In June, right after school was over, and before I had even completed my grading, I went on silent retreat at the Jesuit Center at Wernersville, probably my last time there, as the Jesuits are selling the building and grounds. I needed that healing time.
In the weeks since, I have been taking stock, clearing out my hoard (fabric, mostly, but more will come), and working on getting healthy.
Here is a little photo essay of my time on retreat:
I took along a white cloth and some red thread. I have been inspired by several instagrammer embroiderers to begin to create a story cloth, something that’s not specifically functional, but is more of a journal, a dialogue with my inner self. On one of the first days there, I was meditating on something I’d read, a Buddhist idea about the base of the spine being where the three rivers meet. I began to consider what my three rivers are. Along with embodiment, I received creativity, and magic/mysticism. So I began embroidering the flowering hand image I found framed on the wall–for creativity. Then I embroidered a full body–my body–with wings and a crown, to represent embodiment, being alive within this body. And later, I embroidered my stump, the center of my current magical work, representing the inner work and the spiritual connection to the Source of All Life. All three are connected to a center cauldron, which is the place where the three rivers meet. Other images above include some collages I made while meditating, a painting (“You can become all flame,” said the ancient desert abba), and the back of my #alonetogether sweater, which I completed during retreat.
More than almost anything, perhaps, I will miss this grand cathedral beech.
Getting ready for a new semester. Putting the old one to bed. Caught in the web of behindness that has been my truth for this entire semester. Recognizing my own responsibility in that, how my disorganization and distractedness were a big part of it, how the Big Task gets bigger as it gets put off. Also trying to give myself a break because of the outer dramas of these months: pandemic, election, insurrection.
What labels do I choose for myself? Lazy. Procrastinator. Mildly depressed. Present in the Moment. Creative.
How do I see myself differently depending on how I choose my labels, and will a different label actually help me to get my work done more efficiently so I can really enjoy the non-work times in my life? How does that clementine in my picture change identity based on whether it wears the label scurvy or winsome? What happens to my sober and hard-working great-grandparents if I label them dance? Or if I label my great-great-grandmother, who midwifed children into the universe and lived according to the gentle order of the Mennonite Church, chaos?
The photos are part of a project I did with my Creative Writing classes last year, and I am tweaking and improving on for this year. We wrote dozens of words on little cards, and then we took photos of them labeling objects in our world. It was a way to try to push students into using language creatively. As I reflect on my own images from last year, I feel attached to them, as if they’re poems of their own.
Three Gratitudes: 1. The sky was absolutely alive this morning when we got to school! Geese and crows winging across the grey at angles, honking and grawking. A little flock of twittery folk above the crows, beating faster, but only just keeping pace with the slow-rowing crows. An anxious family of doves, flushed noisily from the juniper tree, wings whooshing and voices crying, “Oh dear!” 2. I think I am going to catch up with myself. And then Wednesday is a new day, semester-wise. (Is there something else happening on Wednesday?) 3. Creative projects. I am eager to offer my classes a deeper level of creative projects next semester, and hopefully that will enable us all to keep our minds and hearts more carefully tuned to the work.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Beauty!
“The mystic sits inside the burning.” —Rumi (Barks)
“Writing is the painting of the voice; the closer the resemblance, the better it is.” —Voltaire
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” —Dalai Lama
“Look at your feet. You are standing in the sky. When we think of the sky, we tend to look up, but the sky actually begins at the earth.” —Diane Ackerman
“In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. Here we are moving toward the exit of the 20th century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice. The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?” ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham City Jail (1963)
I read something yesterday that posited that one of the primary disruptions to civic life in this pandemic has been the shopping/consumption function. The author suggested that the loss of shopping–buying coffee, going to the mall, stopping in at the gas station quick-mart for a hot dog–is causing such angst for people because consumerism has become the primary civic relationship for most of us.
We miss the sense of being known in our communities, of civic connection, and for so many of us, that happens in stores and quick-marts, in coffee shops and hair salons and restaurants. There’s nothing wrong with being happy to know and be known by the person at the cash register. I long for a Cheers bar where everybody knows my name, or a Central Perk Coffee Shop, where the barista knows I drink my coffee black.
While I don’t want my social and civic life to be defined by my buying habits and my consumerism, I do want to think deliberately and authentically about my civic and community engagement in the Opening Season. When the governor says that it is safe for us to move to green, how can my everyday interactions create belongingness and connection for the people I interact with? What will my primary civic engagements be? I think mine have been school and family and church, and circles of friends. How can I be deliberate about making those engagements spaces of healing and wholeness, of strong and trusting connection?
Yesterday, I wrote that blog entry about being weary. Then I got up off the couch, got dressed, cleaned the kitchen, and re-arranged my desk. It is amazing how much little things help. Also, I got more sleep that night than the previous one, so there’s that. I’m also going to try to keep a log for a few days, marking down the increments of how I spend my time. I began that yesterday and then fell off the wagon, and I frittered again, got lost in the miasma of the day’s sameness. I’m trying again today.
