Hanging My Worries on the Willow

A string of worries hanging from the willow.

One of my most common school anxiety dreams is that the semester has begun, and I don’t get there until a few days or weeks or months in to the semester. Things have already begun without me. Other teachers are running the class. I basically have no idea what is going on.

One of my most common recurring dreams about doing my inner work involves discovering rooms or places filled with things that I have somehow inherited.

Last night’s dream includes both elements:
I am a couple weeks late to begin a new teaching assignment in a middle school. When I get there, the substitute is a man, a college professor, who is teaching them as though they understand deep literary critique, referencing obscure writers and texts. There’s also an assistant in the classroom, and she is sitting in the desk at the front of the room while the professor teaches.

I don’t really introduce myself when I come in, but I put on an audio story for them to listen to. It’s engrossing, very literary, and sort of mysterious. The kids and the other two teachers are immediately into it. Meanwhile, I start to clean up the two desks at the front of the room. The previous teacher left all her stuff, and the surface of the desks are covered with knick knacks. I actually want to look at each one and decide which ones I will keep. It’s kind of an exciting process. Underneath the desk are little hidden drawers and doors, and dozens of keys!

The story ends just as the children are to be dismissed for the day. I thank the other teachers, and tell the children we will have formal introductions tomorrow. I’m eager to meet them, and they seem ready to take me on as their teacher.

I am not nearly where I want to be in terms of fall planning. I’ve let my anxiety keep me whirling in a tornado of what-ifs, and I’ve found myself unable to focus on plans. This year demands stronger plans with more options, so I need to get myself together, and not show up to the party late. If I am to really connect with my students in this season, I need to leave the professor at home, and keep reeling them in with captivating narrative.

At the same time that I have not been getting a handle on the actual nuts and bolts preparation for the semester, I have been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, the teen version of Kendi’s longer work Stamped from the Beginning. I think there are all sorts of inner doors and drawers that I am finding access to in the wake of these texts, new ways to frame how I can teach in antiracist ways, not self-consciously layering discussions of racism into literary discussion, but letting a deeper knowledge of US history infuse the ways I lead discussions about texts.

I’m not sure what the tchotchkes on the surface of the desk represent, unless it is simply that in the midst of my anxiety about opening school, I am looking forward to exploring all the little shining things that represent the everyday school experience.

A couple days ago, during a video-call, a cousin of mine exhorted me to be aware of how my worry affects me, to consider ways that I might proactively deal with the anxiety I am experiencing. He suggested giving myself one day a week to worry, making a list of the things my brain wants to worry about, and then checking in with the list on one day a week. Chances are, some of those worries might have evaporated week to week. Of course, the worry about school just gets bigger and bigger, but I am really moved and inspired by the encouragement to lay it down a bit. And yesterday, my pastor’s sermon was in a similar vein.

I need rituals to mark the inner work that I am doing, physical representations of the energies I am trying to shift. So today, I am going to meditate a little about the school worries, and then I am going to choose some ribbons to represent the things that most frighten me, and hang those on my willow tree. She is strong, and also not rigid. She flows. She listens well.

I can’t change the decisions that my school and my son’s school are making. I can be vocal about the safety issues that I see, asking for accountability to strong safety measures. In the end, unless I choose to strike or quit (which I just can’t do because I love my school and my administrators and teaching), I need to simply buckle down, do what I can to keep myself and my students safe, and find joy in the experience of reconnecting, of opening those little drawers and doors, of finding the right keys, of discovering the shiny things that will be part of everyday life back at school.

If you pray, if you do magic, if you work with energy, work prayers and magic and energy for our safety, please. For all the teachers and the students, for our families.


Gratitude List:
1. Social media posts about people’s food preservation. I haven’t done any of that this year, and I don’t plan to, but I can look at the beautiful rows of my friends’ canned beans and pickles and relish. I can see the binsful of corn transformed into baggies of golden sunshine that will wait in their freezers for winter. This makes me happy.
2. Kittens
3. Learning to push my body past its initial inertia, to get on the bike, to pedal even when its hard going.
4. Beloveds who remind me to deal with my worry and not just leave it lying around where it can keep pouncing on me.
5. Messages from dreams.

