In June, right after school was over, and before I had even completed my grading, I went on silent retreat at the Jesuit Center at Wernersville, probably my last time there, as the Jesuits are selling the building and grounds. I needed that healing time.
In the weeks since, I have been taking stock, clearing out my hoard (fabric, mostly, but more will come), and working on getting healthy.
Here is a little photo essay of my time on retreat:
I took along a white cloth and some red thread. I have been inspired by several instagrammer embroiderers to begin to create a story cloth, something that’s not specifically functional, but is more of a journal, a dialogue with my inner self. On one of the first days there, I was meditating on something I’d read, a Buddhist idea about the base of the spine being where the three rivers meet. I began to consider what my three rivers are. Along with embodiment, I received creativity, and magic/mysticism. So I began embroidering the flowering hand image I found framed on the wall–for creativity. Then I embroidered a full body–my body–with wings and a crown, to represent embodiment, being alive within this body. And later, I embroidered my stump, the center of my current magical work, representing the inner work and the spiritual connection to the Source of All Life. All three are connected to a center cauldron, which is the place where the three rivers meet. Other images above include some collages I made while meditating, a painting (“You can become all flame,” said the ancient desert abba), and the back of my #alonetogether sweater, which I completed during retreat.
More than almost anything, perhaps, I will miss this grand cathedral beech.
Looking out the southern window of the living room just now, I was struck by the vertiginous sense that the world outside was twisting and shifting. It took me a moment to realize that it was the willow tree, beyond the black branches of sycamore and dogwood in my foreground, a yellow veil flowing back and forth in the dawn breezes.
Not everything that appears disconcerting and unsettling needs to be feared. That is not to say that fear and horror are not logical and acceptable responses to these altered days; but it is a reminder to myself (and you, if you want it) that the horror is not all-encompassing. Not everything should be interpreted through the lens of Pandemic. I need to keep reclaiming Wonder and Awe, grasping Calm and Centeredness, reaching out in Love and Openness.
Last evening, about twenty-five people/families from my congregation participated in a Zoom meeting, re-connecting, telling our stories, smiling and laughing together. And then in the night, I had my first teleconferencing dream. There was a screen with the whole Brady Bunch grid of a group meeting, and someone was saying, “Make sure they can tell that you love them through the screen.” That was it, but every time I woke up in the early morning, I saw that image, heard that voice.
Gratitude List: 1. Dream messages 2. Two weeks before the Exile, I went to Goodwill near my school and pulled a bunch of big sweaters and shawls out of the by-the-pound bins. I brought them home and washed them, and felt a little odd for buying more sweaters just as spring was breaking. I have been incredibly grateful, in these anxious and chilly days, to have big sweaters to wrap around me. 3. Even a week of working from home needs a weekend (especially, actually). Tome to catch my breath. Friday’s here. 4. The aconite have gone to seed, after blooming early this year, but the green umbrellas remain, and I take the seed pods and sprinkle them across the bank out front. Last year, I sprinkled them under the sycamore, and this year we had yellow blossoms there. 5. Cress. Bitter cress and water cress, and actually all the spring greens. Yesterday I made a spring greens milky soup. It actually didn’t taste as good as I was longing for it to, but it tasted healthy, so there’s that. I felt fed and tended by the land. I trailed my fingers through the frigid water of the stream as I was picking water cress.
Take care of each other. Walk in Beauty!
“Sound or vibration is the most powerful force in the universe. Music is a divine art, to be used not only for pleasure but as a path to Awakening.” —Yogananda
“As above, so below, as within, so without, as the universe, so the soul.” —Hermes Trismegistus
“The greatest danger to our future is apathy.” —Jane Goodall
“Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.” —Henri Nouwen
“In the end, we’ll all become stories.” —Margaret Atwood
“Privilege is when you think something’s not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.” —attributed to many authors
Dea Ex Machina by Beth Weaver-Kreider
What we speak we create. Writing, we make meaning into existence.
These words, cogs and gears, shift meaning to matter:
Gratitude List: 1. How the smell of coffee begins to revive me, even before the first sip. 2. Featherbed weather. 3. Thursdays that are Fridays. 4. Red and orange trees, and how they focus the blue behind them. 5. Morning silence. Lately, the noise of the day occasionally feels like an assault. I need to store up morning silence like cool water and sip from the memory well of it all through the day.
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.
Today, one of my best beloveds is having surgery on his heart. I cling to words like “routine” and “basic procedure” although I know that anything involving that particular mass of muscle is anything but simple routine. Still, I trust that there will indeed be something normal and uncomplicated about it all, that my beloved one will come through this fine and healthy and as twinkly-eyed as ever.
