Advent 14: Becoming Safe Harbor

On this day in the walk through the December labyrinth, I mark the death of six people in a small village fifteen miles from here on the other side of the river. On December 14, in 1763, a group of angry white men from the Paxtang area of Harrisburg saddled their horses in the darkness and rode to Conestoga, to a small village a couple miles from the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, where they burned the houses of the few remaining members of the Conestoga group of the Susquehannock people, and brutally murdered the six people they found there.

Fourteen residents of the village were away at the time, and escaped to Lancaster City, where they requested protection. Officials placed them in the county workhouse/jail on Water Street in the City for their protection. Two weeks later, just after Christmas, on December 27, the murderers broke into the jail and massacred everyone, men and women, elders and children.

The Paxtang Boys, as they were called, gathered reinforcements over the following days, and rode to Philadelphia, intent on murdering Native people taking refuge there. Only the forceful eloquence of Benjamin Franklin, who confronted them outside the city, kept them from continuing their murderous rampage. As far as I know, none of the men ever had to face justice for their murders. And in my research, I have found no account of anyone who tried to protect the villagers, either in their village or in Lancaster’s jail. Other than the cold comfort of locking them inside a jail cell (which proved in the end no protection at all), no one was able to offer the last remaining members of the Conestogas safe harbor.

One of my deep shadows this December is a fear of how we have let the Paxtang Boys out to ride again: white people’s rage, racism, privilege, a sense of entitlement to power and economic security, greed and grasping, fiercely protective anti-otherness. I need to keep probing this shadow, exposing my fear of today’s Paxtang Riders, so that I can be ready to stand against them, to stand between them and the vulnerable people they are intent to destroy.

Today, so many who have been seeking safe harbor within the borders of my country have been denied that safety, have been turned away to wait in squalid camps where they are in danger of looting and rape and kidnapping and murder, have been separated from their parents/children by my government and thrown into cold cells, have been forced to hide for fear of deportation. I cannot escape the irony of the modern-day name of the road where the stone marker memorializes the Paxtang Boys’ massacre of local indigenous people: Safe Harbor Road.

How shall we prepare ourselves to be Safe Harbor in days when the Paxtang Boys are riding again?

Here is a poem I wrote in 2013, after I visited the site of the stone marker at the place where the massacre occurred, at the corner of Safe Harbor and Indian Marker Roads. The names of the six who died on this day are in the poem.

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.

The marker at the corner of Indian Marker Road and Safe Harbor Road.

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, a friend of mine who lives in Arizona wrote about visiting Casa Alitas, a program of Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, which provides immediate assistance to migrants who have been released by ICE and the border patrol onto the streets without any assistance, after their grueling journeys and government processing. Sometimes as many as 240 people come to the Casa Alitas hospitality center in a day. The worker and volunteers of Casa Alitas hold a vision of a community which offer help and safe harbor to people in the direst of circumstances. You can go the Casa Alitas website and click on the donate link at the bottom of the page to help them offer safe harbor.

Advent 11: Letting Go

In the story of Inanna descending the labyrinth to see her sister Ereshkigal, she had to leave some outward emblem of her power at the gates at each turning. The symbols that represented her identity as the Queen of Heaven were stripped away from her, one by one.

What are the images of your identity that you cling to? What “clothing” hides the true and essential you?

In the daytime summer worlds, certain aspects of my self serve me and help me to do the work I am meant to do. But here in the darkness, on the way to meet with my shadow-twin, all the trappings of my personal power and identity only get in the way of the deep recognition of self, shadow and all.

Right now, I am trying hard to live with the picture that I have everything under control. While there’s a certain truth and effectiveness to faking it until I manage to get back in control of things, I think that holding on to this image of myself is actually hindering the work. I am desperately behind on the grading, more than is comfortable for me or for my students. Every day, every evening, there’s something that pulls me away, takes energy and time that I need to get my work done. Still, I pretend to myself that I’ve got this under control. I think it’s time to relinquish that emblem of my sense of personal power, admit that I don’t have everything under control, and make a plan that will help me to catch up. Here, in the dark of the eleventh day, I lay down that piece of myself.

I cannot meet my shadow self and understand her, truly, until I can look honestly at my daytime self. I have no stone to lay at this turning, as I do when I walk a labyrinth in real time. Here is a long, sighing outward breath to symbolize my relinquishing of this inner belief that I am in control of things.


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.