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


“We should ask ourselves: Do we know what enough is inside of our lives? Once I know that, it’s much harder for capitalism to catch me, right? Because I’m not susceptible to this constant sale of myself or my soul to any other force.” —adrienne maree brown


“I hold the line, the line of strength that pulls me through the fear.” —Peter Gabriel


“Children grow into the intellectual life of those around them.” —Lev Vygotsky


“It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” —James Baldwin


“Three things cannot be hidden: the Moon, the Sun and the Truth.” —Gautama Buddha


“Those doing soul work, who want the searing truth more than solace or applause, know each other right away. Those who want something else turn and take a seat in another room. Soul-makers find each other’s company.” —Rumi


“Going within is the only way out.” —Toko-pa Turner


“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.” —Thomas Merton


“Let me fall, if I must. The one I will become will catch me.” —Baal Shem Tov


“The sky itself
Reels with love.”
—Rumi


“That’s a tough spirituality. That’s not any kind of sweet-by-and-by spirituality. That’s a spirituality that takes on the world as it is and says, ‘I’m gonna figure this out one way or another.’ The mystic and the Moses.” —Vincent Harding (On Being interview)


“May you know the fearlessness of an open heart. May you never meet anyone you consider a stranger, and know that no matter what, you are not alone. May you have compassion for others’ suffering and joy in their delights. May you be free to give and receive love.” —Sharon Salzberg


“In our culture, we use the word ‘dreamy’ derogatively to describe someone who is unrealistic or without ambition. But what thrills and amazes me about dreamwork is how truly grounding it is. One of the reasons this is true, is because dreams are expressions of that larger ecosystem in which we are embedded, and which has a design for our lives within that greater context! So rather than taking our cues from consensus culture, instead we are listening to the mystery which combines us. As Jungian analyst Ann Bedford Ulanov puts it, “the Self is that within us that knows about God.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa

Roadside Profusion

This is the season when chicory and day lilies bloom together, and the lace of Queen Anne, and the stars of St. John, and the tall hag’s tapers of the mullein, and the profusion of dogbane, and the tidy self-contained heads of red and sweet clover, and the yellow sparkles of sweet melilot, and the nodding pink balls of milkweed that catch you with their wisps of scent when you’ve already walked on five paces. Our roadside is rife with the buzzing and humming of pollinators.

Yesterday, I worked in the herb room at Radiance, the little shop where I work one day a week in the summertime. It’s one of my favorite places. In the evening, Jon and I walked down the road. As we walked, I began to see the same beings I had been smelling and measuring during the day: St. John’s wort, plantain, mullein, red clover, chicory, raspberry leaves, thistle. Wendell Berry’s words flash into my heart: “What we need is here.” And a fragment of Mary Oliver: “The world offers itself. . .”
*****
I often dream that I am wandering down the hallways of a large and rambly and labyrinthine hotel. Sometimes it’s a school, sometimes city streets, but mostly a hotel. I go down hallways and through doors that sometimes lock behind me, into dark passages, up stairways, back into well-lit hallways with a thousand doors. Sometimes I am completely alone, and sometimes there’s a bustle of people.

The anxiety dreams are usually set here, and I have a deadline, somewhere I have to be, and I can’t find my way. Usually, for me, I’m trying to find a class I am supposed to have been teaching, and I’m probably late, and I may have actually missed teaching the class for a couple of days, and my students are completely unsupervised, and I should have had the schedule and directions with me, but I don’t, and I can’t seem to pull it up on my phone. Sometimes, like last night, I ask a helpful receptionist. Last night, I was told brightly to please take a seat and I would be helped in fifteen minutes or so. But I was already five minutes late for a forty minute class. So I set off again to try to find my way on my own.

At one point last night, I did manage to meet up with friends and colleagues for lunch in an incredibly busy dining hall (no Covid in this dream), which was nice, except I was terribly afraid they would discover that I had not taught a single class yet that day and that I had even forgotten how to get from class to class. I was so ashamed. But Ellis was in the dining hall, too, even though he was with his friends, and it was nice to see him there, and happy, and the cooks had made a huge pot of ugali, so he and I kept going back for more of that.

I had kicked off my pointy red high-heeled shoes in my own classroom, but I was supposed to go to a different classroom for every class, and I was supposed to be teaching Math and Foods as well as English, and I suddenly realized as I was rushing down the hall that I was barefoot (thank heavens I wasn’t naked this time), and I was further ashamed that people would see me barefoot because it’s against dress code not to wear shoes.

So it was a long and tiring night, and I kept waking up, and every time I went back to sleep I was back in the dream. At one point, I did manage to find a schedule, but I was already so far behind in the day that it was sort of pointless, and I couldn’t find my way anyway, so I went back and got my painful shoes and sat in on someone else’s French class.

Glad to be awake now.


