Animal Messengers

Sometimes when I am in a contemplative mood, perhaps doing yoga or cooking or sitting on the porch, I’ll get random images that flash into my mind’s eye. Yesterday morning as I was settling into Mountain Pose, I lifted my arms above my head as I was aligning my shoulders and spine, fingertips together. It flashed into my head that I was making the shape of an arched doorway, and I saw in my mind’s eye just such an archway in a green wood with golden light shining in through the opening, and two fawns looking at me. Deer represent unconditional love, particularly gentleness towards oneself, so I will take that as a message.

Perhaps my brain was remembering this portal archway that I painted a couple years ago. My younger son has been teaching me to use Pixlr to create digital art, so I superimposed an image of fawns I found (Creative Commons).


Sometimes we who grow up in a religious context accept the signs and symbols of religion as immutable and unchanging. Take Mary with her foot on the serpent, for instance. I have been noticing how often the snake appears in paintings and sculptures, open-mouthed, fangs bared, and writhing beneath the serene Mother’s foot.

Because I have grown up with a pretty well-rounded knowledge of scripture, I know that this is a reference to the verse in Genesis where God tells the serpent that the serpent’s descendants and Eve’s descendants would be enemies, that her offspring would crush his head, and he in turn would strike the heel of the humans. So when Mary steps on the head of the serpent, she is understood to be crushing evil (which the snake symbolizes in this story) by giving birth to the Christ.

And so, in my search for feminine images of the divine, I have begun exploring iconography and sculptures and paintings of Mary, looking for the ways in which Mary herself represents the Goddess. And also, I have been exploring the symbol of the serpent as woman-wisdom, woman-energy, kundalini. The snake represents the inherent power in the feminine.

So I can’t help but feel as though in those images where Mary is stepping on the head of the serpent that she is being forced by patriarchal religious structures to crush and destroy her own power. I think this is a truth, however unsavory, that comes through in the image–women have been forced to crush our own power because the prevailing religious structures perceive that power to be evil and dangerous. I’ve tried working with the re-interpretations of the image that some offer, that she has reached full understanding of her power and so she stands upon the source of her wisdom. She has integrated it. That’s a much more palatable overlay.

Still, because the original artworks were most certainly created with the idea that the snake is evil, and she is vanquishing it, it’s a challenge you get past the echoes of “Her children shall crush your head.”

Perhaps I need to try to create my own artwork, Our Lady of the Serpent, with a more truly Middle Eastern Mary and an integrated relationship with the power and wisdom of the serpent.


Gratitude List:
1. Relief from the aches and pains. I had let it get pretty bad. I don’t know if it’s a natural progression of arthritis, or residual effects of Covid, or results of being too sedentary. Since spring, my body has just begun to hurt more and more. I had begun to dread going walking with the family. I hurt so much. My co-pay at the doctor’s office is $80, so I kept putting off checking in with the doctor, and I didn’t really want to start a regimen of allopathic medicine for whatever has been causing my muscles and back and feet to hurt. I had considered elimination diets to see if that would work, but instead Sarah suggested adding anti-inflammatory foods to my diet. I’m eating fresh pineapple for the bromelain, and drinking tart cherry juice and eating berries for the anti-oxidants. When the pain flares, I take Aspirea Compound, from H&A (you can order some here). And I am being much more intentional about regular yoga practice. It’s taken a couple weeks to get to this place, and I’m not pain-free, but I feel like a normal 50-something now. Grateful, so grateful, for Sarah’s wisdom and knowledge.
2. Making progress, however slow, in the de-hoarding. I’m not where I wanted to be at this point in the summer, but the flow is better now. The energy is less clogged and brackish now that I have organized and released “stuff.”
3. Stimulating intellectual discussions. Some people make you feel like you’re back in a grad school classroom, with all the richness of shared ideas and the co-creation of ideas.
4. Caring communities. Empathy is still around, although it can sometimes seem in short supply. Never hesitate to show it. It builds and grows. That’s the magic of it. The more you give, the more it grows. It’s that magic penny, baby.
5. TOMATOES!

