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!

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.

Open Hearts Are Brave Hearts

For the month leading up to Thanksgiving, I followed the lead of a friend and committed to daily gratitude practice that viewed gratitude as an act of resistance, to publicly and intentionally seek out things to be grateful for in the face of forces that seek to demoralize and oppress. To label each grateful paragraph in the first part of the month of November as an act of resistance helped me to keep that perspective, that to be grateful and kind and hopeful in the face of all that seeks to destroy goodness in the world is a primal act of  resistance.

Yesterday, in conversation with some of my beloveds, we talked about resistance, about the man who jumped across a police barrier to take down a confederate flag, about the Dutch church that has been holding services for twenty-seven days to protect a family from deportation, about people who are writing letters and protesting on behalf of someone who has experienced a shameful injustice. 

We may not be committing the big acts of bold resistance at this moment. Your life may be caught in the business of staying afloat or tending to the needs of your beloveds. Still, we can make it all a resistance. Small acts, little conversations, openness to the moment—opportunities to resist despair and destruction and to create new patterns and stories abound:

* Smile at people and make eye contact.  Ask them about themselves. Open hearts are a great antidote to the fear and rage that float around us in our environment.

* Offer people food. Share meals. Experience the flavors of the world together. Develop culinary curiosity about foodways around the world. Watch Anthony Bourdain together.

* Keep your eyes on those who turn inward, who keep to the corners. Be a safe place, a docking spot for ships that are sailing through hostile waters.

*Build bridges with your words. I don’t have to agree with someone to be civil. I can be kind and open in conversation and still maintain a fierce and steady stance on the side of justice. Disagreeing with someone doesn’t always mean attacking. I am more likely to change someone’s mind in a civil conversation than in a battlefield conversation.

* It IS about changing minds and hearts. It is about setting fears and anxieties to rest. The destroyers rely on fear. They’ve weaponized and monetized it. We can walk into the world with courage and draw out the bravery of those around us. Open hearts are brave hearts.

* Speak up for justice. We don’t have to go into conversations blazing with fury and rage against the president. But we can (and should) call out the racist and misogynistic and xenophobic language. We can graciously and civilly state our own desire for more grace and civility and diversity.

* Don’t be afraid to call out your own “side.” Politicians on every side make greedy and unjust choices. Name it when you see it.

* Be grateful. Be joyful. Dance. Find delight and awe in nature. And children. And small animals. All of that—joy and delight and tenderness and curiosity and awe—is active resistance to the tide of destruction.

* Be ready. There may come moments when we are called upon to take the bigger step, the bolder step, the more dangerous or fierce step. We can position ourselves so we are ready to do the thing that must be done when we are called upon to do it.

* Support those who are taking the big and fierce steps right now. Letters and public praise for the ones who taking public stands for justice go a long way to establishing a culture that resists destruction.

*What are your daily acts of resistance?


Gratitude List:
1. Small and large acts of Resistance. Acts of love. Acts of hope. Acts of kindness.
2. Oak trees
3. Family time: games, food, stories, puppy and cat, laughter, wrangling the serious issues
4. Shelter
5. A good rest

May we walk in Beauty!


Sunday’s Treats:
“Let my anger be the celebration we were never / supposed to have.” —Jacqui Germain


I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness. It’s right in front of me, if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.
—Brené Brown


“The eyes of the Future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.” —Terry Tempest Williams


“You’ve seen my descent.
Now watch my rising.”
—Rumi


“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.”—Thomas Merton


“For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” —Mary Oliver

Enter the Portal


Two crow feathers in one week. The world is full of messages, if we know how to look,
if we know how to read the text of the landscape.

Gratitude List:
1. Teaching the spectrum. I have begun teaching college-in-the-high-school courses this year, and I am loving the conversation, the determination, the bright-eyed desire to LEARN of these soon-to-fledge upperclassfolk. I also have much younger students just coming in as ninth graders, both the 101s, and the students coming into my Foundations class to get some more literacy skill-building to prepare them to succeed in high school. This latter group tends to be more shy, more uncertain about school, but they’re ready and shiny-eyed in their own way, and eager to learn. I saw stirrings of deep understanding in this group on Tuesday when I showed them Kendi Ibram’s speech about what it means to be an intellectual. My heart is full.
2. Monarchs. Every day on the drive to and from school, I can count 3-5, and sometimes more, flitting across the road or in the roadside wildflower buffet. Sun in their wings, dancing in the breezes, determined wings setting a course for the beach. My heart is full.
3. Joe the Duck and the Cat Clan. Now that school has started, we pick up ED every morning and drive down the road where Joe the Duck lives, and where a colony of half-feral cats lives. We pause at Joe’s personal paddle pool to say hello, and drive slowly through the territory of the cat colony. There are new kittens: black, ginger-and-white, and a greyish-tortoise-shell. My heart is full.
4. Learning New Messages. “I am an organized person.” Ellis and I are reminding each other of our Organized Person identities, and I’m at least beginning to override the old story I habitually told myself about being unable to remain organized. And I see him doing the same. My heart is full.
5. My children are excited about school. Ellis has been advocating for himself to take Spanish 2 when it looked like he wouldn’t be able to fit it into his schedule. In the end, he and three others got permission to take a computer course in the library during the time others are taking Spanish 1. He’s taking charge of his learning, and that makes me proud. Right now, he’s downstairs on a Friday night doing his Algebra homework. (I think he knows it’s Friday.) And Josiah had three extra days off this summer because of mold in the school district, and while that was exciting, he is chomping at the bit to get back to school. My heart is full.

