful.
2. Soba noodles and fall veggies stirred up in the cast iron wok.  That man is a mighty fine cook.
3. Bridges.  Webs.   Labyrinth pathways.  Strands of yarn being knitted or knotted or crocheted or woven. Narrative threads.
4. Quiet spaces.
5.  Sleep and coffee.

May we walk in Beauty!