Advent 15: Finding the Flow

An attempt at an automatic drawing. I think, in its purest sense, it’s supposed to be non-representational, but my mind started pulling out that tree, so I went with it. And then, there’s that bird. . .

We’ve considered the element of air as we have drawn in our breath. We’ve considered our fire, and tended our lights. Now, perhaps, it’s time to consider the element of water, as we travel deeper into this winter labyrinth.

Perhaps today’s passage opens onto an underground river, and we can settle ourselves into little boats for this part of our spiral toward the center. Or swim–walk right in and let the water carry you gently in its arms. Today, I want to think about the flow of my life.

So often, here in this dark and inward time of year, when my inward voices tell me to slow down, rest more, begin taking note of the dreams and the silences, the rest of the world turns up the pace to a frantic pitch, with parties and shopping, raucous frenzy and noise. For some of us, the response to the darkness is to push it back with activity and color and sound. I am grateful to have the festival atmosphere to dip into. The Big Party of this season is how many of us cope with the gathering darkness, and I have no quarrel with other people’s festivities. But I need to take great care in this season how I spend my energy.

One of the more common things I hear people express in these days is their exhaustion, how the constant round of parties and gatherings and things to do and prepare for completely wipes them out. In many families, this work still seems to fall to the women. I’m grateful to be part of a family where much of the pressure of holiday preparations is taken on by my partner, or else we do them jointly, together. I’m not sure I could cope with the added stress of the approaching end of semester along with a full load of holiday prep.

One way that we deal with the challenges to the easy flow of our lives in the frenzied season is simply to do less. We buy fewer presents. We have one afternoon in which we all decorate, and only a little. We focus our festivities on the kids’ school events and family gatherings.

Still, my flow in this season is choppy, blocked in places, and racing beyond my capacity to stay afloat in others. I know that my stacks of grading, and my avoidance tactics are the things that clog the passages and keep me from flowing gracefully. Somehow, I need to come to terms with the dailiness of the workload, to steadily chip away at the challenges that hinder my smooth progress. The thing is, the clogged places force the stream in other places to race along at an unmanageable pace.

If your life is a river flowing through a tunnel, what are the things that clog and impede the flow of your stream, causing the water to flow frantically and wildly in other parts of the passage? What do you need to do to shift and clear the blockages? Wendell Berry points out that “the impeded stream is the one that sings.” So perhaps it isn’t necessary to clear all blockages completely, just shift the impediments enough so that we can hear the song rather than the roar. Today, I commit myself to doing several hours of steady, unclogging work. I can already hear the echoes shifting in the tunnel. I can almost hear the song behind the roar.


Gratitude List:
1. Enough. Enough work to keep me occupied. Enough time to do what needs to be done (I do not feel this one deeply, but I am trying to live it).
2. Live choral music
3. How stories interact in my own personal narrative, shifting my interpretation and experience of my own unfolding tale.
4. Christmas cookies, especially those peppermint ones a student brought to school on Friday.
5. The flight of birds, high-flying flocks, and the furtive dashes of little birds seeking seeds in the chill. Be warm and filled, little ones!

May your day have warmth and light.

Honesty Matters

Today’s Prompt is to write an Abundance poem:

How can we speak of abundance
amid such an abundance of wrongs,
when the throngs of people seeking safety
are turned from our borders,
when we long for justice within,
but the strong still crush the weak,
when we seek simple peace,
but we’ve begun to doubt that the meek
will inherit much of anything,
much less the earth?

Still, much remains, abundantly,
beyond the walls and the hostility.
The abundance of tender friends,
of quiet moments of reflection,
of laughter bubbling between us,
and tears that bring release, and heal us.
Kindness sometimes overflows
and gentle eyes and warm hands,
and stories woven together,
the cloth for a table lavishly spread,
with a welcome for all.


“Walk fearlessly into the house of mourning, for grief is just love squaring up to its oldest enemy.” —Kate Braestrup
***
“Honesty matters. Vulnerability matters. Being open about who you were at a moment in time when you were in a difficult or an impossible place matters more than anything.” —Neil Gaiman
***
“Yesterday we obeyed kings and bent our necks before emperors, but today we kneel only to truth, follow only beauty, and obey only love.” —Kahlil Gibran
***
“To write is to ask questions. It doesn’t matter if the answers are true or puro cuento. After all and everything only the story is remembered, and the truth fades away like the pale blue ink on a cheap embroidery pattern.” —Sandra Cisneros, Caramelo
***
“With guns, you can kill terrorists.
With education, you can kill terrorism.” —Malala Yousufsai
***
“The wo/man who moves a mountain
begins by carrying away small stones.”
—Confucius, The Analects
***
“That day,
the morning came golden,
sudden,
like wind over the mountains
pushing the dark away like a curtain.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider
***
“We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?” —Wendell Berry


Gratitude List:
1. Oatmeal toast for supper. Simple, delicious comfort food, made by my dad. Also, apples and cheese. And chocolate cake for dessert. But the oatmeal toast was the medicine for the moment.
2. More people weaving their stories into the tapestry of our lives.
3. This congregation I belong to: People to laugh and cry with, to discuss and discern with, to deepen and grow with. And that’s just one Sunday morning.
4. Lights at ends of tunnels. Walking through those doorways with people I love.
5. A couple years ago, I wore through the heels of a couple pairs of striped socks that I loved. Rather than throw them away, I cut off the feet, and now I wear them as undersleeves. That little extra layer on my arms really helps to keep me from getting chilled.