Today, I think of the people of Le Chambon, France, who resisted the Vichy attempts arrest Jewish people by hiding people in their homes. As a village, a town, a region, they did what was right, not because they wanted to be heroes, but simply because it was right. They held a vision of what is the right thing to do–quiet, dedicated harboring of people in danger for their lives–and in doing so, actively resisted the violence of the political machine in which they lived.

Advent 10: Where Is Your Fire?

Here’s an image this morning of a tiny origami dragon, a reminder that we carry our fire within us as well as without. On that first day walking into this labyrinth, we checked our batteries, checked our fuel for the journey inward, for the lamps and lights that we carry. I have been feeling your fire, your warmth. I’ve been seeing the glimmer and twinkle of your light as we walk together down these dark passages.

Outwardly, my fire can seem pretty weak in December. I sleep a lot. I forget things. I find myself getting dreamy and vague. But inside, I am curling around my inner fire, like a bear or a rabbit or a chipmunk in winter, who curls itself around its heart core to keep the warmth inside. If you feel like your fire is disappearing, it might just be that you need to curl up around it, focus inward on the way it shines and warms, and rest.

Speaking of dreaming, I hd a most amazing dream last night, about driving through a little village with massive trees on either side of the road. The leaves were yellowed, and the branches were gnarled and curling. from the ends of the branches hung thousands of red and yellow fruits. Eventually we were walking beneath the trees, which hung down over the village like archways. People would just reach up and grb a fruit when they needed it.

What you need is there for you, if you just reach out your hand.


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.)

I think today of the youth activists combatting the climate crisis, how they speak up, how they stay on task, how they avoid attacking those who attack them, but relentlessly (there’s that word again) speak the truth of their message over and over again. They don’t let themselves get caught in the culture war that their elders keep trying to pull them into. They simply tell the story, again and again and again. They hold the truth of their vision without taking up the sword.

Advent 9: Mending

This weekend, I mended things. Each one of the four of us had an item of clothing with at least one hole. I am learning to darn knitwear. Some are easier than others, but I definitely got a little better as I went along. One special shirt was losing its SOUND CREW letters, and was full of little holes. I patched up the holes the best that I could and stitched the letters into place. On my own knit cardigan, instead of darning the holes closed, I stitched a thick ridge of thread around the edges of the holes, making a decorative element rather than trying to cover up the problems.

In this walk through the shadowy tunnels of the December labyrinth, I wonder how the mending metaphor can work for me in other ways. At times, it’s easy enough to repair a communication breach: stitch the edges together, and call it done. The line of repair might be obvious, but it stands as a reminder of the care needed for good communication.

Other times, relationships need serious reweaving, one person patching a new warp, and the other weaving a new weft back and forth, catching the frayed and slipping threads as you go. That’s tedious work, but the resulting repaired relationship can come through stronger and more interesting for the art and care put into the mending. Or sometimes, we work together to make the pain of the break in a relationship into a thing of beauty, a decorated memory of the hole we fell into. I have a few of these relationships in my life, and I treasure them with the sort of obstinate intensity that I lavish on a favorite article of clothing that will never be thrown away because the mended spots have become a part of the essential beauty and truth of the garment.

What needs mending today? How will you approach that which must be rethreaded, restitched, tended with threads of connection?


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.)

Have you heard of ICU nurse Lori Wood, who was working with a 27-year-old-patient who needed a heart transplant? The young man was both autistic and homeless, and unable to get a heart transplant if he had nowhere to go afterward and no one to take care of him. In order to ensure that he could get all the care and treatment he needed, Ms. Wood adopted him, took him home, and cared for him. She wasn’t trying to be a hero. She was living her vision of true humanity.

(While this isn’t a situation that shows someone choosing a peaceful response to potentially violent situation, I think it’s not too far a stretch to call the experience of homelessness and the lack of health care for people in poverty a violent situation. Ms. Wood was offering an intentional compassionate response to a systemic violence, so I am going to say it fits the parameters of the exercise.)

Advent 7: There Lives in Me

When I taught at a Waldorf School, we taught a little poem to the children:
There live in me an image
of all that I could be.
Until I have become it,
my heart is never free.

For some reason, as I try to recall it, my mind always substitutes “shadow” for “image.” It’s like something tickling at the back of my brain is trying to remind me that I am not only what can be seen on the surface, but that there’s something else there, too, some deeper me that needs to be recognized and integrated before I am truly whole and free.