Gratitudes:
For plant medicine all around, for wise women, for catfolk, for time to make and create, for the mirror of dreams, for giving up shame–anxious bit by anxious bit, for the ones who are committed to transforming themselves and society.

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


“To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the time of the world’s night utters the holy.” ―Martin Heidegger


“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God. —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


“You have to learn to get up from the table when LOVE is no longer being served.” —Nina Simone


“I like sitting at the piano. I like the idea that there are things coming in through the window and through you and then down to the piano and out the window on the other side. If you want to catch songs you gotta start thinking like one, and making yourself an interesting place for them to land like birds or insects. Once you get two or three tunes together, wherever three or more are gathered, then others come.” —Tom Waits


“The poem, I’ve always felt, is an opportunity for me to create an integrated whole from so many broken shards.” —Rafael Campo


“Which came first, the fear or the gun? The broken heart or the bleeding one? The impulse toward death or the desperate reach for love?” —Mark Morford


“A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.”
—John O’Donohue


“There is no such thing as being non-political. Everything we say or do either affirms or critiques the status quo. To say nothing is to say something: The status quo—even if it is massively unjust and deceitful—is apparently okay. The silence of many Christians is used to legitimize the United States’ obsession with weapons, its war against the poor, Israel’s clear abuse of Palestine, politicians who are “pro-life” on the issue of abortion but almost nothing else, the de facto slavery of mass incarceration, and on and on.” —Richard Rohr

The [redacted] Secret

By the time I got to the end of the second sentence, and saw the words “friend” and “Nazi” in successive lines, it suddenly became impossible for me to search out any other phrase than “Nazi friend” to end the poem, but the order was transposed. Sometimes people use arrows to make such a puzzle work. I decided to get out my little knife.

I woke up this morning with this phrase in my head: “Hymns to The Unknown Civilization.” I might have to create some sort of poetry/art project with that title.

You know that feeling when you wake up, and the cobweb of a dream is still clinging to your consciousness? I always try to maintain that dreamlike consciousness while I stumble downstairs so it stays fresh enough to write down. The dream flotsam offers myriad gifts. Sometimes it’s a stark image floating in my mind’s eye, asking me to look and consider and contemplate. I especially love when it’s word or a song. Sometimes the phrase is so surreal that I can’t weave it into the meaning of daytime reality and I just enjoy its oddness, its quirky presence in my day. Other times, I feel like there are distinct and specific messages in the words and images and stories that appear at the ends of dreamtime.


Gratitude:
The sounds of my walk yesterday: Greetings with friendly neighbors, the horses making that blustery horsey sigh, Barb’s goats calling greetings from up the hillside, bird twitterings in the trees, the deep glugging of the bullfrogs in the pond. Earlier, as I was riding my bike on the rail trail, I heard the wood thrushes calling across the path to each other.

May we walk in Beauty!


“If only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” —Rainer Maria Rilke


“A woman must be willing to burn hot, burn with passion, burn with words, with ideas, with desire for whatever it is that she truly loves.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estes


“Water is life’s matter and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.”
—Albert Szent-Gyorgyi


“I can’t offer justice so I offer just trees.” —Kilian Schoenberger (who photographs trees and woods)


Dalai Lama: “There are only two days of the year in which nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow. That means today is the ideal day to love, to believe, to create and to live.”


“We cannot assume the sacredness nor spiritual livingness of the earth or accept it as a new ideology or as a sentimentally pleasing idea. We must experience that life and sacredness, if it is there, in relationship to our own and to that ultimate mystery we call God. We must experience it in our lives, in our practice, in the flesh of our cultural creativity. We must allow it to shape us, as great spiritual ideas have always shaped those who entertain them, and not expect that we can simply use the image of Gaia to meet emotional, religious, political, or even commercial needs without allowing it to transform us in unexpected and radical ways. The spirituality of the earth is more than a slogan. It is an invitation to initiation, to the death of what we have been and the birth of something new.” —David Spangler


Rob Brezsny reflects on Fuller and Socrates:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality,” wrote Buckminster Fuller. “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Socrates said something similar: “The secret of change is to focus your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Are they right? Or should we instead focus on unleashing our apocalyptic rage at the corruption and decay of the dying order?

Getting to the Next Story

The Bird Watcher

In last night’s dream: I am trying to find my way to the second floor of the building I am in, but the stairs are really hard to negotiate. They a metal rail stair/ladder that starts four feet off the ground. If I can scramble up onto them, I’ll have to squeeze through a tiny little hole in order to get to the next story.

(Huh. Getting to the next story, eh?)

