Advent 16: Companionship

Last summer’s wren nest from the behind the light switch in the shop. Even claustrophobic people love the cozy symbolism of a nest.

Today, as we Breathe-Step-Stop-Listen, Breathe-Step-Stop-Listen, Breathe-Step-Stop-Listen, a song and a poem to sustain us on this walk through Day Sixteen toward Advent. Thank you for walking with me. Only five more days until Sunreturn, Beloveds. We are going to make it.

When I compare this year’s more deliberate and careful wander into the dark of December with last year’s panicked careen, I am filled with gratitude. I know I tried last year, but I had decided that I was going to try a keto-based way of eating last fall, and my deliberations were focused on that, and less inward. It was only when I reached the growing light of late January that I realized how deeply I had sunk into winter’s numbness. Last year, I probably should have checked in with a therapist to keep me coping. This year, I am watching and ready to make that call, in case I feel myself sinking into the pool of sadness. If the season weighs too heavily, or the cold seeps into your spirit, I encourage you to be ready, too, to check in with a professional.

Funny, isn’t it? Usually, we look for the light at the end of a tunnel, meaning we’ll be out and into the fresh air, but while this journey into the well of December may bring us to a lighted chamber, we have to turn and walk out again the same distance before we get back out of the tunnel. Still, that moment of coming to center and pausing, then the turning, and setting our faces toward the return journey into the light–oh, how I long for that moment. That will be so joyful. Five more days.


Here is a video of Brian Claflin and Ellie Grace singing “I’m Gonna Walk It With You.” Whether our journey is the descent into winter’s darkness, or the determined march toward justice, I am glad of your companionship. You can support Claflin and Grace by buying their music at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8boCrXOp9M.


I wrote this poem a few years ago, but it feels like it fits this moment, my deep gratitude for your companionship on this journey.

Stepping Toward the Solstice

We stand in the shadows.
Hold my hand.
The darkness suffocates.
Look this way,
to where the sun shines briefly
through a curtain of ice.
This. This one moment
will sustain us for the next steps.


Gratitude List:
1. I made an enormous dent in my Impossible Mountain last night. Part of my relief today is the amount of work I accomplished, but a greater part of the relief is the feeling of that dam being unclogged. Still so much to do, but I have returned to the truth that Will builds Will. An act of will creates the possibility for more acts of will. As long as I keep that energy, I should make it.
2. Great gratitude to Nancy, for listening and sharing the story. I think I needed an accountability partner, and I used our conversation yesterday as the slingshot to get me around the hardest bits of the Impossible Task.
3. A new warm thing. I stopped at Goodwill and bought myself a new warm fleece jacket-thing. It’s for wearing around the house at home, and it’s cozy, and it’s a wild cat print, so it makes me feel a little fierce. Is that a middle-aged woman thing, to want to wear wildcat print? Or maybe it’s just a Leo thing. I know that some consider it a tacky thing, too, but I’m not fussed about that. It’s warm and it’s fierce, and so Merry Christmas to me.
4. The sacred moments within the mundane.
5. The anticipation of a snow day, even when it doesn’t seem like it’s going to pan out.

May we walk in Beauty!

Advent 2: What Will You Risk?

Today we make our turning into the second passage. Yesterday’s journey was quite pleasant, really, as I looked around and saw how many are taking this journey with us. That’s the paradox, isn’t it? It’s a solitary journey that we walk in community, a journey of silence that contains the whispers and singing of others, a joyful anticipation and a recognition of deep grief and pain. Can we hold both sides of the story, center ourselves within the paradox? Sure, we can. Labyrinths are funny that way. They’re disorienting and confusing, and you can never really know where you are, and yet—unlike the fragmented turnings of a maze—the pathway is a single twisting line. All we have to do is to follow the next twist ahead.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes reminds us that we were made for these times, echoing Mordecai, the loving uncle in the ancient story, telling his niece Esther the Queen: “Perhaps you were brought here for just such a time as this.” Esther risked her own life to save her people from a capricious and arrogant ruler. As we journey today, let’s ask ourselves: What are we willing to risk in these times? What will we put on the line?

Simply walking into this labyrinth is a risk. We do not know what is around the next bend, what monsters lurk deep and unrecognized within the shadows of our psyches. But walking together, holding our lights high, whispering to each, “I’m here; don’t be afraid,” we can find our way through.

Yesterday, we thought about those burdens in our packs. I have one that I don’t know how to carry, and it asks that question about what I am willing to risk. I’ll put my pack down a moment here and take it out. Open it up. See, all that rage and grief and uncertainty swirling around in there? I want to be one of the ones who stands in the gap here when my country still has not returned the children to their parents, when no one seems to know what to do to make that happen. I want to speak out, to speak truth. But I don’t know how, exactly. So it all just swirls around in there, taking up space and making my pack so heavy.

Take a moment to explore one of the burdens in your own pack, one that you don’t know quite what to do with. Write about it in your journal, or tell a friend about it. Write a song or poem, or paint a painting. I still don’t know exactly how I am going to resolve mine, but it feels lighter now. Maybe this December journey will shed some light for me. For you, too.


Envisioning Peace:
Yesterday in church, Michelle asked us to hold Isaiah’s vision of a world in which the response is peace and understanding rather than violence, ploughshares rather than swords. She asked us to consider situations in which people chose the peaceful path. During Advent, I’m going to look for stories and ideas that hold this vision.

For today’s story, I hold in my mind the vision of Queen Esther taking the risk onto herself, speaking her truth, and averting the genocide of her people. I think that one of the ways in which people step into the ploughshares vision is to choose a third path. Instead of simply capitulating to the injustice or taking up arms to fight it, this path does resist and stand up to the oppression, but with truth instead of weapons.

