In second or third grade, my teachers did that thing where you fill a jar with wet paper towels and then poke corn kernels and beans around the outside, and as they send out roots and send up shoots, you get to watch the whole process. Last fall, I decided I wanted to do that in my classroom, just for a little excitement, even if it’s an English class in a high school rather than an elementary science room. I left the jar of corn on my desk for a long time, too busy to get to it, but at the beginning of the semester, a couple students noticed and asked what it was. When I told them, they went and filled the jar with wet paper towels, and we poked the corn in along the sides. I rubber-banded a piece of plastic over the top to keep in the moisture.
Within days, the roots were beginning to grow, and it was less than a week before the sprouts started poking upward. I brought them home last night to plant in a little container, and now I am going to do a set of beans.
Maybe it will help my students to connect with natural processes in a visceral way. Maybe it will be a metaphor for their own rampant growth. Maybe it’s just a nice diversion, a way to spark and nurture generalized curiosity. It’s a fun thing to have in the classroom, and a community-building experience: Everyone is rooting for growth.
Gratitude List: 1. Growth 2. Green 3. Curiosity 4. Hope (Curiosity and Hope were the themes of last weekend’s conference) 5. Jon WK. He’s always on my implicit Gratitude List, but sometimes I’ve just got to mention how marvelous it is to share a life with such a wise and compassionate soul.
One of the dangers for me in this season is numbness. There is so much to do; there are so many details to keep track of, so many people with needs to respond to. Compounding this, the cold and the closing darkness make me draw inward, pulling inside myself. It can be easy to forget to feel, to live in a survival mindset, moving from task to task with an automatic and robotic air, just trying to hold on and make it through.
It helps to be conscious and deliberate in my response to the pull toward hibernation, not denying the desire, offering myself small oases of hibernation in the context of the busy life I must continue to lead. Stop and breathe. Stop and read a poem. Stop and draw a picture. Stop and smile at someone. I need to change the pace, stepping at the rhythm my body and psyche demand rather than the rush and bustle that the frantically commercial outside world demands.
It also helps, here in this winter labyrinth, to hone and practice curiosity, letting the mind out to play, opening the heart more fully to wonder and delight. Look up from the relentless task list in front of you, and let your gaze wander over the world outside the momentary ruts. Notice the colors and textures. Take an interest. Be curious. It helps to combat the dullness.
I have developed an obsession with taking photos of reflections, and reflections of reflections. In the picture above, I am caught in the reflection of a picture of my cat through a window. His name is Erebus, which is the personification of darkness and shadow in ancient Greek cosmology. Even the shadows have a wonderful variety of shade and hue. Shadows and reflections of shadows are doorways, places where worlds meet, tangible and intangible places of possibility.
How will you be changed if you decide to walk through one of those doorways?
Envisioning: (At the beginning of Advent, my pastor 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 week, I have come across several articles about Rain Dove, a model who responds to critics and detractors with what one writer called ‘relentless kindness.” Rain Dove is non-binary, and receives quite a lot of hateful responses to their social media posts about their own life. A recent incident in which an angry parent posted an angry and blaming note to Rain Dove about their influence on the parent’s child turned into an honest conversation about being present for a child who needs tender-hearted adults. Rain Dove began with humor to diffuse the anger, then probed gently and non-judgmentally to find out the root of the parent’s anxiety. Then they asserted repeatedly that it seems obvious that the parent must really love and care for the child and want what’s best. I want to be like Rain Dove, practicing a vision of a world in which we approach each other with relentless kindness.
Gratitude List: 1. Dreaming of crows. The way poet/priestesses unpack the images. Snuggling my shadows. 2. Today I had so many opportunities to do my WORK. Teaching is my vocation, and I love so much about it, but the best thing about it is that it lets me do my Work. It includes tears and hugs and hard conversations and so much self-reflection. 3. Curiosity. When people get curious about each other. Curiosity is a fine engineer, building bridges of gossamer web and light across chasms. But stronger bridges than you can imagine. 4. This fine boy of mine, who keeps being ahead of himself in so many ways. Perhaps what I mean to say is that he is ahead of my perceptions. Or that he grows into whatever space he enters. With grace and thoughtfulness. . .and curiosity (there it is again). He leaves a stage of childhood behind tonight at his eighth grade graduation. 5. Cool breezes. This means exactly what it says, because my room is hot as a sauna. But then it means more than that because your poems and your wisdom and your presence in the world are cool breezes to me, my friends.
For the month leading up to Thanksgiving, I followed the lead of a friend and committed to daily gratitude practice that viewed gratitude as an act of resistance, to publicly and intentionally seek out things to be grateful for in the face of forces that seek to demoralize and oppress. To label each grateful paragraph in the first part of the month of November as an act of resistance helped me to keep that perspective, that to be grateful and kind and hopeful in the face of all that seeks to destroy goodness in the world is a primal act of resistance.
Yesterday, in conversation with some of my beloveds, we talked about resistance, about the man who jumped across a police barrier to take down a confederate flag, about the Dutch church that has been holding services for twenty-seven days to protect a family from deportation, about people who are writing letters and protesting on behalf of someone who has experienced a shameful injustice.