After I search all over, I finally find an elevator and stand there waiting with some others, and it suddenly hits me–within the dream itself–that this is a constant pattern in my dreamtime: I am very often trying to find the next level, the next story, and I am thwarted by challenging climbs and claustrophobic entrances. Occasionally, there are broad and wide staircases, or hidden safe passages, and there’s the occasional elevator that might just take me anywhere.

I wonder if I am experiencing a period of disjuncture between my heart and my head, unable to find my way safely between the two? That’s got a dream-worker’s reasonableness to it, and I will definitely explore that as an ongoing theme in my life with such a powerful symbol recurring again and again and again.

Or perhaps I feel myself and my world in a time of transition between one thing and the next, and the route from point A to point B feels particularly treacherous and difficult.

That last certainly suits my sense of the times. Here we are on this level where we’ve always done things a certain way (which has for so many, been tragic and deadly), and we need to make it to that next level. We need to climb and crawl and wriggle into the next story. In the case of our national dream, people’s lives depend upon it. We must get to the next story, and we’re going to have to help each other reach that ladder way up there, and when we get to the top, each of us is going to have to deal with our own discomfort and anxiety as we wriggle through the birth passage into the next reality.

Can we do it?


Gratitude List:
1. All the anti-racism resources for learning and growth that are floating around social media right now. Quite a lot of the books on the lists were already on my list to read, but I will make extra time for them this summer, and I am going to compile some lists to post in my classroom.
2. I don’t like taking allopathics if I can help it. I have, as usual, been trying all the herbal and other remedies and therapies for my allergies, but every once in a while, I just need something huge to calm down my body’s hyperactive response to defend me from tree pollen. I’m glad I have that option. My body has definitely shifted out of crisis mode for the moment.
3. The hospitable strangers of the Swann Street Siege. While a twisted tableau of faux faith was occurring down the way, Rahul and his neighbors–whatever their belief system–were acting in the way that The Good Teacher asked humans to act toward each other, harboring people who were frightened and harmed, feeding them and tending their injuries, and managing the boundaries of their homes to keep their guests safe. Hospitality has been a sacred trust between humans in many cultures around the world since first we knew ourselves human.
4. I am grateful for statements and resources being offered by institutions that I love and belong to. Mennonites as a group got it so wrong in the 50s and 60s, holding back, not speaking out (except for individuals). To read the Mennonite Church USA statement yesterday, supporting those who are demanding racial justice and explaining why All Lives Matter is tone-deaf and inappropriate was satisfying. My school has put out a statement of solidarity and a list of resources. The church I attend has formulated a statement of support as well. Yes, we have to put our feet in the story, too, but statements are like signposts for people to follow.
5. Lots of windows. I am on a critical lockdown at the moment, keeping the house closed and not venturing outside while the trees are in the height of their pollen-producing time. Still, I can look out and watch the squirrel with the excessively long tail, the chonky chipmunk, and all the wingfolk flashing by.

May we walk in Beauty! And Solidarity.


“We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.”
―Ursula K. Le Guin


“Each of us has lived through some devastation, some loneliness, some weather superstorm or spiritual superstorm. When we look at each other we must say, I understand. I understand how you feel because I have been there myself. We must support each other because each of us is more alike than we are unalike.” ―Maya Angelou


TS Eliot:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”


“Authentic spirituality is always about changing yourself. It is not about trying to change anyone else.” ―Richard Rohr


“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” ―L.M. Montgomery


“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” ―Jorge Luis Borges

Deep Dreaming

In last night’s Dreamtime, I am at lodge or little village or somewhere. I am working at my friend’s shop, which is sort of like a little kiosk place in the lobby of the lodge. I can’t find anything. People are asking for herbs and homeopathic remedies, and I know what they are and where I would normally find them, but in this tiny space, I can’t find anything. People are nice about it, though. I find a piece of paper, written in my own handwriting years prior, but which seems to be relevant for this moment. In the dream, I can’t figure out how I can be in both times at once, and a whole part of the dream is me pondering that and trying to figure it out.

A little later, I am walking up on the hill behind the lodge/village in the moonlight. I pass a white tree with red and black shadows and patterns running up and down the trunk, and it’s all bathed in moonlight, glowing. It’s a moment of incredible beauty and wonder. I run back to the lodge/farm/village for my camera. On the way back up the hill, I pass the purple okra patch, which is beautiful in itself. I pause to admire the okra, and notice several stalks that are blighted and chewed by some animal. I’m lucky that I have one of those craft razors with me, and I slice off the dead and broken bits. My handy razor glints in the moonlight. I return to the Beautiful Tree, and realize that I have again left my camera behind, so I race back down the hill, which–as you may know–is particularly exhausting in dreams.