I think this is just what our times are calling for. How can we envision this third response?

Wandering in the Myth

This morning, I decided to just dive into the myth that has been calling me, and I spent my writing time working on the story of Inanna/Ishtar, pondering the way her descent into the Underworld mirrors my own inward travels as the year turns cold and dark. I think this one will keep me busy for the rest of the week and beyond.

What symbols of your personal power and wisdom and authority are you prepared to relinquish as you circle downward into the deepest realm of your own inner knowing?


Gratitude List:
1. Myths and stories that frame and guide our own daily journeys
2. Small breaks
3. Seeking the fire within
4. Anticipation
5. Layers and layers of warm clothes

May we walk in Beauty!

Step by Step

Gratitude as Resistance Nineteen:
It only has to be one step at a time. When I look at the map, and the journey just seems so long, and I know that I can’t go all that distance, I need to remember to look down at my feet and just walk it one step at a time. Bit by bit. Piece by piece. Bright leaf by bright leaf. Morning by morning. Challenge by challenge.

May we walk in Beauty!

The Root of Joy

3:45 a.m.―As I was falling asleep last night, words flooded into my head. Something like this:
Walking backward up the mountain
Pulling the future on a string.

It felt inordinately important that I remember it verbatim, but I was almost asleep, so I thought I might be able to remember it in the morning. I don’t think “future” was quite the right word.  I love the random messages that come from sleep-state and dream-state.

I had actually gone to bed early because the previous night’s dream-state message was about exhaustion. And now, there’s this harvest moon shining in under my eyelids, switching off the sleep switch. I can’t sleep, can’t work, can’t really think straight. This is not a complaint, really. I think the moon needs me to be awake in a semi-sleep state, keeping vigil with the night singers.


“The root of joy is gratefulness. . . . It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” ―David Steindl-Rast
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“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” ―Fannie Lou Hamer
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“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
―Desmond Tutu (b. October 7, 1931)
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I walk into a poem and walk out someone else. —Nayyirah Waheed
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“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget.”
―Arundhati Roy
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“Love the earth and sun and animals,
Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
Stand up for the stupid and crazy,
Devote your income and labor to others…
Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book;
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
And your very flesh shall be a great poem.”
―Walt Whitman
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THE JOURNEY
by David Whyte

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again,

painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
enscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes
of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light
fades quickly now,
you are arriving.


Gratitude List:
1. Stories and Songs
2. Public statements of thanks–At a celebration at my school tonight (75 years!), speakers kept making formal statements of thanks to the audience, and it was richer than the old “Thanks for your support” that you hear in so many settings. I can’t describe it, but it felt like a ritual of gratitude.
3. Three crows
4. The moon, the moon, the moon
5. Dreams and aspirations

May we walk in Beauty!

Say Dream and Mean Poem

2014 March 016

To celebrate the dawning of March, here is a photo from last March.  I don’t think the aconite are up just yet, but I will check this morning on the way out to the car.

Two nights ago, I dreamed that Lady Gaga and her beau were touring the school one afternoon and stopped by my room.  The Lady was enthralled by the look of the room, and told me that it must mean I was an excellent teacher.  Look at me, fishing for compliments even in my dreams.  I know where this one came from, of course.  I had been pondering, as I fell asleep, how fascinating it is that all these sober and earnest Lancaster County Mennonites (I include myself in those descriptors) are suddenly three degrees of separation away from Lady Gaga: We know people who taught Taylor Kinney, who is soon to be Mr. Gaga.  Does that make him Lord Gaga, perhaps?

This morning, I woke up in the middle of an etymological dream about the root jour, which my sleeping brain reminded me means day.  I know that journal means the record of the day, so journey, I woke up thinking, must mean the day’s travel.  Sojourn–how does that differ from journey?  I looked it up a moment ago.  The first part of  sojourn comes from sub-, which means “less than,” so sojourn originally intended to indicate a short stay, whereas journey was about the travel from place to place.  I am so glad that my dreaming mind had me clear up all that information.  Perhaps I need to plan a journey, a sojourn.

This morning’s writing exercise is the Language Event I wrote about yesterday.  I am going to try to do it as a free-write–as fast as I can–and see whether any treasures fall out of my foggy brain.

Say journey and mean day
Say blue and mean that you were out in the morning
Say wildness and mean longing
Say twilight and mean the way your soul whispers
Say birdsong and mean message
Say warning and mean that you need to move on
Say season and mean that you have become someone new
Say winter and mean that an old thing is passing
Say springtime and mean that the morning is dawning
Say morning sun and mean that you open your eyes
Say green and mean that you are nourished and fed
Say golden and mean that butterflies are returning

This has some possibility.  I feel like I might want to keep a notebook and write ten of them a day, and then compile a Shaman’s Lexicon Poem, perhaps.  If you want to do it, too, feel free.  Perhaps our poems will meet some day in the ethers of the internet.  I think I will add it to my list of poetry-writing exercises for the ninth-grade poetry unit.

Gratitude List:
1. Grandma Weaver’s afghan and old plum-colored recliner.  Nothing says comfort to me quite like sitting here like this.  Come to think of it, the white and blue quilt that is folded over the back of the chair right now was made by Grandma Slabaugh.  (Say grandmother’s blanket and mean enwrapped by love.)
2. A clean house.  (Say clean house and mean quiet mind.)
3. This sea-foam-colored scarf.  (Say aquamarine and mean contemplation.)
4. Playing violin with Ellis on the cello yesterday afternoon with the winter sun sparkling through the windows. (Say music and mean my heart is dancing.)
5. The shenanigans of a silly five-year-old. (Say shenanigans and mean shenanigans.)

May we walk in Beauty!