Several years ago, I wrote a poem on the subject:

Shadow
I will be Crow.
Stone Steps to the Lady Shrine.
Spider’s tidy strands.
Moss. Pine cone.
Lichen. White stone.

Lady, what have you to say to me?

There lives in me a shadow. . .
Water trickling in the grotto.
Bark of the Sycamore Tree.
Crow. Willow.
Acorn. Sparrow.

What have you to say?

An image of all that I could be.
Ladybug on Her child’s chubby knee.
Spider in the fold of Her robe.
Green leaf. Cool breeze.
Whisper. Oak trees.

Become the Shadow.

I am the Crow and the Spider.
Scent of new boxwood.
The whisk-footed Squirrel.
Egg sac. Chickweed.
Web. Speedwell.

Breathe.

(From Song of the Toad and the Mockingbird by Elizabeth Weaver-Kreider, Skunk Holler Poetryworks, 2013.)

When I look into my own shadows, they’re composed of as many subtle colors and hues as the ones that intersect across my living room floor in the mornings. Some are indeed frightening and uncomfortable, because they are unknown, because they hold the secrets of my unresolved and unacknowledged self. Others hold a thrill, because they hide the daring and adventurous and wild side of me, because they harbor the self hinted at in my dreams. They whisper to me, ask me to take up the work they have.

The various personality and temperament studies I have done often point toward shadow work, to exploring those unexplored regions inside. I have found the Enneagram to be particularly helpful in this work. In the Enneagram, I am a pretty standard Seven, an Enthusiast. I call it Hedonist, to remind myself of the shadow possibilities. The Enthusiast wants to enjoy life to the fullest. What choose one option when five will do? We tend to overschedule ourselves, to take on more than we can handle, to eat too much and drink too much. We have a thousand unfinished projects because we want to try everything. We can be enjoyable companions because we like to pile on the fun. Some of the shadows that dog me are hoarding and gluttony and pain avoidance. There isn’t time or attention span enough to handle all the projects and ideas and things that I want to take on. And I get so excited about the next new thing that I avoid the actual work of other things I have committed myself to. In this case, working with my shadows means knowing this pitfalls, working with the anxiety that comes with saying no to the next new and exciting thing that comes along, learning to discipline myself to do the next thing that might bring work or pain.

And there are shadowselves that call me to integrate my the wilder, fiercer, more daring part of me into my everyday self. The shadows call: “Don’t let yourself be tamed! Don’t become domesticated! Don’t settle into safety and predictability. Don’t settle for the status quo.” It’s these shadowselves that raise their heads when everyday systems of oppression and injustice, patterns that everyone seems to accept, make us raise our heads and look around and start to ask questions. In order to live in a world that actively creates unjust systems, parts of ourselves slide into the shadows in order to function with minimal pain and less of the jarring sense of contradiction. Change in the world comes about when we let these sleeping shadows wake up and live within us.

Here, on the eighth day of our journey into the shadows of the December labyrinth, let’s walk into those rooms where our shadows wait, and examine their colors and shapes and textures. What might they have to teach us? This afternoon, I must tackle some things I have been avoiding, and set up a plan for myself to focus instead of fluttering from bright and shiny thing to bright and shiny thing.

What goal will you set for yourself? Maybe your natural state is to try to control all the details, and today you will let go of control? Maybe you’re dogged by particular shadow anxieties, and today is the day to look at them more closely, perhaps in the company of a beloved who can help you? Perhaps today is the day to wake up some sleepy shadows and start to make a plan to break the chains in an oppressive system that profits from your sleepiness?


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.)

I think of the people of Landisville Mennonite Church and others who work with them to be companions to refugees and asylum seekers and immigrants who have been detained in York County Prison. These people are holding a vision of a welcoming community that helps people find their way in a new place. A group of people has come out of this work to raise money to pay the bonds for immigrants in the York detention center. Their website is IBAEPA.org, The Immigration Bond and Advocacy effort, if you would like to participate in their making their vision a reality.

Advent 6: Examining Shadows

Every year, I have to talk myself through this. I love darkness. I love the quiet and the rest, the comfort of enveloping night. And–

And the short days and long nights also fill me with a growing sense of panic, a sense of claustrophobia, as the night comes early and the dark lingers late into the mornings. I feel the panic rise, like it does when my clothes are too tight or I’m in a crowd, closed in on all sides by people, or when the seatbelt in the car pulls tight and won’t let go. It takes a conscious effort of will and a lot of self-talk to get myself back to the quiet space where I can sit in the darkness of early evening and remember how good it is to sit in the warm yellow glow of a lamp and feel the gentle arms of darkness around me.