Then I am packing up my things and heading home from this place. My friend asks if I can take her puppy Otus (it is spelled like the owl and not the human name) along with me. He’s an adorable little ball of grey-brown fluff, and he loves to be with me. On the way home, I remember that my friend and her boyfriend were planning to move and would be looking at a new house on my route home, so I stop in. Since it’s an Open House, I just walk in. My friend and her boyfriend are singing together. He’s sitting in the living room looking through boxes, and she’s puttering around in the bedroom and kitchen, unpacking. They’ve already moved! They’re surprised to see me just walking into their house. They wonder if I knew the code to get in the front door, but I say it was open.

My friend offers me some art supplies and sets up a board and paper on her bed so I can paint. She introduces me to her new kitten, which turns out to be two kittens, and they’re living breathing animals, but they’re crocheted. They love playing with Otus the puppy. When I am finished with my painting, I clean up, find Otus, thank my friends, and wake up.

Much to ponder today: Layers of time. The White Tree. The need to capture a photo. Nurturing the okra. The colors of the tree and the okra. My shining and helpful razor blade. Otus the puppy (the screech owl, Otus asio, is personal symbol of mine). Walking into my friend’s house despite the combination lock. Space for art. The crocheted kittens.


Gratitude List:
1. Josiah and I just witnessed the most amazing thing! While I was writing my dream, I glanced up to see the raccoon (we’d seen her once before) striding purposefully over the bluff and down to one of the walnut trees in a little circular area behind the house that I call the cauldron. (I hollered “Raccoon!” and Joss was the only one awake to come watch with me.) She paused and looked my way, then climbed the tree. When she reached a branch about house height, she slipped in behind the branch to a place where there must be a hollow place. We watched her take hold of a little one, bring it down the tree in her jaws, and carry it up over the bluff. She was gone for several minutes, anxious minutes for us, while we watched another baby up on the branch, trying to figure out how to follow its mama. Finally she returned and got that one, too. We think she must have already moved at least a third kit before we saw her the first time. What a deep and satisfying pleasure to witness such a moment. My hat is off to this careful and intentional mama. Those little ones will soon be too big for her to carry up the walnut tree in her mouth. I suppose she and the little ones are the ones who ate the duck eggs from the nest by the pond. Such sadness. Such thriving life. The wheel of life is beautiful and terrible.
2. I successfully baked a crusty, tasty, yeasty loaf with my wild yeasts yesterday. It was SO satisfying. Maybe now, instead of discarding my extra starter, I should bake flat cakes to leave out for the raccoon family.
3. That oriole is the loudest voice in the hollow, and constant, and beautiful–an orange flame dancing along the branches of the neighbors’ walnut and flitting from clump to clump of new leaves.
4. I might be emotionally done with school, but if I have to push through, it is nice to do it with a cat snuggled up to my thigh. If I sit on the couch, I usually end up with a cat snuggled up on each side.
5. I watched a short video this morning of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s reflections this morning that helped me recalibrate (her words) a bit, to shift my focus again to living in the moment and not living for the moment of The End of All This. Maybe you want to watch it, too.
6. Dream messages: I think everything is going to be okay, in the end. I will get into the places I need to get into. There will be quiet and gentle community. I will be true to my inner guides. I will do useful work.
7. So many necessary gratitudes today. Last one for today: Our neighbor found her cat. We’d been watching a calico cat in the neighbors’ yard across the street for the past few days. She was hanging out with one of the feral ginger bobtailed cats that we call Gunther and Stumpy Bob. Yesterday we found a paper in our mailbox from the neighbor up the street, asking if anyone had seen her calico cat. I texted her that we had seen her and that we would keep our eyes out. And she texted back that they had found her! It’s interesting how, when one’s heart is bruised and weary, the relief in a small story like this brings such a lightness and lift.

May we walk in Wonder and in Beauty!


“If you feel thirsty, then
drink from your cup.
The birds will keep singing
until they wake up.”
– Franz Wright


“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” –attributed to Buddha and to Nelson Mandela


“In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person you need to become to write that book.”
― Junot Díaz


“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”
― Stephen King


“let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences”
― Sylvia Plath

When We All Go Marching In

Room 206 before I took down the things from the walls and bulletin board.