May we walk in wisdom, kindness, and Beauty!


“Some say you’re lucky
If nothing shatters it.
But then you wouldn’t
Understand poems or songs.
You’d never know
Beauty comes from loss.
It’s deep inside every person:
A tear tinier
Than a pearl or thorn.
It’s one of the places
Where the beloved is born.”
―Gregory Orr


“And the wood is tired, and the wood is old, and we’ll make it fine, if the weather holds. But if the weather holds, then we’ll have missed the point. And that’s where I need to go.” ―The Indigo Girls


“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” ―Joseph Campbell


“Friendship … is born at the moment when one says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”
― C.S. Lewis


“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
―Thomas Merton


“To say ‘I don’t know’ is an unparalleled source of power, a declaration of independence from the pressure to have an opinion about every single subject.
It’s fun to say. Try it: ‘I don’t know.’
Let go of the drive to have it all figured out: ‘I don’t know.’
Proclaim the only truth you can be totally sure of: ‘I don’t know.’
Empty your mind and lift your heart: ‘I don’t know.’
Use it as a battle cry, a joyous affirmation of your oneness with the Great Mystery: ‘I don’t know.’
(To revel in this reverie can be a respite, a vacation. Any time you feel ready, you can return to the more familiar state of ‘I know! I know! I know!’)” ―Rob Brezsny


“Declare amnesty for the part of you that you don’t love very well. Forgive that poor sucker. Hold its hand and take it out to dinner and a movie. Tactfully offer it a chance to make amends for the dumb things it has done.
And then do a dramatic reading of this proclamation by the playwright Theodore Rubin: ‘I must learn to love the fool in me—the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries. It alone protects me against that utterly self-controlled, masterful tyrant whom I also harbor and who would rob me of human aliveness, humility, and dignity but for my fool.’” ―Rob Brezsny


“We all receive water from her, we receive food from her, we receive air from her, anything that is received as a gift from the Earth and from nature has to be a commons, it cannot be privatised, that is why privatisation of life forms through patents or water through privatisation schemes driven by the World Bank, or the privatisation of the atmosphere and the air through carbon trading and emissions trading are all illegal and illegitimate in a legal framework based on the Earth’s rights.” ―Vandana Shiva


“The tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don’t turn against him; they crush those beneath them.” ―Emily Bronte


“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.” ―Susan B. Anthony


“To truly know the world, look deeply within your own being; to truly know yourself, take real interest in the world.” ―Rudolf Steiner

Breathe and Pray

This morning, I wrote this:

Beloveds, I don’t really have much in the way of words to offer this morning, to wade through the bog of my own anxiety to offer hope or resilience. I’m here in my bog, listening. I need to be a teacher today, especially for students who are equally as enmired as I am.

Here in the anxious bog of me today, I sit like an angry old spider. I cast a line from me to you. Catch. Send out webs of your own. While we wait for things to ravel or unravel, we weave and spin and hold our own webs as steady as we may. We are stronger when we are together.

Black lives STILL matter.
Love is STILL love is STILL love.
Your name and pronouns STILL belong to you.
Your body is STILL your own.
You STILL have agency.
The Planet STILL needs us.
The elderly and vulnerable STILL need protection from the coronavirus.
STILL, nobody is illegal.
Justice is STILL important.


This morning felt so dire, so much a repetition of 2016. Jon and I both woke up at 2:30, and made the perhaps unwise choice to check the returns. My heart was racing, and I figured I wouldn’t get to sleep until I saw something to confirm or allay the anxiety. Look the wolf in the eye, they say. I felt in a visceral way how the anxiety and sense of tragedy of the 2016 election had lodged in my body, and how it replayed itself in the night four years later.

This afternoon, there are a few more reasons to hope. The morning, said Vassilissa’s doll in the Baba Yaga stories, is wiser than the evening. Today, the afternoon is wiser than the morning. Get some distance. Get some rest. Get some perspective.