I do want to be clear with my internal critic and editor that I am not basing my sense of personal worth or happiness on productivity. This process is not about that at all. I’m not following in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin. This is about pulling myself out of the fogs and the swamps. This is about walking on solid ground for these last few weeks of school instead of slogging through mud. I’ll make sure that I continue to just Be, to Laze, to Loaf, to Dream.
Gratitude List: 1. Seasons and rhythms. Breath: in and out and in. Stretching. 2. Birdlife in the hollow. The wrens fledged a family of nestlings yesterday in the greenhouse. Jon took me up to greet them. And the house finches speak so tenderly from the walnut tree when humans walk too close to where they have hidden their nest under the forebay of the barn. And Ms. Bluebird has chosen the area outside my desk window for her primary hunting ground. Oriole, cardinal, indigo bunting, goldfinch, blue jay, bluebird: flashes of orange, scarlet, blue, yellow, blue, blue–all day long–among the vast greens and blues. 3. Some of my frittering has been about creative projects, so it has had meaning in my day-to-day. In the break moments of the day, I have some ideas for Things To Make, and that gives me a whole new kind of energy. 4. Those who stand in Love, against Empire 5. The solidarity of women. Men do it too, but I think of that moment of courage and care when those three women responded, in solidarity, to an angry racist.
May we walk in Solidarity, in Beauty!
Oh Kabir! Oh Hafiz! I am so glad I found both of these poems on the same day:
A Hole In A Flute by Hafiz
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
I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through listen to this music
Ecstatic Flute by Kabir
I know the sound of the ecstatic flute, But I don’t know whose flute it is. A lamp burns and has neither wick nor oil. A lily pad blossoms and is not attached to the bottom! Where one flower opens, ordinarily dozens open. The moon bird’s head is filled with nothing but thoughts of the moon, And when the next rain will come is all that the rain bird thinks of. Who is it we spend our entire life loving?
“Geometry is the language of time.” —Khalid Masood
“Don’t be ashamed to weep; ’tis right to grieve. Tears are only water, and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there must be sunlight also. A wounded heart will heal in time, and when it does, the memory and love of our lost ones is sealed inside to comfort us.” —Brian Jacques
“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” —Carl Jung
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” —Marcel Proust
“When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.” —John F. Kennedy
“Writing poetry is an unnatural act.” —Elizabeth Bishop
“They say goldfish have no memories, and I say their lives are much like mine.” —Ani DiFranco
Today, I am taking a day of work-rest. With stacks of grading that are somehow not grading themselves, I asked to take this day off so that I could catch up to myself. It will not be a day of rest, exactly, but it will be restful. It will be at my pace, though I need to keep it moving so I get as much work accomplished as possible.
And it will be silence. Hours of silence. Me and the cats and the papers. No one needing anything from me except for an occasional head-rub. I need a mini-vacation from being needed. And it’s strange, when my work is words, when the spoken word is my favorite art form to observe and to do, that the rest that I crave is a break from speech. I long for this coming day of silence.
I have begun looking at the mini-breaks that I take in my day, trying to mark and acknowledge them and live into them, so that I can feel them as balm and not simply as escape. In that thirty seconds after the room empties and I need to head off to chapel, can I take three intentional deep breaths? Instead of walking down the hall to lunch, might I detour outside for a moment and greet the Three Magnolia Trees in the corner behind the old classroom building? Can I take three minutes of my prep period to listen to a piece of music every day? Or open my journal and do a five-minute word-dump or fast-write?
What if we were to try to see our moments, or breaks in the day, as little vacations instead of as escapes? If we were to intentionally stop and take breaths, make art, feel silence, listen to our heartbeats, put our feet on earth, commune with plant-beings? I think this will be my plan for the shadow journey ahead.
Gratitude List: 1. The earnestness of Lancaster people to resist injustice and to create compassion. Last night I attended a public meeting of Wing, a local group begun to try to develop community responses to the crisis created by recent immigration policies. The meeting was held at my church, and we filled the parking lot and the edges of the parking lot and the grassy spaces along the lot, and people parked down the streets and walked to the church. There is good energy in this community to do something to help those who are suffering as a result of this country’s harsh immigration detention policies. 2. Women in Black. I am heartened by this group of women who are committed to standing in protest of violence. Last night we stood with a sign proclaiming our solidarity with Kurdish women who are suffering in the wake of Turkish incursions. 3. Poetry and story. The weaving of words. 4. Yesterday, after I asked for today off, I felt such a release of tension and pressure. I’m grateful for understanding administrators and colleagues. I will be a much better colleague and teacher myself for having this day to breathe and catch up. 5. Dawn. The coming of light into the day.
