Twelvenight: Rachel Weeps

One thing about the Fool. The Fool somersaults and tumbles, one minute leaping high, and then pratfalling underneath the table the very next. The Fool shows us our up-and-down-selves, our extremes, our fluctuations, our truth. The Fool may tell jokes, but in the next breath comes a story to break your heart and tear you open.

In the Christian tradition, the holy blessed silence and the ringing song, the quiet candlelight, and the stories of shepherds and magi, are followed by a story so terrible we can hardly encompass it. We want to look away. Please, let me get back to finishing the Christmas cookies and playing that funny new game. Let me get back to gazing at the twinkling tree with a cat on my lap and that new book in hand. But this story will not be ignored.

I am leading worship in church this Sunday, and even the lectionary can’t make up its mind. We begin with the Hallelujahs! All creation celebrates the coming of the Child of Promise! Holy, holy, holy.

Then we enter the doorway of the Gospel reading and everything changes. An angry king, desperate to hold onto his own power, hears of the birth of a new king and orders a genocide of baby boys. Our hearts read this part fast, and rush with the Holy Family through dark of night, across a border to a safer land. We turn our faces away from the carnage they have left behind. We cannot bear to look. Yet even as we approach the border to safety with the vulnerable Mary-Joseph-Jesus, we hear Rachel wailing in the distance behind us.

Through the long hallways of space and time, we can still hear her howling her grief-rage, her despair. Whenever atrocities occur, Rachel’s voice from Ramah, from Bethlehem, rises, howling despair through the hollow places in our bones.

Herod’s men have ridden throughout history, committing unmentionable atrocities in every land. Men’s histories speak of strategy and honor in war, omitting the rape of women and children, the murder of the innocents. Even today, textbooks in the United States tell children that slavery, while not a good thing, was a dreamy transaction that protected and provided for the enslaved, making little or no mention of the inhuman atrocities committed by the powerful against the powerless. Their history books tell of brave frontier communities battling fierce Native warriors, forgetting that it was the Europeans doing the invading, committing genocide against the communities that thrived here before them.

On this day in 1763, the Paxtang Boys mounted their horses for a second time, to finish the terrible job they began on the 14th of the month when they wiped out everyone–mostly elderly people and children–in the last village of Conestoga people in Lancaster County. On this day, while the people of Lancaster City were at holiday concerts and parties, the Paxtang Boys rode into Lancaster, bribed or threatened the jail-keeper (unless he was in league with them), and savagely murdered the remaining villagers–children, elders, and others who were being kept in the poorhouse for their own safety. Rachel’s voice sounded through the halls of history, for there was no one left of the Conestogas to howl and wail. The genocide was complete.

They were completely and utterly defenceless. They were scalped and dismembered. Their names were Kyunqueagoah, Koweenassee, Tenseedaagua, Kanianguas, Saquies-hat-tuh, Chee-na-wen, Quaachow, Shae-e-kah, Tong-quas, Ex-undas, Hy-ye-naes, Ko-qoa-e-un-quas, Karen-do-nah, and Canu-kie-sung.

Herod’s soldiers, and the slave-owners, and the Paxtang Boys all continued to live respectable lives in their communities, powerful and dignified. Rachel’s life, and her sisters’ lives down throughout history, have been inexorably altered, marked by the horrors of the brutality committed by “respectable law-abiding” citizens.

And today? Where are Herod’s men enforcing Herod’s lust for power against the powerless? Where are the Paxtang Boys, claiming to keep their communities safe from the Other, instead committing atrocities against the Other? They won’t look like wild and raging desperadoes. They’ll be cloaked in the garb of respectability and community sanction.

Can you hear Rachel weeping? Can you hear her howls rending the air? She is inconsolable.

Can we welcome the holy child of light and promise, and turn our faces away from children torn from their parents and placed in cages? Can we gaze on the graceful face of Mary and ignore the wailing of her sister Rachel, her sisters Maria and Raquel and Isabella and Jimena?

Across the River

As of today, nearly 250 of the children abducted by the Trump/Sessions/Miller policy of family border separation remain in detention camps and facilities, months after the debacle occurred.