It’s not over, and won’t be for a long time, but it doesn’t feel like we’ve completely shattered the Democracy quite yet. And the popular vote seems to be pretty definitely against the tyrant.

Here’s the one thing that sticks with me, however, like a grief: It wasn’t a clear and obvious win. My neighbors, good people and salt of the earth in so many ways, have not–by and large–passed the test, choosing instead to vote for white supremacy and patriarchy, for homophobia and transphobia, against the poor and the ill and the immigrants. And I do not know what to do with that.


I don’t feel like I can muster appropriate Gratitudes today. Perhaps a couple Commitments might stand in:
1. I commit to not respond smugly if Biden wins. I will express relief and hope if it happens (because I am human and must live my emotions), but I will not be smug, and especially I will try to be open to the pain and confusion of people for whom that is frightening, even though I do not understand it.
2. No matter who wins this election, I commit to standing for justice and compassion, for Black and Indigenous People and other People of Color, for LGBTQ+ folx, for women, for immigrants, for poor and houseless people, for all who are harmed by our systems. I commit to pushing whoever is president for the next four years (and other elected officials) to do right by the people, especially whose who have not been truly free and equal.
3. I commit to harbor no illusions that the lesser of two evils is the savior.
4. I commit to walk this together with you, my Beloveds, and to ask for help when I am sinking.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. In Beauty.

Evening Encounters

My camera phone is pretty grainy, especially at distances, but if you look closely, you can see the spotty white breast of the wood thrush against the trunk on the lower left, and the curious deer in the trees on the upper right.

Last evening, we went for an evening walk up at Sam Lewis State Park. It’s easy sometimes to forget the glorious gems of we have in our own backyards. There is a series of walking trails through the woods around the crest of the ridge, over rock tumbles, through piney groves, along meadows, between mountain laurels and pawpaw trees. Massive oaks and maples stand sentinel at the edges of the woods.

I never really quite know where I am going when we set out on a trail at Sam Lewis. It’s probably no more than two or three miles of trails total, and they wind around and cross each other, and they’re all completely familiar. There’s no chance of getting lost, but I often think I am going to emerge from the woods at one point, and find myself at another point altogether. It’s not disconcerting or frustrating, partly because its so contained. It’s just a tiny bit mystical and dreamy. Probably it’s just me and my strange sense of direction, and maybe if I start walking up there several times a week instead of once every few months, I’ll develop an inner map of the place. I’m not sure I want to. I like the slight and utterly non-anxious disorientation, the sense of discovery.

It was a grateful and grounding walk.
It was St. John’s Eve, and I found a patch of St. John’s Wort at the edge of the meadow.
Down on the piney path near the big meadow, we encountered a wood thrush, who seemed completely unfussed at our presence, and sang a call and response with a friend further up the hill.
At one point, we were caught in currents that carried scent of pine, wild yarrow, and the freshly-opened buds of milkweed.
On a trail that wound around a group of giant boulders, we found some mountain laurel still blooming.
Around one bend in the trail, near one of the frisbee baskets, we met a deer. I’m not sure who was more interested in whom.
At the very top of the bald, where people like to go to fly kites, and where you can see the whole river valley laid out before you, evening breezes came tumbling up over the ridge.
The paths go from gentle ramble to strong and steady upward climb. My legs and lungs were glad of the exercise.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!


“Inside a moment, centuries of June.” ―Emily Dickinson


African proverb:, “When death comes, may it find you fully alive.”


“I think there ought to be a little music here: hum, hum.” ―Mary Oliver


“Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.” ―Albert Einstein


“I do know one thing about me: I don’t measure myself by others’ expectations or let others define my worth.” ―Sonia Sotomayor


“Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine.” ―Buddha


“I have something that I call my Golden Rule. It goes something like this: ‘Do unto others twenty-five percent better than you expect them to do unto you.’ … The twenty-five percent is for error.” ―Linus Pauling

