Into the Dark, December 18

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

My principal opened a faculty meeting yesterday by asking us to all turn to a neighbor and tell one good thing that happened in the day. It can be easy, when gathered with colleagues, to air the frustrations of the day, so to set the stage for a meeting by getting us to recall one good thing was to set us up for a moment of gratitude. He could hardly get us to be quiet and return our attention to the meeting, we got so wrapped up in finding the twinkling moments of the day.

Today’s word in this winter walk will be gratitude. Noticing, marking, paying attention to each bright thing that appears, each mysterious shadow that reveals itself, each twinkling moment that expands itself within me. Several friends and I do (mostly) daily gratitude lists which we share on our social media pages. It’s not to brag or to create a facade of lives in which everything runs smoothly and beautifully, but to remind ourselves and each other to keep watch, even in times of great sorrow or loss, to pay attention and take note of those things which bring joy, which bless our inner lives. In these days, even in the midst of political turmoil and injustice, there is so much to be grateful for.


Gratitude List:
1. Community of gratitude–being supported and buoyed up by others who have also chosen this work as a spiritual discipline.
2. There are lights at the end of this tunnel
3. The pianist in yesterday’s chapel–David Berry of Eastern Mennonite University. He brought energy and wonder into the space, and such music!
4. Singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” with the campus choral groups on Saturday night. One of my colleagues reminded me yesterday of how incredibly sublime that was.
5. I say this one a lot, but it’s one of the things that helps me hold onto hope in difficult days: the Good People doing their Good Work.

May we walk in Beauty!


“We must give the story of our misfortunes a home. This always seeking to start anew, to cover our eyes and elude pain, eventually only makes refugees of our wounds. They follow at our heels and seep into the background life of every new love. They become the distant, tenacious ache which howls with a silent mantra of unbelonging. We must remember and be willing to say their name. We must house our displacements, gather them close and feed them with our remembering until they acquiesce as the great allies that they are.” —Toko-pa Turner


“Maybe this is crazy, but I think the right to own a gun is trumped by the right not to be shot by one.” —Andy Borowitz


“Sit in stillness and listen to what your heart prays.” —Ruth Jewell


“The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” ―David Steindl-Rast

For Such a Time

Gratitude List:

  1. Murder of Crows in the trees outside my parents’ house
  2. Bittersweet—I know it’s an invasive and a pest, but I love it.
  3. The ones who feel Injustice in their bones and then stand up
  4. Fuzzy nap companions
  5. The autumn slant of light that makes everything shine

Thoughts for Monday:

“It’s important to be brave and to not keep silent.” —yesterday’s Children’s Message in church


“Perhaps you were brought to this place for just such a time as this.” —paraphrase from book of Esther


“We have all hurt someone tremendously, whether by intent or accident. We have all loved someone tremendously, whether by intent or accident. it is an intrinsic human trait, and a deep responsibility, I think, to be an organ and a blade. But, learning to forgive ourselves and others because we have not chosen wisely is what makes us most human. We make horrible mistakes. It’s how we learn. We breathe love. It’s how we learn. And it is inevitable.”
—Nayyira Waheed


“Only those who attempt the absurd
will achieve the impossible.”
—M. C. Escher


Blessing for the Visitor
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

May you who wander, who sojourn, who travel,
may you who make your way to our door
find rest for your tired feet and weary heart,
food to fill your bellies and to nourish your minds,
and company to bring you cheer and inspiration.
May you find comfort for your sorrows,
belonging to ease your loneliness,
and laughter to bring you alive.

And when your feet find themselves again upon the road,
may they remember the way back to our door.


“A seed sown in the soil makes us one with the Earth. It makes us realize that we are the Earth. That this body of ours is the panchabhuta-the five elements that make the universe and make our bodies. The simple act of sowing a seed, saving a seed, planting a seed, harvesting a crop for a seed is bringing back this memory-this timeless memory of our oneness with the Earth and the creative universe. There’s nothing that gives me deeper joy than the work of protecting the diversity and the freedom of the seed.” —Vandana Shiva


“I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.” —George McGovern

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

How Do You Enter?

How do you enter? How do you come? Photo of a photo on the wall of a retirement center.

Gratitude List:
1. Doorways
2. Dreams
3. Sleep
4. Sun in the holler
5. Hopeful baking

May we walk in Beauty!

Words for a Golden Friday:
“Who would I be if I didn’t live in a world that hated women?” —Jessica Valenti


“The heart is right to cry
even when the smallest drop of light, of love, is taken away
Perhaps you may kick, moan, scream—in a dignified silence,
but you are right to do so in any fashion…until God returns to you.”
―Hafiz


“All water is holy water.”
―Rajiv Joseph


“The mullahs of the Islamic world and the mullahs of the Hindu world and the mullahs of the Christian world are all on the same side. And we are against them all.”
―Arundhati Roy


“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness.
Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”
―Scott Adams


“You know what breaks me, when someone is visibly excited about a feeling or an idea or a hope or a risk taken, and they tell you about it but preface it with: “Sorry, this is dumb but—.”Don’t do that. I don’t know who came here before me, or who conditioned you to think you had to apologize or feel obtuse. But not here. Dream so big it’s silly. Laugh so hard it’s obnoxious. Love so much it’s impossible. And don’t you ever feel unintelligent. And don’t you ever apologize. And don’t you ever shrink so you can squeeze yourself into small places and small minds. Grow. It’s a big world. You fit. I promise.”
―Owen Lindley


