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.

Mental Health Break

Today, I am taking a day of work-rest. With stacks of grading that are somehow not grading themselves, I asked to take this day off so that I could catch up to myself. It will not be a day of rest, exactly, but it will be restful. It will be at my pace, though I need to keep it moving so I get as much work accomplished as possible.

And it will be silence. Hours of silence. Me and the cats and the papers. No one needing anything from me except for an occasional head-rub. I need a mini-vacation from being needed. And it’s strange, when my work is words, when the spoken word is my favorite art form to observe and to do, that the rest that I crave is a break from speech. I long for this coming day of silence.

I have begun looking at the mini-breaks that I take in my day, trying to mark and acknowledge them and live into them, so that I can feel them as balm and not simply as escape. In that thirty seconds after the room empties and I need to head off to chapel, can I take three intentional deep breaths? Instead of walking down the hall to lunch, might I detour outside for a moment and greet the Three Magnolia Trees in the corner behind the old classroom building? Can I take three minutes of my prep period to listen to a piece of music every day? Or open my journal and do a five-minute word-dump or fast-write?

What if we were to try to see our moments, or breaks in the day, as little vacations instead of as escapes? If we were to intentionally stop and take breaths, make art, feel silence, listen to our heartbeats, put our feet on earth, commune with plant-beings? I think this will be my plan for the shadow journey ahead.


Gratitude List:
1. The earnestness of Lancaster people to resist injustice and to create compassion. Last night I attended a public meeting of Wing, a local group begun to try to develop community responses to the crisis created by recent immigration policies. The meeting was held at my church, and we filled the parking lot and the edges of the parking lot and the grassy spaces along the lot, and people parked down the streets and walked to the church. There is good energy in this community to do something to help those who are suffering as a result of this country’s harsh immigration detention policies.
2. Women in Black. I am heartened by this group of women who are committed to standing in protest of violence. Last night we stood with a sign proclaiming our solidarity with Kurdish women who are suffering in the wake of Turkish incursions.
3. Poetry and story. The weaving of words.
4. Yesterday, after I asked for today off, I felt such a release of tension and pressure. I’m grateful for understanding administrators and colleagues. I will be a much better colleague and teacher myself for having this day to breathe and catch up.
5. Dawn. The coming of light into the day.

May we walk in Beauty!

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.

Where Are the Children?

Post #2 for today. This is a re-post of something I have been working with the last two days. I’ve been hearing about the nearly 1,500 children “lost” by the US Department of Health and Human Services in the past five years, and when I read the National Public Radio article about it, and some thoughts began to swirl around.

Here is what I’ve been thinking.

Friends, what if we were to call this last week of May this year “Advocacy for Immigrant Families Week”? What if we would commit ourselves to contact Jeff Sessions or John Kelly or the Department of Health and Human Services, or the President, to advocate for immigrant children? What if we would write letters to our local papers? Speak up on social media? Donate money to organizations that are helping the families who are being torn apart? PRAY?

All week, whenever we have an extra moment, we call, write, pray, donate, speak up.

We avoid name-calling. We let our rage and anger give wings to our words, and let our compassion and tenderness be the guiding force. We avoid partisanship, calling on people of any political persuasion to work with us. Join me.

1. It sounds like the 1500 are primarily unaccompanied minors, and that some of those children may have been placed with family or family connections and simply never attended their immigration hearings.

2. It seems pretty clear that some of those children were released directly from the Department of Health and Human Services to traffickers. (How does this happen? Who is accountable for this? Whoever was in charge of what happened here should be out of a job and prosecuted.) This has been happening since at least 2014–during the previous administration.

3. I looked up Steven Wagner, the Acting Assistant Secretary for the HHS Administration for Children and Families (ACF), who answered senators’ questions about how these children were left unaccounted for. He actually served with the agency’s anti-trafficking program in the past, and that program won an award for anti-trafficking work.

4. The current head of the HHS ACF’s Office on Trafficking in Persons is Katherine Chon.

5. This is the Address for the HHS ACF: 330 C Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20201.

6. The Contact Information for the Department of Health and Human Services is: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20201, Toll Free Call Center: 1-877-696-6775 The current head of the HHS is Alex Azar.

7. This is the contact page for ICE: https://www.ice.gov/contact

8. Now that Attorney General Sessions has stepped up the prosecutions of people attempting to enter the country illegally, more children and parents are being separated at the border. Without structures in place to protect them, these children are clearly endangered, too. At this point, it appears that they are being released to HHS (even while the HHS is under fire for apparently releasing children to human traffickers).

9. This is the contact page for the DOJ: https://www.justice.gov/contact-us

10. I think we need serious public outcry here. I think we need careful and reasoned expressions of our outrage. We need to avoid name-calling and shrillness, but we need to be intense, and we need to hold the people making the decisions accountable.

11. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called this new policy of AG Sessions a “tough deterrent.” I cannot find specific contact information for Kelly, so it might work to write to him at the White House.

12. Less than two hundred years ago in the United States, we had similar policies of separating children from their parents: separating enslaved African children from their parents, separating Native American children from their parents.

13. Rachel Held Evans has also called for action on behalf of the voiceless children this week. Look her up on FB, and read her suggestions as well.

14. Sign the ACLU petition (look it up on FB).

I would be grateful for any other ideas about effective responses.