Resilience and Resistance

Friends I met on my walk yesterday:
1. Crow. Crow reminds me to get the wide perspective, to take on the adventure that any wind offers, to speak my mind. Crows don’t take heed for nothing.
2. Dogbane. Dogbane reminds me to be resourceful, to take note of the helpers who are always present, and to spin: cord, stories, prayers. . .
3. Deer. She ran across Schmuck Road, causing an SUV to brake. She reminds me to pause. She reminds me to love myself unconditionally, to live from the heart, to listen.
4. Monarch. He reminds me of resilience, how fragility and strength are not mutually exclusive. He reminds me to always look for beauty in everything.
5. Scarlet Pimpernel. A tiny five-petaled scarlet flower found in the grasses. When I was in college, I watched the old black and white movie The Scarlet Pimpernel, about a French dandy who uses disguises to rescue aristocrats condemned to the guillotine. What I took away from the movie is the importance of resisting the machines vengeance and death-dealing. Be surprising. Pop up wherever you’re needed.

What messages is the world sending your way?

Exchanges

Gratitude of Resistance Fifteen:
Exchanges. I forget if I have written about this in my Resistance Gratitudes,  but it bears repeating: School Foreign Exchange programs. They’re an incredible growing experience for students who go abroad, for the students who receive them, and for the teachers who experience students from around the world in their classrooms, and the chance to experience a collegial relationship with teachers from other countries. My school, Lancaster Mennonite, has students who come to us for three or four years from other countries, like Korea, Ethiopia, China, Japan, Ghana, and elsewhere, and just this past month, we hosted two short-term visiting groups–from Germany and France. These groups come with teachers, who teach their students a few lessons a day, and then visit our classes to observe how we do education in the US. I always look forward to having these visitors in in my classroom.  Both groups left us yesterday, and Monday is going to feel a little empty.

May we walk in Beauty!

Susquehanna Turkey

Today’s prompt is to title your poem the name of a food, and go from there. Mine just turned into a recipe.

Dutch Goose

Also known as hogmaw,
pig stomach,
Susquehanna turkey.

The recipe begins with an attitude:
Nothing goes to waste.
When you butcher,
set aside the feet for souse,
prepare the intestines for sausage,
remove the inner stomach lining.
(Okay, so that you may discard.)
All the extras go for the scrapple.

Wash the bag of the stomach
and soak in salted water for hours.
Make up a filling of potatoes,
cabbage, onion, and ground sausage.
Mix with egg, parsley, and milk.

I remember it was peppery,
though the recipes all
contain a dearth of pepper.

Stuff the stomach full
and sew it closed securely.

Roast for hours in the oven.
Baste with butter.
Serve with gravy
made from the drippings.


Gratitude List:
1. Sleeping through the night.
2. Grandma’s cookbook
3. Moving forward
4. Listening together
5. Three deer in the caw pasture at dusk.

May we walk in Beauty!

Truth is a Mirror


Time is Telling.

“The heart is the house of empathy whose door opens when we receive the pain of others. This is where bravery lives, where we’ll find our mettle to give and receive, to love and be loved, to stand in the center of uncertainty with strength, not fear, understanding this is all there is. The heart is the path to wisdom because it dares to be vulnerable in the presence of power.”
—Terry Tempest Williams
*
“To understand the world knowledge is not enough. You must see it, touch it, live in its presence.”
–Teilhard de Chardin
*
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” — Maya Angelou
*
“Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.” –Pablo Neruda
*
“Not to spoil the ending for you, but everything is going to be okay.” –Anonymous
*
“may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old …” –e.e. cummings
*
“Truth was a mirror in the hands of God
It fell, and broke into pieces.
Everybody took a piece of it,
and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.” –Rumi


Gratitude List:
1. Collegiality. I really enjoy the people I work with. Laughing together is powerful social glue.
2. Cool mornings and rain.
3. Supper at Mexitaly last night. Big burrito with mango habanero sauce!
4. These cats. I know it’s an obsession these days. Thorby is so funny, flopping on the floor for belly rubs and petting his own face. Sachs still likes quiet, secluded spaces, but I no longer have to snort dust bunnies under the bed in order to get to know him. He comes out for regular petting sessions and purring.
5. Three deer in the horse field near Highpoint last evening when the sun was slanting in.