“The bond of our common humanity is stronger than our fears and prejudices.” ―Jimmy Carter


“The reality is we have more in common with the people we’re bombing than the people we’re bombing them for.” ―Russell Brand

Courage and Generosity

Gratitude of Resistance Twenty-Two: 
The giving hearts of Lancaster people. This is my favorite thing about the Thanksgiving season in this place: The ExtraOrdinary Give. It’s true, we can be pretty divided about many things, but the Lancaster Community Foundation brings us together on the Friday before Thanksgiving for a massive celebration of giving. Nearly five hundred organizations signed up this year, and people from all over the county (and beyond–I’m a Yorker, after all) donate whatever they can afford to these hard-working organizations. This year Lancaster raised 10 million dollars from 23, 545 donors. What an amazing community-building experience. I am proud of my community. And grateful. So, so grateful.

May we all be generous.

I’m doing the Poem-A-Day Chapbook challenge again this year, but on the advice of a friend, I have not been publishing the poems on social media, except as comments on the Poetic Asides site–in the hopes of making the more marketable. This is one I likely will not try to publish because it’s so tied to the Harper Lee quotation, but I like it. Yesterday we read chapter 11 in To Kill a Mockingbird (which is about courage), and Brewer’s poetry prompt was to write a brave poem. It felt like a lovely bit of serendipity.

“Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” —Atticus Finch

Courage is
not a gun
not a word
that slices skin
not a look
that tears up
a soul
but a way to begin.

Two Today

Gratitude of Resistance:
A couple different ones today.
1. Yesterday’s chapel, led by Latinx students. Students from the Dominican, from Puerto Rico, from Colombia, from Guatemala, and from Honduras stood up and spoke about culture and foods and people from their countries. On Wednesday, they had asked students from around campus to write their stories of experiencing discrimination based on their race. In chapel, students stood up and read these stories, as though they were coming from their own voices. It was really powerful.
2. Getting home. Yesterday afternoon was really trying for me. School was let out just before noon for the snow, and the drive home on the highway was a white knuckle experience. We couldn’t make it up Cool Creek Road. But there were beautiful moments in the story. We took refuge for an hour or so in the home of friends who live at the bottom of the ridge. Rochelle gave me coffee in a mug that says: “I love you. That’s all.” Our sons did computer whiz-kid stuff together in their den, and their sweet puppy Ophelia washed my face with kisses and snuggled on my lap. It was a moment of serene and utter safety in the midst of an anxious trip. It gave me courage to get out and try again. We made about 8-10 attempts on the hill until a plow finally came through at 4:30 and we made it up to the top. It was such a relief to get home and snuggle with cats and sit in the living room with the whole family.

Exchanges

Gratitude of Resistance Fifteen:
Exchanges. I forget if I have written about this in my Resistance Gratitudes,  but it bears repeating: School Foreign Exchange programs. They’re an incredible growing experience for students who go abroad, for the students who receive them, and for the teachers who experience students from around the world in their classrooms, and the chance to experience a collegial relationship with teachers from other countries. My school, Lancaster Mennonite, has students who come to us for three or four years from other countries, like Korea, Ethiopia, China, Japan, Ghana, and elsewhere, and just this past month, we hosted two short-term visiting groups–from Germany and France. These groups come with teachers, who teach their students a few lessons a day, and then visit our classes to observe how we do education in the US. I always look forward to having these visitors in in my classroom.  Both groups left us yesterday, and Monday is going to feel a little empty.

May we walk in Beauty!

Election Angst

Gratitude of Resistance Twelve:
I’m a little discouraged this morning. Post-election angst is a real thing for me since 2016. All those people made an absolutely herculean effort to elect Jess King. She and they showed us a different way to be in this climate, and I wanted so much for her to win. Despite, or maybe because of, her opponent’s negativity and racist pandering to people’s worst fears about immigrants, he won the seat. I am grateful for her run, for the hope of a new way of doing politics that she offered.

It feels like a back door into gratitude this morning. I am deeply grateful for the thoughtfulness and civility and genuine concern for humanity shown by Jess and her crew of dogged volunteers. Grateful for all the people outside the Old Boys’ Club who were elected in this cycle. May it continue to be so.

Please Participate

Gratitude of Resistance Eleven:
So much feels broken. So much feels wrong. Polarized. Staged. Rigged.

Still, we have these tools of democracy: Freedom of the Press. Freedom of Speech. The Right to Vote. I believe in the potential of these processes to create a just and more equal society. I believe in the idea of a participatory democracy. I am grateful today for the participants, those who have thrown themselves heart and soul into working to make it so. Today, I will participate by casting my vote for the candidates I believe will cause the least harm, for people who are most likely to  create policy that offers a safety net for the poorest among us, that offers all of us the hope of health care that will not financially destroy us, that welcomes the stranger, that makes our children safer. I urge you to join me.

May we walk in Beauty.

Trees Afire with Autumn

Gratitude of Resistance Eight:
The Maples, the Maples, the Maples! The Oaks, the Beeches, the trees–all gone golden, gone shining. All afire. Something has happened in the last week that has brought the colors here to a fever pitch. This month of November, I have an informal daily check-in in classes, asking students to call out the things they are grateful for. Yesterday, my contribution was the red maple across the building from my room, and in every class there was a chorus of awed Yes! when I said it. I love how we’re all caught in the beauty, captured by the same awe and wonder.