I carried my bones across the river and into the arms of the border patrol.
I laid my child in the hollow between sand-hills where she would be hidden.
I placed her in the quiet shade of a cactus where the little wren would sing to her.
I carried her on my back when the wind drove sand in our faces.
I tore her from the powerful arms of the river, and up the far bank

but now
she is lost in the long white hallways,
lost in the echoing rooms.
The vultures have carried her bones
to a far-off place
and all I can hear
is the screaming of sirens.

The sound fills up my bones.
There is no color but sound,
no feeling but the wailing of sirens,
the screeching and scraping,
the fierce clang of doors,
the cold bars of cages.

I carried my child to the river and now I am empty sky filled with ash.
My bones have turned to ashes and my dreams have fled
across the desert like birds.

There is nothing in this hollow place but sirens and slamming doors and questions,
the godawful questions–and a wailing that will not be silenced.

The gods have all died, blown across the sands like so much ash,
fled deep into soil like the water that has gone from this place.
Mother Mary, who sheltered us, is cast into a cage
and her child is walking alone in the maze of hallways
where she cannot reach him.

Where now is the mother?
Where is the child?
Where is the voice that will call to me
through this cacophony?

Where is the map through this desert?
Where is the red thread to follow in the wilderness?

The end is here.
The end is here.
The end is here.
And all the little birds have flown beyond the river.

I carried my bones across the river and the waters did not close about me.
I carried my child through the desert and now my story has ended.
The ashes swirl and eddy in the wind, borne into the raging arms of the river.

This is the end.
This is the end.
This is the end.

Gratitude List:
1. Making time to get some of this angst into a poem. I can breathe a little better.
2. Magical, prayerful acts. Granny squares have a really satisfying rhythm of threes: the steps of a double crochet are threes, and there are three double crochets in each set. Threes are good for the rhythm of prayer/chant.
3. How laughter helps me to breathe
4. The angle of autumn sunlight
5. Solitude

May we walk in Beauty!


This past week in Wooster, as I got to know the other teachers in my class, I began to think again of the beauty of collegiality, of having people who are all doing the same sort of work. I love my actual work colleagues, and I love the extended circle of colleagues, of people all working on similar tasks and issues in the world.

This morning my friend Tracey told me about a dream of hers where I had a cameo. During our short Messenger conversation, that word popped into my brain again: colleague. We have different professions, but we’re colleagues in this next layer of Work in the world, in the deep layers. When we talk together about what we’re doing to try to make change in the world, about how we’re involved in emphasizing and nurturing Goodness, we’re engaging in professional development as colleagues.

Another friend, someone I don’t know in real life, a woman I met through a mutual friend on Facebook, called me on the phone this week, just to talk about how we can create a network of people who support each other in this Work of pushing against the cruelty of the current US immigration policy of zero tolerance family separation. Her call reminded me that I am not just raging into the storm, but that I am part of a web of people doing the Work. Colleagues.

We’re colleagues, you and I, whenever we collaborate on this Work. I am greatly blessed in friends who willingly and tenderly mentor me in the Work, often without quite realizing that they are doing so. Let’s keep our hearts and eyes open for every opportunity for collegial collaboration in the coming weeks, every chance to build up the Staff in this job we have of making the world a better place.

This task ahead can feel so huge, so insurmountable. And I’m not entirely hopeful for the future, as least in the immediate sense. But we’re not going to be overcome while we sit passively by. We are rising, together, a host of colleagues in the Work of Goodness, like a great wave, to confront the powers that would destroy the vulnerable.

Take hands. Face into the wind. Stand strong. We will hold this ground together.

Gratitude List:
1. Colleagues in the Work
2. Mentors who teach by word and example
3. The young people who are rising
4. Family: blood and heart
5. The creative urge

May we walk in Beauty!

Hold Your Heart

These days, my heart feels a little like a shredded blanket that I am trying my best to hold into one piece, and my guess is that yours might be a little tender right now, too.

When my children fight, and I have to speak sternly, or tell them for the fifteenth time to clean up after themselves, I suddenly get teary: So many mothers have been wrenched from their children. How dare I speak anything but total tenderness to these kids?