May we walk in Beauty!


Friday’s Meditations:
“Fear is the cheapest room in the house.
I would like to see you living
In better conditions.” —Hafiz
*****
“When your world moves too fast and you lose yourself in the chaos, introduce yourself to each color of the sunset. Reacquaint yourself with the earth beneath your feet. Thank the air that surrounds you with every breath you take. Find yourself in the appreciation of life.” —Christy Ann Martine
******
“Every word you utter to another human being has an effect, but you don’t know it. If people began to understand that change comes about as a result of millions of tiny acts that seem totally insignificant, well then, they wouldn’t hesitate to take those tiny acts.” —Howard Zinn
******
“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” —Leonard Bernstein
*****
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” ―Elie Wiesel
*****
“All forms of racism must be rejected directly and openly.” —bell hooks and Cornel West
*****
“Our mission was to make a beloved community in the world where everyone would be free to live well.” —bell hooks

Response Poem

Today’s prompt is to write a response to one of the previous poems from the month. I chose my April 27 poem.

There once was a girl
who was so afraid of spiders
that when a web of song,
a web of prayer,
came floating to her
on a breeze, she ran
as fast as she could
in the other direction.

There once was a girl
who was so afraid of darkness
that when a quiet veil
of comforting shadows
fell about her,
she fell down in terror
and hid her head
until the staring sun
came out again.

There once was a girl
who was so afraid of heights
that when her friends
sang bridges that led
to safer meadows,
she could not unfreeze
her footsteps from the Earth
to flee toward the havens.

Whenever she ran from her fears,
they always caught her.
Whenever she froze in terror,
she found herself engulfed.
I would like to say she learned
to reach her hands toward her friends
and find her way home.


Gratitude:
I am grateful today for the concentric and interlocking circles of community in my life, for the people who keep their protective eyes on my children, who teach and mentor them and love them.

May we walk in Beauty!

Battle the Fear

Today’s prompt was a fill-in-the-blank title: Battle __(blank)__

Battle the Fear

Walk this way without shame.
Your head will touch the clouds.
Your eyes will shine with the glow
of the new-risen moon.

The Fear will track you
through the wastelands
like a wolf on a scent.
It will hunt you like a lion
across the wide fields.

Listen to the ticking of your heart
and the gentle whisper of breath
as it slides in and out of the bags of your lungs.

Blood and breath will be your companions.
Carry your bowl of stones and feathers
and do not look back.

Whistle in the darkness.
Sing your heart’s own melody.
Remember, always,
the light at the center
of your being.

(www.farmpoem.wordpress.com)

A Daily Day


Today’s Prompt is to write a Construction and/or a Deconstruction Poem.
I am wiped right out tonight, so I am going to do my favorite form of deconstruction. I am going to take a little poem and run it through Google Translate several times:

Every day, I am remade,
reborn from the husk
of yesterday’s creature.

(To Malayalam and back again)
Every day, I’m reconstructing,
Resurrected from throat
Today’s work.

(To Bangla and back)
Every day, I’m rebuilding,
Resurrection from throat
Today’s job.

(To Gujarati and Amharic and back)
I will rebuild every day,
From the Crucifixion
They work today

(Chinese)
I will rebuild it everyday
Crucified
They work today

(Hausa)
I’ll rebuild it everyday
Cross
They work today

(Sindhi)
I’ll give you a daily day
Cross
They work today


“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”
—Nelson Mandela
***
For a day, just for one day,
Talk about that which disturbs no one
And bring some peace into your beautiful eyes.
—Hafiz
***
“Open your mouth only if what you are going to say is more beautiful than silence.” —proverb
***
“All religions, all this singing, one song. The differences are just illusion and vanity. The sun’s light looks a little different on this wall than it does on that wall, and a lot different on this other one, but it’s still one light.” —Rumi
***
The magic of autumn has seized the countryside;
now that the sun isn’t ripening anything
it shines for the sake of the golden age;
for the sake of Eden;
to please the moon for all I know.
—Elizabeth Coatsworth
***
“. . .fairies’ gold, they say, is like love or knowledge–or a good story. It’s most valuable when it’s shared.” —Heather Forest, The Woman Who Flummoxed the Fairies


Gratitude List:
1. A Tuesday that was a Friday. Big sigh of relief.
2. Time to catch up on my work.
3. That moon
4. The musical students of LMH
5. Resolve

May we walk in Beauty!

Mercy and Fear

Today’s prompt is to write a triangle poem:

Triangle: The Spell, The Sleep, The Waking
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

First is the spell, the incantation, the bright blessing.
First is the curse of the jealous fairy.
First is the vain step-mother, the anxious interloper.
First is the dawn of the golden child.
First is three wishes and a wild, wild wind.