This week I have been the worship leader for my church’s Sunday service, my first time to prepare the videos to open the service, to pray, to bless us at the end, and to ask others to do children’s time and scripture. It felt daunting, and it highlighted how much I miss being part of that weekly gathering. And so last night’s dream:

In the dream, I am planning worship, asking people to make videos for the Sunday morning service. The pastor suggests that we really need a saxophone solo, so I go searching for people I know who could record a saxophone solo, but suddenly it’s no longer quarantine, and we’re holding church in a parking lot in a city (on folding chairs) and it’s about to begin and I have not yet found someone to do the saxophone solo when an old friend comes walking by and I ask him, and he starts to play “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In” and everyone gets up and follows him in a dancing march around and around the parking lot, and everyone is laughing and dancing and celebrating, and no one is afraid to bump into anyone else or to touch.

And now I am crying.

The other day, Jon and I were talking about what it will mean when parts of Pennsylvania go from red to yellow, and I realized that for me, it won’t necessarily be any different. Really, in life Before, I mostly went to four places: church, school, and to visit our parents. When we go to yellow, we still won’t go to church, we definitely won’t go to school, and I don’t think we’ll be able to visit retirement communities yet. It feels pretty bleak.

I wrote that thing the other day about the After, how the time when this is over won’t be a “getting back to normal.” I like that awareness that people are putting into the world–this is a time for change and transformation, to envision what the new way will be when we are again out in the world. Still, for me, I long to get back to a normal where we can brush past each other in public, link arms, hug, dance, celebrate together without fear, when we can go marching in, joyfully, to the public places we share together.


Gratitude List:
1. Sometimes something that appears and creates stress is also really exciting. I have a week to get my whole classroom cleared (that means my thousand and one books packed, too) because it looks like construction on our air conditioning will begin in June!
2. Anticipating Oriole
3. Quiet mornings with my boy before anyone else is up
4. Good stretching
5. Dreaming well

May we walk in Beauty!


“An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their choice, but I CHOOSE to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. That, to me, is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved. Young people, black and white, know this. That’s why they’re so involved in politics. We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So I don’t think you have a choice. How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist.” —Nina Simone


“A loving silence often has far more power
to heal and to connect than the
most well-intentioned words.” —Rachel Naomi Remen


“The secret to waking up is unscrambling the word earth.” —anonymous


“I have come to regard with some suspicion those who claim that the Bible never troubles them. I can only assume this means they haven’t actually read it.” ―Rachel Held Evans


“What a comfort to know that God is a poet.” ―Rachel Held Evans


“Geometry is the archetype of the beauty of the world.” —Johannes Kepler


“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” —John Keating (Robin Williams in Dead Poet Society)


“You are the Ground of all being
the Well-Spring of time
Womb of the earth
the Seed-Force of stars.
And so at the opening of this day
we wait
not for blessings from afar
but for You
the very Soil of our soul
the early Freshness of morning
the first Breath of day.”
—John Philip Newell


“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” ―J.K. Rowling

I Just Want This to Be Over

“I just want this to be over.”

That’s what I said to Jon before I slipped off to sleep last night. I’m tired of this sometimes overpowering feeling of dread. I’m tired of carrying this bag of tears just beneath the surface.

The virus has entered my circles. People I know, and the beloveds of people I know, are getting sick. I had just heard the news of John Prine’s death, and then an anxious email popped up from someone I know, asking me to pray for his family because his father (who is an essential worker) came home yesterday with a fever. The dread is seeping in deeply. I was relieved to escape the real world into sleep for a little while.

I’m sorry. That’s a lot of heavy to place into this bowl of a space first thing in the morning. But it’s a big part of what I’ve got. So I stretch and breathe, stretch and breathe. I breathe in, and feel all the places where my body is touching a surface. I breathe out and straighten my spine. I breathe in and draw in the blue violet of those wild hyacinths. I breathe out and relax my shoulders. I breathe in and hold the taste and smell of the coffee that I am drinking. I breathe out and notice the quiet cat at the windowsill. In. Out. I can feel myself settling.

The dread is not gone. It’s going to be a long time before it’s gone. And maybe it will never go away. Likely it will mark and shape who I become for the rest of my life. And not all of that will be terrible. Some will contribute to my growth and completeness as a human. But right now? Right now, I breathe, and I notice. I find ways to live through the dread.

And this morning I have strange and wacky dreams to sort through. There was a part of the dream that was part real-life, part animation. A young man in a striped shirt was sneaking around, watching people, trying not to get caught. It wasn’t creepy or terrifying–more like an old-fashioned mystery. We chased him to an open field where dozens of blankets were lying about. He crawled under one, and by the time we got there and lifted the corner, he’d vanished.