May we walk in Beauty!

There Needs to Be a Poem

There needs to be a poem here
something to fill the space
to inspire
to bless.

There needs to be a word
that fills the small green hollows
between the first shy greeting
and the questions
that draw out the hearts
like small burrowing animals
from their safe nests.

There needs to be a song here.
At least a whispered line
with a hint of a melody
and a rhythm
like the chirping of the tree frogs
high in the oak grove.

Let us stand in the moment
shoulder to shoulder
like the deer on the verge
we caught in our headlights,
and listen for the distant unrolling of words.

 

Gratitude List:
1.  That wonderful woman at OfficeMax yesterday who said that since the Lancaster store was selling notebooks for a penny a piece, she could give me the same price, and then only gulped a little when I said, “That’s so great!  I’d like a hundred for my English classes!”  I quickly realized that I was taking overenthusiastic advantage of a kindness and cut my number back just a little.
2.  Waters of Transformation.  Yes, indeed.
3.  I have a job where people sometimes start the day with a collegial hymn-sing.  Have I landed in a perfect place for me, or what?
4.  Inspiration struck when I needed it and before I was a complete wreck of exhaustion: I have been a little anxious this weekend about preparation for the coming week.  I came away from last week sort of feeling like I had drained my wells of inspiration for lesson plans.  Just like poetry writing, however: When you let go, sometimes the streams begin to trickle back in again, and sometimes they come in as a flood. I hope the students are a tenth as eager for the work I present tomorrow as I am to present it.
5.  Family time.  Meeting Kim’s dear children.  Basking in Craig’s delightful smile.  Listening to the harmonica trio play in harmony.  Discussing recipes for fish.

May we walk in Beauty!

The Marker

(on the day of the massacre of the people of the Conestoga 250 years ago)

Come with me now, Bright Souls
and we’ll sit in a circle together.
Silently a while.  Then we talk.

Light six candles
for the people of the longhouse
who died that wintry dawning.

The air is filled already
with too many words.
The day carries so many mutterings
on the wind, on the wings
of the vulture, drifting
above the broken fields.

Sheehays, Wa-a-shen,
Tee-kau-ley,
Ess-canesh,
Tea-wonsha-i-ong,
Kannenquas.

If we are to keep awake,
to live in the place
where the heart stays open,
then perhaps we must look
into the teeth of the story.
Together we gaze at those shadows.
Together we speak their names.
Together we listen for the sparrow’s call.

At the place of the great stone
I did not speak their names.
I left my shell there at that place
in the glittering sun.

Some days I cannot bear the darkness,
but I will close my eyes and sing
while you keep vigil near me.
And when you falter, too,
I will have found the strength renewed
to witness the tale while you sing to me.

Perhaps you will not believe me
when I tell you: As I drove
that road toward the River,
six deer ran across blue shadows
cast by afternoon sun on snow,
over the fields to the road.
They paused a moment to watch
the golden fish of my car approach,
then slipped across Indian Marker Road
and were gone, past the still pond
and into a fringe of wood.

2013 December 105

Gratitude List:
1.  Deer running through blue shadows on a snowy field
2.  The winter slant of light, sparkling on snow
3.  Roasted Brussels Sprouts, and radishes and turnips and potatoes and carrots
4.  Snails.  Who would have thought I would love snails so?  Now that the fish has died, the snails provide much more entertainment than I would have expected.  The big blue one has doubled its size in two weeks’ time.  Their antennae are swirly.
5.  Learning to listen, to wait

May we walk in Beauty.

Spiders and Grace

2013 August 334  2013 August 339
2013 August 342  2013 August 348

Gratitude List:
1.  Deer.  Listening, unconditional love, the open heart.
2.  Robins congregating in the bosque at night.
3.  Two-year-olds.  I know I have said it before, but they melt me.  Utterly.
4.  Root beer floats
5.  Pattern and design

May we walk in Beauty.