It’s all been anxiety dreams again this night, at least what I remember. No visitations by interesting animals or night-time messengers. I suppose I shouldn’t simply ignore the anxiety dreams, but this is supposed to be my rest from teaching, and I’m tired of teaching all night in my dreams as well.
So instead of dreams, here is an image of three trees on a hillside. It felt like an archetypal image when I took it, and the digital distortions give it a dreamlike quality. Three trees on a green hill. Cat-claws slashes of jet trails across the sky. So many mystical traditions around the world, and through time, consider three to be an important number. Something in the human psyche responds to sets of three. Sets of three are dynamic, curious, energetic, satisfying. Three aspects of deity. Three wishes. Tragedies come in threes. Three guesses. Three days. Three challenges. Three trials.
Gratitude List: 1. Holy moments 2. Compelling images 3. Cornbread 4. Sleep 5. Family time
May we walk in Beauty!
Words for the Sixth Day of Kwanzaa: Today’s Principle in the Kwanzaa celebration is Kuumba: Creativity.
“I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.” —Michelle Obama, Becoming
A string of beads has a thread running through all the beads, keeping them together. What we need is a thread too—of sanity and stability. Because when you have a thread, even though each bead is separate, they hang together.” —Sogyal Rinpoche
“The poem is not the world.
It isn’t even the first page of the world.
But the poem wants to flower, like a flower.
It knows that much.
It wants to open itself,
like the door of a little temple,
so that you might step inside and be cooled and refreshed,
and less yourself than part of everything.”
“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.”
(From the Talmud)
Lyla June Johnston
Dawn. It is dawn.
The sun is conquering the sky
and my grandmother and I
are heaving prayers at the horizon.
“Show me something unbeautiful,” she says,
“and I will show you the veil over your eyes and take it away.
And you will see hozho all around you, inside of you.”
Someone Should Start Laughing
A Poem by Hafiz
I have a thousand brilliant lies
For the question:
How are you?
I have a thousand brilliant lies
For the question:
What is God?
If you think that the Truth can be known
If you think that the Sun and the Ocean
Can pass through that tiny opening Called the mouth,
O someone should start laughing!
Someone should start wildly Laughing—Now!
Gratitude List: 1. Talent show. Belly laughs and tears in one evening. “It is Well.”
2. Those boys laughing into the face of the Wolf. I don’t mean any wolf–that laughter would be rude. This is the Wolf, and that laughter is about survival, and friendship. I don’t know how else to say this, but I was grateful to witness it.
3. How all these children are becoming who they are, growing into themselves.
4. Conversations about writing and inner landscapes.
5. Collage–all afternoon: images and scissors and cutting and pasting, children and adults, humming and singing, laughing and talking, making.
Gratitude List: 1.The Poetry Spoken Here Tent at York Arts Fest:
The prophets are out in the streets
picking up the threads of the story.
The shamans, the healers,
the truth-tellers all,
singing and howling,
whispering at the top of their lungs.
This is how the wind changes, my people.
This is how the paradigm shifts.
Give my poets a megaphone.
2. Last night, we discovered a little online program-thing called Noteflight, which I can use to separate the tenor or bass line from a hymn so Ellis can see it by itself to make for easier reading. Also, yesterday, he got his trombone at school. After an hour or more of playing our instruments along with the tenor line of Ode to Joy, an exhausted and light-headed boy rhapsodized, “I love this! I love this program! I love music!” May it be ever so.
3. Sandra. Thank you for folding the laundry. My goodness. Thank you for inspiring my boys. Thank you for being part of our village.
4. Heather Shining Stone Woman. So good to see you. Thankyou for the treasures. My heart is over-flowing. You gave me so much more than stones. . .
5. Creativity and the Muses. That Radiolab moment today when they interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert. I almost needed to park the car by the side of the road so I could get out and jump up and down.
Gratitude List: 1. Inventiveness and building creativity. Camp Invention for my oldest boy: “Camp Invention is the complete opposite of swimming lessons,” Ellis said. Swimming lessons were a bust. Swimming lessons were labeled Torture. “I love Camp.”
2. Healing: Winky the cat is getting back to her old self, grooming herself, eating, asking for petting. This is the second year she’s gone through a June-July malaise.
3. This weather: I think I am getting over a malaise of my own. Crisp, clear mornings, cool breezes, blue sky with fluffy clouds. Bring it on.
4. The lovely *Ping* that canning jars make as they seal. That’s the sound of satisfaction with a completed task. Even when it’s tomato sauce, and the jars are upside-down on the counter, there is often a muffled *ping* that announces their completion.
5. All the people who help to make the ongoing story of this farm possible: Jon Weaver-Kreider, the intrepid farm crew, friends and grandparents who care for the children, Tracey who cleans the house, customers who treasure good fresh food, people who support local and sustainable businesses. I get by with a little help from my friends.