And there was a baby bird who fluttered up to me with its beak open. I fed it tomatoes–they’re red like worms, right? It’s back was developing rich golden feathers through the baby fluff. Someone said it was a cuckoo.

And the strangest and most beautiful was the phrase. It’s not uncommon for me to wake up with a song or a phrase in my head, often completely unrelated to anything. This morning’s phrase is “Thou camest to me in sadness. . .and what wilt thou do for joy?” Yes, my Sleep Angels seem to be speaking Elizabethan English. Despite the weirdness of the delivery, it seemed to be a pretty clear response to my expression of pain as I dropped into sleep. And I think of the dreams that I dreamed (there were others, which even now are fading), and I wonder if this is what I can do for joy today and in the coming days: I can let myself experience wonder and surprise. I can tend to those who need me to feed them whatever I have at hand. I can immerse myself in story. I can communicate with my beloveds.

It feels like an extension of a thing a friend wrote to me yesterday, when I asked her about her husband, who has a fever and a cough: “Holding grief and joy together is messy and weird.” That has to be one of the defining phrases of these days.

May we all find ways to bring joy into these days when grief and dread can feel all-encompassing. Listen to your dreams. Keep an eye out for blue, for gold, for the thousand shades of green. Hold each other close–in our hearts if not in our arms. And when it just seems like you cannot bear the dread, let someone know. Reach out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Ground and center. There is no way out but through, and it will be easier if we walk it together.


Gratitude List:
1. The messages that come in dreams (even–or especially–if they’re speaking in Elizabethan English)
2. That patch of blue violet wild hyacinth at the base of the bird feeder stand, and the violet Gill-on-the-Grass that spreads from there to the Japanese maple
3. The chipping sparrow in the Japanese maple
4. The sounds of the morning house: cat eating second (or third, or fourth) breakfast, the constant flow of the water fountain (yes, also for cats), the little bits of conversation with Josiah, my own breathing. . .
5. The way a gratitude list becomes a grounding in-the-moment exercise. The dread has not lifted, but I am no longer living in the center of that cloud. I have sunk to a deeper place, where I can find more complexity (for now)–there is joy in the midst of sadness, no matter how messy and weird it is to hold all those pieces together.

Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. May we walk in Beauty!


“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” —Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk


“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.” ―Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


“Where there’s life there’s hope, and need of vittles.” ―JRR Tolkien


“We are the ones we have been waiting for.” ―June Jordan


“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ―Albert Einstein


“We are all the leaves of one tree.
We are all the waves of one sea.” ―Thich Nhat Hanh


“It is respectable to have no illusions―and safe―and profitable and dull.” ―Joseph Conrad


“I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” ―Rainer Maria Rilke


“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether they are worthy.” —Thomas Merton


“After a War” by Chinua Achebe

After a war life catches
desperately at passing
hints of normalcy like
vines entwining a hollow
twig; its famished roots
close on rubble and every
piece of broken glass.
Irritations we used
to curse return to joyous
tables like prodigals home
from the city. . . . The meter man
serving my maiden bill brought
a friendly face to my circle
of sullen strangers and me
smiling gratefully
to the door.
After a war
we clutch at watery
scum pulsating on listless
eddies of our spent
deluge. . . . Convalescent
dancers rising too soon
to rejoin their circle dance
our powerless feet intent
as before but no longer
adept contrive only
half-remembered
eccentric steps.
After years
of pressing death
and dizzy last-hour reprieves
we’re glad to dump our fears
and our perilous gains together
in one shallow grave and flee
the same rueful way we came
straight home to haunted revelry.

(Christmas 1971)

Whales in the Village

Dreaming in the Exile:
There are whales in a large pool/ pond at little town where I am staying. I remember watching a video of a woman who could talk to whales, so I try making those sounds, and they come to where I am. One of them, a little orca with a toothy grin, keeps finding colored dice on the bottom of the pool and spitting them out of the water at me. When I throw them back, the little orca chases them–like a dog–and brings them back.

Later, I take a dawn walk from my bungalow through the village. I stop to check on friends, and hear beautiful piano music from the front of the house (my friends rent the back). I realize that the man who lives there knows I make this walk every day, and plays his piano every morning just for me. Later, someone in the village is hurting, and one of my students stands up and takes charge, without any panic, and calmly takes the person to the hospital. I am proud or her.