We may not be committing the big acts of bold resistance at this moment. Your life may be caught in the business of staying afloat or tending to the needs of your beloveds. Still, we can make it all a resistance. Small acts, little conversations, openness to the moment—opportunities to resist despair and destruction and to create new patterns and stories abound:
* Smile at people and make eye contact. Ask them about themselves. Open hearts are a great antidote to the fear and rage that float around us in our environment.
* Offer people food. Share meals. Experience the flavors of the world together. Develop culinary curiosity about foodways around the world. Watch Anthony Bourdain together.
* Keep your eyes on those who turn inward, who keep to the corners. Be a safe place, a docking spot for ships that are sailing through hostile waters.
*Build bridges with your words. I don’t have to agree with someone to be civil. I can be kind and open in conversation and still maintain a fierce and steady stance on the side of justice. Disagreeing with someone doesn’t always mean attacking. I am more likely to change someone’s mind in a civil conversation than in a battlefield conversation.
* It IS about changing minds and hearts. It is about setting fears and anxieties to rest. The destroyers rely on fear. They’ve weaponized and monetized it. We can walk into the world with courage and draw out the bravery of those around us. Open hearts are brave hearts.
* Speak up for justice. We don’t have to go into conversations blazing with fury and rage against the president. But we can (and should) call out the racist and misogynistic and xenophobic language. We can graciously and civilly state our own desire for more grace and civility and diversity.
* Don’t be afraid to call out your own “side.” Politicians on every side make greedy and unjust choices. Name it when you see it.
* Be grateful. Be joyful. Dance. Find delight and awe in nature. And children. And small animals. All of that—joy and delight and tenderness and curiosity and awe—is active resistance to the tide of destruction.
* Be ready. There may come moments when we are called upon to take the bigger step, the bolder step, the more dangerous or fierce step. We can position ourselves so we are ready to do the thing that must be done when we are called upon to do it.
* Support those who are taking the big and fierce steps right now. Letters and public praise for the ones who taking public stands for justice go a long way to establishing a culture that resists destruction.
*What are your daily acts of resistance?
Gratitude List: 1. Small and large acts of Resistance. Acts of love. Acts of hope. Acts of kindness. 2. Oak trees 3. Family time: games, food, stories, puppy and cat, laughter, wrangling the serious issues 4. Shelter 5. A good rest
May we walk in Beauty!
Sunday’s Treats: “Let my anger be the celebration we were never / supposed to have.” —Jacqui Germain
I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness. It’s right in front of me, if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.
“The eyes of the Future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.” —Terry Tempest Williams
“You’ve seen my descent.
Now watch my rising.”
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.”—Thomas Merton
“For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” —Mary Oliver
“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
– e. e. cummings
“I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” –Frederick Douglass
all this time
the sun never says to the earth,
“You owe me.”
with a love like that —
It lights the whole
Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.
~ Mother Teresa
Gratitude List: 1. Re-arranging. We have a storage and clutter problem, but this weekend, we’ve been sorting and shifting, finding places for things, getting the right pieces of furniture for the right jobs.
2. The red berries on the dogwood trees
3. Hints of yellow and red in the leaves
5. Warm socks
“And when she wanted to see the face of God, she didn’t look up or away; she looked into the eyes of the person sitting next to her. Which is harder, and better.” –Glennon Doyle Melton
“As long as your curiosity is greater than your fear,
you will move forward.”
–Mehmet Murat Ildan
“What is this precious love and laughter
Budding in our hearts?
It is the glorious sound
Of a soul waking up!” –Hafiz
“We write poems in order to engage in the perilous yet necessary struggle to inhabit ourselves—our real selves, the ones we barely recognize—more completely.” –Tracy K. Smith
“Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.” –Nelson Mandela
“It is time for the next generations to continue our struggle against social injustice and for the rights of humanity. It is in your hands.” –Nelson Mandela
WALKING IN BEAUTY
A Navajo Prayer
In beauty I walk
With beauty before me I walk
With beauty behind me I walk
With beauty above me I walk
With beauty around me I walk
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again
It has become beauty again
Gratitude List/Examen: 1. (What do you hear?) The fog here in the holler creates an interesting aural field. I feel like I am sitting in an isolated country space, with the sound of Cabin Creek gurbling down there, Susan’s wind chimes, a wren, a robin, a cardinal, some little chittery thing in the leaves of the sycamore. And then there are distant echoes that come from outside this inverted bowl of fog: an airplane, highway traffic, and a rooster, up the hill.
2. (What is satisfying?) Taking the wallpaper off the wall in the little room upstairs. Why is that so supremely satisfying, the feel of the paper coming off in strips?
3. (What do you see?) The umbrella arms of my sycamore friend, enclosing and sheltering this part of the hollow. I call her Wangari.
4. (Where does hope reside?) In knowing I am not alone, in knowing that small things become big things, that many of us together—doing our work—can make change.
5. (What are the words for the day?) Work, deliberation, play, stories, thunder, fog, watchfulness.
Gratitude List: 1. Purple and Gold. ‘Tis the season of gold and purple: aconite and myrtle, daffodil and crocus, forsythia and windflower.
2. Sleeping in.
3. Bluebirds. Just beneath the high and insistent shrill of the Dawn Chorus, the bluebirds and mumbling and muttering. They always seem to be saying, “It’s okay, Little One. Everything is going to be okay.”
4. That baby green bursting out everywhere.
5. Curiosity. Particularly the curiosity of children.