Or they show me the projects and ideas they’re working on, or they read out loud something funny in their books, and I suddenly get teary: What must it be like to be torn out of your children’s lives? To wonder if anyone is appreciating their humor and tenderness and genius in the way that only you can? To not know if they will be cared for and comforted?

My arms hurt with ache of the loss, like they did after my own miscarriages. I feel that wrenching in my womb, that sense of not being able to go back to the before, when everything was okay.

In the day since the president signed his grandiose Executive Order to stop the separation of families, I only come up with more sadness, more questions. I am having trouble sorting out the information, and I wonder if this was the intent: To offer an obvious outrage, then set out a “solution,” but a solution with fangs.

These are things that I don’t like, and things that I want to continue to call my representatives about:
1. The 2300 who were torn from their families must be reunited with their parents. Now!
2. Indefinite detention–that doesn’t sound so good. Refugees, asylum seekers–they’re going to be placed in detention indefinitely. How far is this from a concentration camp?
3. I think I understand this new plan correctly: Entering the country without paperwork will now be a criminal offense instead of a misdemeanor. Is that right? That’s getting pretty intense. And that would then lead to children being taken from their parents anyway, right?
4. The language that these folks are using to talk about deterrents and following the law is still pretty brutal and cruel-sounding.
5. The president’s EO feels like a smokescreen, to further obfuscate the cruelty and inhumanity that is occurring. It all feels so carefully orchestrated to me–Like they played with these children’s lives not because they really thought it would even provide the deterrent they claimed, but because they wanted to exhaust our outrage so that we’d be ready to give up and accept this EO as an answer.
6. Blogger John Pavlovitz used the analogy of someone running recklessly and intentionally over people with their car, then blaming it on someone else. When they finally stop running over people, you don’t praise them for stopping. You stand up and speak out.

Gratitude List:
1. The girls and women of Sense of Wonder Camp. I love telling stories to that group. This year, their theme is leadership, and they’re including the collaborative leadership and listening process of The Council of All Beings.
2. On the way home from Sense of Wonder, I saw a foal nursing from a mare. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. Tender.
3. All the Tree Beings: Sycamore, poplar, oak, pine, walnut, willow. . .
4. These goofy, goofy cat people.
5. Snakes and snakes messages. Snake sightings are becoming at least an every other day occurrence in the holler right now. Time to shed old bad habits and pick up new good ones.

May we walk in Beauty!

Back to Gratitude

I need to step back into a thoroughly conscious and anchored gratitude practice these days. The rage and grief that I am feeling over what we are doing to the children at our borders threatens to capsize me, and I need to keep drawing down the energy, grounding, centering, focusing on the beautiful and tender realities that I notice around me.

Before the gratitude list, there’s a small sad thing that keeps getting tangled in my heart when I try to make my list: When we got home from vacation, I looked for Our Lady of the Flowers in her nest of cobweb and lichen on the swingy sycamore branch in front of the porch. The nest is gone. Fragments remain, stuck to the branch, but the little bowl is collapsed and torn. I hope Herself was able to fly free of whatever peril destroyed her home.

Gratitude List:
1. Lovely synchronicities: Today, a friend of mine who I met separately from my family saw a picture I posted on Facebook of my parents on their wedding day 57 years ago. My friend said she recognized my mother’s name, and wondered if she was the same friend she had known for a year when their husbands were both doing medical residencies at York Hospital in the mid-60s. They had had babies within a couple weeks of each other. It was! (My brother was that baby.) A lovely collision of the past into the now. It’s so satisfying.
2. This morning after I had mowed, I stood and watched the afternoon sun playing on the willow tree. A breeze whipped up and yellow locust leaves began sifting down all over the field while the willow danced in the sunlight. No photo, no video, would do it justice. Memory will have to suffice.
3. Little toad in the corner of the wood shop.
4. As wonderful as last week was, traveling, vacationing–still, I didn’t have the clear and unalterable sense of summer. I didn’t have a chance to establish summer routine before we left for Cape Cod. And that was perfect, because now I get to really live into the feeling of being on summer vacation.
5. Family sleeping parties. We’re all sleeping in the living room tonight to be near the air conditioner.