Second is when she loses the golden ball of her voice.
Second, the falling asleep.
Second is ball gowns and tea cakes.
Second is the pampered pedestal.
Second is a red bird in a golden cage.

Third, the clocks booms midnight.
Third, the wolf howls.
Third, the cock crows.
Third, the red rider races across the pathway.
Third, she opens her eyes.


“Mercy is the willingness to enter into the chaos of another.” –James Keenan
*
“The heavens are sweeping us along in a cyclone of stars.” –Teilhard de Chardin
*
Expose yourself to your deepest fear. After that, you are free.” –Jim Morrison
*
“You need not wade through the mists and bogs to reach the moon.
You need not climb a ladder of cobweb.
You need not ride the stallions that wicker in the sea’s pounding surf.

Draw back the curtain and open the window.
Breathe the bracing air and listen:
The whinny of an owl, the click of the bat,
The grunt of a buck and the distant roar of the train.

The full moon will spill a milky road before you.
That is all the pathway you will need.”
–Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
Joseph Campbell: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.”


Gratitude List:
1. Robins gathering in the hollow in the growing dusk
2. Russet. Nice word. Nice color.
3. The steeples of Wrightsville. This really is a lovely little town nestled into the hills of York County.
4. Falling leaves. Rilke’s poem really got into me. There’s nothing quite like translation to put a poet inside your head.
5. Moon moon moon moon mooooooooooooon

May we walk in Beauty!

Fog and Owls

“Fear does not prevent death. It prevents life.” —Naguib Mahfouz
*
“Humans are vulnerable and rely on the kindnesses of the earth and the sun; we exist together in a sacred field of meaning.”
—Joy Harjo
*
“Everything I love most happens most every day.”
—Howard Norman
*
“I was just thinking
one morning
during meditation
how much alike
hope
and baking powder are:
quietly
getting what is
best in me
to rise,
awakening
the hint of eternity
within.”  —Macrina Wiederkehr
*
The Wild Geese
by Wendell Berry

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.
*
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” —William Wordsworth


Gratitude List:
1. Morning fog
2. Crows flying through trees in the fog
3. The way fog nestles in the hollows, among the hills
4. Driving through morning fog–how it makes the mundane journey feel like an adventure
5. Great horned owl calling from the south. Screech owl calling from the north.

May we walk in Beauty!

The Journey Downward and Inward


Leaving the old shell behind. Grasshopper transformation.

“Let us not make America Great again.That greatness they yearn for was rooted in death and oppression. Let us make America Good. For all, for the very first time.

Do not let it go without saying. If you and your family denounce white supremacy: say it. Let it be known. You are not how you feel or think. You are what you say and do.” –Glennon Doyle
*
“Hate evil and love what is good. We have to be able to say that evil is evil. It’s not something that exists on many sides.” –Rabbi Jack Paskoff of Lancaster, PA
*
“I repose in myself. And that part of myself, that deepest and richest part in which I repose, is what I call ‘God.'” –Etty Hillesum
*
“THE JOURNEY DOWNWARD
Spiritual awakening is frequently described as a journey to the top of a mountain. In the process of discovering bodhichitta [the awakened heart], the journey goes down, not up. It’s as if the mountain pointed toward the center of the earth instead of reaching into the sky. Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move toward the turbulence and doubt. We explore the reality and unpredictability of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away. If it takes years, if it takes lifetimes, we let it be as it is. At our own pace, without speed or aggression, we move down and down and down. With us move millions of others, our companions in awakening from fear. At the bottom we discover water, the healing water of bodhichitta. Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die.”
–Pema Chödrön
*
“I invite you to think about your relationship to human beings who haven’t been born yet. What might you create for them to use? How can you make your life a gift to the future? Can you not only help preserve the wonders we live amidst, but actually enhance them?” –Rob Brezsny
*
Lewis Carroll: “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backward.”
*
“Some days,
you feel as though
you have been walking that knife edge
forever,
too afraid
to look to right or left.
And then one day,
you raise your gaze
and there before you
is the green valley
with a blue glass lake
and a silent island
that you have been seeking
in every dream
since you were born.” –Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
“I demand unconditional love and complete freedom. That is why I am terrible.”  –Tomaž Šalamun
*
“You want weapons? We’re in a library! BOOKS! The best weapons in the world.” –Doctor Who
*
“A banjo will get you through times of no money, but money won’t get you through times of no banjo.”  –John Hartford


Gratitude List:
1. The voices of Amanda Kemp, Kevin Ressler, Rev. Forbes, Andrea Brown, Jim Amstutz, and others at the Lancaster vigil last night. I am so proud of Lancaster and York for turning out like they did.
2. The stately and friendly architecture of downtown Lancaster.
3. The little screech owl trilling in the hollow. And then the great horned owl all in the early morning.
4. Sachs came out from under the bed! (See how I changed the spelling there? He is a person of such grave dignity that Socks seems insufficient. Sachs, on the other hand, has a grandeur, and even a hipness, which is in keeping with the cat himself.)
5. One more week of summer schedule. I am going to make the most of it!

May we walk in Beauty!