Trust seems to be my word of the day. Trust in the uncertainty and unknowing. Trust in the medical folks, in the procedures, in the body’s ability to respond and heal. Trust in time and spirit and the doctor’s good, good hands.
Such an Advent moment, these coming hours of uncertainty. Waiting. Praying. Focusing my heart. Trusting. Today, the words of Julian of Norwich will accompany me: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Gratitude List: 1. The doctors and nurses and medical staff who are tending to one I love. 2. The heart. 3. St. Lucia Day. We carry the light. 4. Tenacity 5. Small, busy birds
May we walk in Beauty!
“Everything is holy now.” —Peter Mayer
“I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estes
“The only door out is the door in.” —George MacDonald (Lilith)
BY FADY JOUDAH
wouldn’t hurt a spider
That had nested
Between her bicycle handles
For two weeks
Until it left of its own accord
If you tear down the web I said
It will simply know
This isn’t a place to call home
And you’d get to go biking
She said that’s how others
Become refugees isn’t it?
Terry Tempest Williams (from Red: On Passion and Patience in the Desert): “I write to make peace with the things I cannot control. I write to create red in a world that often appears black and white. I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue. I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things differently perhaps the world will change. I write to honor beauty. I write to correspond with my friends. I write as a daily act of improvisation. I write because it creates my composure. I write against power and for democracy. I write myself out of my nightmares and into my dreams. I write in a solitude born out of community. I write to the questions that shatter my sleep. I write to the answers that keep me complacent. I write to remember. I write to forget,,,, I write because I believe in words. I write because I do not believe in words. I write because it is a dance with paradox. I write because you can play on the page like a child left alone in sand. I write because it belongs to the force of the moon: high tide, low tide. I write because it is the way I take long walks. I write as a bow to wilderness. I write because I believe it can create a path in darkness…. I write because I am not employable. I write out of my inconsistencies. I write because then I do not have to speak. I write with the colors of memory. I write as a witness to what I have seen. I write as a witness to what I imagine….I write because it is dangerous, a bloody risk, like love, to form the words, to say the words, to touch the source, to be touched, to reveal how vulnerable we are, how transient we are. I write as though I am whispering in the ear of the one I love.”
Thoughts for Tuesday:
“The great affair, the love affair with life,
is to live as variously as possible,
to groom one’s curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred,
climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day.
Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding,
and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours,
life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length.
It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery,
but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.” —Diane Ackerman
“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” ―Vincent Van Gogh
“Change is continuous on the seamless web,
Yet moments come like this one, when you feel
Upon your heart a signal to attend
The definite announcement of an end
Where one thing ceases and another starts;
When like the spider waiting on the web
You know the intricate dependencies
Spreading in secret through the fabric vast
Of heaven and earth, sending their messages
Ciphered in chemistry to all the kinds,
The whisper down the bloodstream: it is time.”
“One of the most exciting things for me about being in the freedom movement was discovering other people who were compelled by the Spirit at the heart of our organizing work, and who were also interested in the mysticism that can be nurtured in social justice activism. We experienced something extraordinary in the freedom movement, something that hinted at a tremendous potential for love and community and transformation that exists here in this scarred, spectacular country. For many of us, that “something” touched us in the deepest part of our selves and challenged us in ways both personal and political.” ―Rosemarie Freeney Harding, in “Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism and Mothering”
“I wish I could shut up, but I can’t, and I won’t.”
“Would you come if someone called you
by the wrong name?
I wept, because for years He did not enter my arms:
then one night I was told a
Perhaps the name you call God is
not really His, maybe it
is just an
I thought about this, and came up with a pet name
for my Beloved I never mention
All I can say is―
―Rabia of Batista
“The aim of education is to reveal an attainable image of self that is lovelier than that manifested in his or her present acts.” ―Nel Noddings
Oh my. This was a year ago today. We’ll have to try this this week. After we finish the leftover mac and cheese and veggies from the family reunion potluck.
Gratitude List: 1. Family. Family reunions. Family circles. Laughter. Stories. Food. Cousins. Aunts and Uncles. Little tiny people and wise elders.
2. Chimney swifts. Such aerial acrobats with such unaerodynamic little cigar-shaped bodies.
3. Kate DiCamillo. An author who expands the heart.
4. My classroom is, for the most part, organized for the coming year! I know where almost everything is.
5. Deep, long sleep.
May we walk in Beauty!
“. . .my grandmother would get very annoyed when anyone would talk about “the power of love.” Love, she insisted, is not power, which she considered always coercive. To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness.”