May we walk in Beauty!

I decided that I will try to make at least one phone call or write one letter every day this week, begging our congresspeople to speak out against the Family Separation Policy that the Attorney General has begun to enforce. Today, I called Smucker and Toomey.

Keep up the pressure on your Senators and Representatives. Ask them what their public statements are regarding the Family Separation Policy. Ask them for information about who is caring for the children. Are they vetted? Do they have clearances? How are the children being cared for? Are they getting their nutrition? Do they play? Are they getting education? Ask whether Health and Human Services is responsible for their care, and if so, why the administration is trusting HHS when within the past two weeks, HHS has admitted losing track of children in its care, some to traffickers.

Keep holding out your hands to people who are different from you politically. This is an affront to humanity, not just a liberal or conservative cause. Keep your heart open, keep soft, but don’t let the rage and grief throw you off. Hold on to your own humanity, to your own Love. These are difficult times, and people who would rip children from the arms of their parents in order to keep them out of our country would do anything to solidify their power.

Quotes for the day. I am conflicted about the Garrison Keillor quote because of the several credible accusations against him, but it came up on my feed today, and it felt like it meant to be there.

“Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.”
—Garrison Keillor
“It’s still a world with plums in it, my loves, & chamomile & lipstick & cellos. It’s still a world with us in it. Find a hand & hold on.” —Elena Rose
“The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous.” ―Wendell Berry
”So many of us feel an agonizing longing to contribute something meaningful to the deficits of our time. But years can disappear in the doing of duties, in the never-reaching of rising expectations, in the always-falling-short of proving of one’s enoughness.

“The truth is that if we really want to make an eloquent offering of our lives, we have to step out of that ‘call and response’ relationship with the external world and locate our source of guidance within.

“To hear the rhythm of your indigenous song, to fall in step with the poetry of your unfolding, first there must be a clearing away: a ‘temenos’ of simplicity in which to dwell.

“Strike a holy grove of silence where you can listen as you long to be heard, see as you long to be seen, acknowledge where you long to be relevant, needed and necessary in the ‘family of things’.” ―Dreamwork with Toko-pa
“One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something.”
―Henry David Thoreau
“We stand together. We stick up for the vulnerable. We challenge bigots. We don’t let hate speech become normalized. We hold the line.” ―J.K. Rowling
Rumi: “Ours is no caravan of despair.”
“I profess the religion of love wherever its caravan turns along the way; that is the belief, the faith I keep.” ―Asma Kaftaro, UN Women Advisory Board
“Human rights are not things that are put on the table for people to enjoy. These are things you fight for and then you protect.”
―Wangari Maathai

Open Letter to Attorney General Sessions

I’ve been on vacation, and I will post some photos and reflections of a lovely time away in a day or so, but today I want to post reflections of a different nature.

This is my Open Letter to Attorney General Sessions. I sent a copy to the DOJ today:

First of all, Mr. Sessions, This is not a theocracy. Observations regarding the rule of law offered by members of the administration need to be backed by the Constitution, not a religious book.

Second, If you do want to discuss Romans 13, you need to get to verses 9 and 10 if you want to be true to the apostle’s intent: 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

You cannot claim that tearing children from their parents in any way fulfills the law of love. So even were we to call ourselves a theocracy, you’ve got it all wrong.

Further, in Matthew 19:14–Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

He also said, in Matthew 18:6–“But whoever hurts one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Your draconian policy of ripping children from the arms of their parents is far, far away from the Good News Jesus preached. You take his name in vain when you try to use Christianity to justify this policy.

I believe that the verse which you quoted from Romans 13 was also used by brutal slave masters to justify their hold over the people they enslaved. After all, human chattel was a lawful economic system in the early United States. It has been used throughout history by leaders who wanted to justify their evil deeds.

Germany, I might remind you, was a country of law and order in the 1940s. People followed the law and did what they were told, and a madman and his henchmen used that “lawful” trust to create a genocide.

Do not use God to justify your brutal policies.