So, here in the sixth passage of this labyrinth walk into December, I want to look into the shadows. Perhaps tomorrow, or another day, I will look into the more metaphorical shadows inside me (they make me claustrophobic, too), but yesterday I was caught up in looking at the blues and the indigos and violets that glow in the edges of the shadows and color the deeper areas. The under-shadow of the clouds was such a blue yesterday that I wondered if my eyes are developing a more acute sense of blue as they grow aged and fuzzy. The indigos beside the blue were richer, more lustrous. I think I know why the search for indigo has been a human obsession.

This morning, the shadows cast beyond the lamplight cross shadows falling through the archway to the kitchen. The lines between create distinct zones and areas, but try to look directly at the borders between light and shadow and doubled shadow, and suddenly the boundaries blur and disappear. Stare too long at the edges of a shadow and it starts to pulse and shift.

Without light, there is no shadow. Yesterday when I got home from work, I climbed onto the picnic table to catch a photo of the glorious shadows cast by the sycamore tree onto the red wall of the barn. The moment I raised my camera, a cloud slipped in front of the sun and the shadow was gone.

On today’s journey into winter, shall we explore the spaces between sun and shadow, consider the ways that light creates shadow, hone our noticing of color and line in the deepening shadows of winter?


Envisioning:
(On Sunday, Michelle 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.)

Yesterday, One of my friends told me of a woman in a retirement center who greets each person she passes with, “God loves you.” This reminds me of a student of mine who would come into class every day with a high five and a “Make it a great day, Ms. Weaver-Kreider!” And of the students who always thank me as they are leaving class. And of the people who look others in the eye, and make the effort to make that powerful human contact for just a moment in the day. Loving interaction which in which we See each other–that’s my vision for today.

Advent 5: Webs of Prayer

As I walk today’s fifth passage into the dark labyrinth tunnel of December, I can’t help but contemplate the cobwebs. In my physical house, the spiders have moved in from garage and attic to the house proper, seeking warmth and light and fresh insects. (Some of that is on my list winter comforts, too, though not the third.) I do take down the webs when the spiders become too assertive with their territory-claims, but mostly I live and let spin. They’ve learned to eat the stink bugs in the past five years or so, so I can’t begrudge them too much real estate.

And the web is my primary symbol of prayer. For being such a universal activity in so many religious (and even nonreligious) traditions, prayer remains nearly undefinable. What we do when we pray varies by person and situation. While I can speak a prayer in words, and I love poetic communal prayer, as an individual and contemplative activity, prayer for me has been more of a visualization or meditation, more like a raising of energy, than a direct invocation.

For thoughts on prayer, I tend to turn to the poets rather than the theologians, though when the theologians speak poetically, I am more likely to trust them. I like Mary Oliver’s perspective in “The Summer Day”:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?”

and Joy Harjo’s “Eagle Poem”:

“To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.”

When I pray, I feel myself on the web, feel you on the web, feel the love, the intention for healing, for restoration. It’s not a physical feeling, perhaps, but usually the metaphor is realer than words for me, and I sense the thrum and tug of the energy between us humming like. . .well, like a prayer.

Today, here in this metaphorical passageway, with cobwebs above our heads, and the watchful spiders around us, let’s practice working with that web of prayer. Consider some situation for which you long to see healing and rightness return. On a breath, send out a line of spidersilk on the breeze toward that spot in the field of existence. Be the spider, surfing the electrical currents in the air, tugging the strand taut between you the the story you pray for. Feel the hum of energy and breathe your own healing intention along that line. I will listen for you on this web of which we all are part, and wait to feel your energy.


Envisioning:
(On Sunday, Michelle 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.)

Yesterday, someone sent me a link to a story of three young men who noticed an elderly woman sitting alone at a restaurant. Something prompted one of them to go and ask if he could sit with her. He asked her about her life, and she told him that she was a widow, approaching what would have been her 60th wedding anniversary. He asked her to join him and his friends at their table, and they had a transformative encounter that enriched them all. They were separated by gender and age and race, and yet they met with open hearts, and a tender and holy connection was made.