“Stories beget understanding,
Understanding begets respect,
Respect begets justice,
Justice begets peace,
That is the power of story.”
“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
“A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.” ―Vincent van Gogh
“When we share our stories and dreams, we are accepting help in the shouldering of responsibility and despair. By extension, our windfalls and triumphs belong to us all. In witnessing each other, we are cross-pollinating our wisdoms and broadening our storylines, moving the locus of our attention from competition to collaboration. No longer governed by personal lack, we begin to make decisions as an ecosystem would, from the appreciation of our indivisibility.” ―Dreamwork with Toko-pa
“Sometimes in order to be happy in the present moment you have to be willing to give up all hope for a better past.” ―Robert Holden
“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” ―Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This is the poem I presented at the education conference I attended this weekend. I came away from the conference inspired and energized. The answer, behind all the pedagogical strategies and theories and techniques, is always Love.
And the Third Circle is the Heart
by Beth Weaver-Kreider
“The eye is the first circle, the horizon which it forms is the second: and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
The heart, too, is a circle,
the horizon expanding to infinity
or contracting into a small black hole.
The round bud of the heart
opens, the radius expanding.
The work, you say, is to keep opening,
casting that radius wider
at every turn of the wheel,
to hold everything within its protective arc,
the bright flowers and the white-hot stones.
When I begin to say
that I am you and you are I
then the pain that you wear
must wound me too.
This is the work,
to widen that horizon that lies within
to hold the world, if we must.
This is the burden
To be watchers,
to inwardly transmute
these stones we are given to bear
into gems of great value.
To keep soft,
to let the ego
into a weightless place.
Speak your story.
Let it fall like a stone
into the quiet pool of my heart.
The circles expand out and outward,
not matter but pure energy,
more doors opening.
I see you.
I feel you.
I know you.
I recognize myself in you.
These are the doors we step into.
These are the circles we enter.
2. Stepping out of my comfort zone
3. Wise mentors
5. Being heard
When you are finished reading this poem,
it will self-destruct. The words
will fly outward, shards of ideas
exploding, lacerating skin,
feelings and notions piercing the soul,
shredding elevated egos
and mangling worn-out theories.
You will not be able to escape
into the house of another poem,
for all poetry is designed to explode,
to burst, to shatter into a thousand colors,
like the fracturing of light.
“The word is the making of the world.” —Wallace Stevens
“Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke
“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” —Albert Einstein
“I must remind you that starving a child is violence. Suppressing a culture is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working man is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring medical need is violence. Contempt for poverty is violence.” —Coretta Scott King
“When you feel the suffering of every living thing in your own heart, that is consciousness.”
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.”
―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”
―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”
―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure . . . And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you…”
―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
“Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.”
―Naomi Shihab Nye
Gratitude List: 1. How dreams keep revealing themselves
2. How the leaves fly down from the sky
3. How children see things that adults miss
4. How the work gets done
5. How starlings move as a single bird
“Practice the pause. Pause before judging. Pause before assuming. Pause before accusing. Pause whenever you are about to react harshly and you’ll avoid doing and saying things you’ll later regret. ”
“The deeper our faith, the more doubt we must endure; the deeper our hope, the more prone we are to despair; the deeper our love, the more pain its loss will bring: these are a few of the paradoxes we must hold as human beings. If we refuse to hold them in the hopes of living without doubt, despair, and pain, we also find ourselves living without faith, hope, and love.” ―Parker J. Palmer
“In love, nothing exists between heart and heart.
Speech is born out of longing,
True description from the real taste.
The one who tastes, knows;
the one who explains, lies.
How can you describe the true form of Something
In whose presence you are blotted out?
And in whose being you still exist?
And who lives as a sign for your journey?”
―Rabia al-Adawiyya, Sufi poet, 717-801
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Gratitude List: 1. Today I am grateful that I no longer experience weeks of 4-hour sleep. When I experience insomnia these days, it’s a couple hours for a couple nights in a row. It has become a teacher instead of a raging enemy.
2. The UNICEF kids. They put on a great party today, set up without prompting and supervision, ran the show, and cleaned up so quickly, I hardly knew what hit me. They’re going to change the world.
3. This ratty old black long-sleeved T-shirt. I’ve bought shirts to replace it, and they’re okay in their way, but none are so soft, so mine. I will wear it until it’s rags.
4. The Ducktown Road bridge is functional! I drove the whole way up Ducktown on my way home tonight.
5. How things come together, and fall apart, only to come together again, in a new way.