Thinking: I have dreamed of whales before, and it always seems to signal some big thing in my deeper layers of self, something wanting to make itself known. Usually I encounter dream-whales in pools and ponds. This one was in a village, and so I think it may be connected to something in my Deep Self connecting to the importance of my village right now, of the ways we check up on each other, the ways we play, the ways we make music and poetry and art to delight each other, the way we rise to the needs of the occasion. I am proud of us. Of you.

( My family does not like dice games as much as I do, but today, I think I am going to do the mama-beg, and get them to play some Tenzi with me.)


Gratitude List:
1. Phoebe and red-winged blackbird have added their voices to the chorus.
2. Redbuds and cherry trees are blooming. Forsythia is blooming. Welcome, Spring!
3. In the midst of chaos and anxiety, I love the strong voice and careful speech of PA’s Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine. She exudes competence.
4. The Village of All of You.
5. Jon Weaver-Kreider

Take care of each other!

Leading the Monsters

I was an usher at a school production of Beauty and the Beast this weekend. There are wolves in the show. Actors dressed in toothy masks chase Maurice through the woods, and later the Beast chases the wolves away from Belle. I checked in with some of the kids in the audience about the wolves. Some of them thought they were scary. They all loved the wolves, scary or not.

One mama of a small child said, “A wolf ran past and growled in my face. I growled right back!”

I thought that might be a good way to deal with scary creatures. What a marvelous way to answer the things in my brain that scare me: growl back. I said I might try that in my dreams the next time I was confronted by a scary thing. I would growl back, right in its face.

The small child said, very matter-of-factly: “I wouldn’t do that. I use my candy.”

Candy? We pressed her for details.

“I leave a trail of wrappers for them to follow.”

Now I was getting confused. I thought we were talking about monsters. “Who do you mean by them?”

“The monsters,” she confirmed. “I want to see if they’re smart enough to follow the trail of wrappers.”

Instead of running from the monsters, instead of simply confronting them with their own growling attacks, this fearless child does psycho-social experiments on the monsters in her dreams. I’ve heard people say that one way to deal with the unknown, to respond to strong emotions, is to stay with your curiosity, to keep yourself in the place of wonder. This tiny person has worked that one out for herself in her dreams. Hmmm. How smart are these things, really?

Ask: “What would happen if I. . .?” And then engage. Instead of running away from the things that scare us, what would happen if we turned our curious minds to wondering about the fears themselves, and left a glittering trail of candy wrappers to see if they follow? How could I do this with my big worries: About the state of my country? About climate change? About the future for my children?

What if, instead of getting lost on the endless hopeless trails of anxiety about the unknown, I would simply walk forward toward whatever possible solutions the future might hold, leading the monsters behind me? Poke them. Prod them. Tickle them. What will they do?


Gratitude List:
1. Being in a show again. Along with my usual ushering duties, I sang with a small group in the pit, to boost the sound on the big chorus numbers. It was a delight and a joy to participate in a really small way.
2. The show is over. Wondrous as it was, I am glad to get back to a regular schedule.
3. Last night, I sent my application for a writer’s residency. Now I can let go of that. I’m a small fish in a big pool for this one, but even applying has been delightful, thinking about Edwidge Danticat (the judge) reading my writing.
4. The poetry of Julia Esquivel and Ernesto Cardenal, both Guatemalan poets. I’ve been reading her poetry in response to an article about her in Sojourners magazine, and last night I heard that Cardenal had died, so I have read some of his poetry in response. They both use their words to confront the violence of systems and empires.
5. I heard geese in the dawn a few minutes ago. It’s particularly haunting to hear them so early. I like haunting sounds, like geese in the dawn, like a faraway train whistle, like a solitary sparrow in a quiet hollow, like leaves rustling underfoot.

May we walk in Beauty!

You are Beloved

When they are babies or small children, each child at my church is held and blessed by one of our pastors, and told: “You are known and loved by God.” Whatever your word for that great and unknowable–but personal and tender–Mystery, know this today and always: The One who is the Source and Cause of all being, all Beauty, all Knowing, all Making, loves you. Knows you. As intimately as a painter who cherishes the tiny green dot of color in a painting, which she knows is there, which she placed there with purpose. You are deeply and singularly beloved.

Gratitude List:
1. Contemplating Longing and Belonging, and the Web upon which we all live and move.
2. Deep sleep. Somehow, at this point of middle age, sleep has become a regular visitor to this list–perhaps because it’s not so regular in real life
3. How dreams teach me about myself
4. Artistic processes–whether it be collage or poetry or doodles, or simply seeing and listening
5. All my Beloveds. You’re in my heart, on my web. I cast a line from me to you today. Take hold.

May we walk in Beauty!