May we walk in Beauty!

The Art of Enough


Today is the feast day of St. Hildegard of Bingen. If I have a patron saint, it would be her. She loved music and art, herbalism and stones. She was mystic, poet, doctor, composer, artist, and theologian. I’ll include some of her quotations in the mix below.

Here, to begin the curated quotations of the day, is something I wrote last year about writing poems, and then a poem I wrote about Sadness.

“I feel like I want a disclaimer before I write a poem about sadness. I realize that my life has been free of the iron grip of sadness that many people experience through depression or trauma or deep, recurring grief. I wrote this poem because I am trying to be Rumi’s Guest House and welcome in any and all who come my way, to learn from them what they would teach me. Sometimes I am a poet sitting at a pool, fishing out a single word at a time. Other days, I sit beside the stream, and the poem jumps right out into my lap and only needs to be tidied up a bit before it’s ready for the page. This is one of the latter.”

She’s a strange guest, is Sadness.
She knocks on the door
and when I open it
she turns her face away, says,
“You probably shouldn’t invite me in.”

But when I close the door,
she comes in anyway,
seeping in around the edges
and standing with her back to the wall.
And then she grows.

When I look directly at her, she dissipates
into the indigo shadows,
and all I can see are her eyes,
full of grief, full of resignation.

Sadness. It’s hard to know her, really,
to understand what she wants of me.

Sometimes she comes in as a cold wind
and I feel my senses tingle with the approach of her
before the world goes numb in her silence.
―Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
“We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a hope. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening. To use our own voice. To see our own light.”
―Hildegard of Bingen
*
“The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature.”
―Hildegard of Bingen
*
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” ―Ram Dass
*
“If you spell HA backwards, you get AH! Put them together and you get AHA!” ―Jeff Raught (I think I got the quotation right)
*
“Like billowing clouds,
Like the incessant gurgle of the brook,
The longing of the spirit can never be stilled.”
―Hildegard of Bingen
*
The Red Wheel Barrow
by William Carlos Williams

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.
*
“She is so bright and glorious that you cannot look at her face or her garments for the splendor with which she shines. For she is terrible with the terror of the avenging lightning, and gentle with the goodness of the bright sun; and both her terror and her gentleness are incomprehensible to humans…. But she is with everyone and in everyone, and so beautiful is her secret that no person can know the sweetness with which she sustains people, and spares them in inscrutable mercy.”
―Hildegard of Bingen


Gratitude List:
1. I keep learning new things: There is so much to give away, to let go, before I know I have enough.
2. Patience. I have enough Patience, if I can find it behind that stack of Busy-ness that keeps getting in the way.
3. Wisdom. I know I have enough Wisdom here, but it keeps getting lost behind the boxes full of Knowledge and Know-it-allness.
4. Sleep. I can get enough of that, if I just work at it. Sleep is such hard work lately, but it’s better than insomnia.
5. Feathers. What does a feather mean?

May we walk in Beauty!

Tell the Truth


“What a life is ours!
Doesn’t anybody in the world
anymore want to get up in the
middle of the night and sing?” —Mary Oliver
*
“Tell the truth about your wound, and then you will get a truthful picture of the remedy to apply to it. Don’t pack what is easiest and most available into the emptiness. Hold out for the right medicine. You will recognize it because it makes your life stronger rather than weaker.” — Clarissa Pinkola Estes
*
“Tell all the truth but tell it slant —” —Emily Dickinson
*
As high over the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
may your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills. When the way is flat and dull in times of gray endurance,
may your imagination continue to evoke horizons.
—John O‘Donohue
*
ENOUGH
by David Whyte

Enough.
These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to life
we have refused
again and again
until now.
Until now.
*
“I always thought why didn’t somebody do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.” —anonymous
*
“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” —James Heller
*
“There comes . . . a longing never to travel again except on foot.”
—Wendell Berry


Gratitude List:
1. All the ponderables of yesterday: The Woman in Blue, Our Lady of Fatima, the tragedy of Emily Dickinson, the Elder Mother, Blue Hydrangea. . . I cant’s say quite how they are all woven together, but they fit into the day’s tapestry.
2. Creativity
3. The trolls might be out there in force, but the wise and compassionate voices are rising.
4. Crickets
5. Book sale! I am going to the Book Sale at Overlook after school today.

May we walk in Beauty!